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My girlfriend just started a manager-in-training job at a popular restaurant. It seems to me like the woman training her is playing fast and loose with the rules, but it could just be that the company culture is toxic. I want to help my girlfriend follow all labor laws, but at the same time she can't afford to lose her job (more on that later).

A few things that have happened in the two weeks she's had the job:

  • She asked about being paid for time she worked at home (taking management tests that took 1-2 hours, calling into the store to check up on things, etc). Her trainer said "well I can put the hours in for you, but personally I don't do that for myself." It seems like she's trying to intimidate my girlfriend into not getting paid for legitimate work. She also lied because there's no reason for her to log hours that she works from home because she (the trainer) is an exempt salaried employee.
  • She saw another management trainee be talked down to for asking about reimbursement when he was asked to drive an hour away to another store.
  • As an addendum to the last bullet point, she is expected to take money to the bank each day using her personal car. This probably takes about 25-30 minutes each day, but she doesn't get reimbursed.
  • Some days she only works 6 hours, but at least once a week she is expected to open AND close the store, which is around 14 hours a day.
  • Everyday she is expected to fill out a review of how the training is going and answer several questions. This is sent up to higher management. On one question that asked how training could be improved, her trainer erased her answer and told her she should just put "N/A". And on another question, when asked how she was improving her weaknesses she wrote that she was "studying at home", but her trainer erased the "at home" portion.

If my girlfriend completes training, she will be an assistant manager, but could also become the general manager over the entire store if she does well enough. However, "well enough" to them seems to be killing yourself with work and going around labor laws (paid for every hour you work).

Reason she can't quit: She's on a one-year work visa. If she is out of a job for more than 90 days, she will be deported out of the country. So quitting without having another job will start the clock on the 90 days.

Finally, my question is what kind of options does she have to keep her job, because she likes the idea of being an AM or GM, but also improve the working conditions (specifically being paid for all work)? Is it a bad idea to report her trainer to higher management?

  • Is your girlfriend salaried or hourly? If hourly, does she use a timeclock? – sf02 Feb 11 at 20:50
  • @sf02 the title does say hourly... – Solar Mike Feb 11 at 20:56
  • Sorry! Missed that. – sf02 Feb 11 at 20:58
  • 2
    Becoming a manager at a fast-food is an excellent career step forward. It does entail some extra effort and time. It could be, though, that they have gone "overboard". It's hard or impossible to judge from here. Your friend should compare other similar businesses, talk to people and see what they think about comparable situations. – Fattie Feb 11 at 22:08
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    BTW I've never heard of a "one year work visa" in the US. Never heard of anything like that. But, it's your business! – Fattie Feb 11 at 22:08
11

I've been both an hourly employee, a salaried employee, an employer of salaried employees, and an employer of hourly employees.

  1. It's common for hourly employees to believe that every moment of their lives lived on behalf of the employer should be paid for or somehow reimbursed. They're not wrong, but they tend to be very focused on it.

  2. It's equally common for salaried employees to not believe this. They may complain about long hours, but the facts are that they were hired at a fixed rate to complete tasks and the tasks must be completed whether the fixed rate makes sense or not.

  3. There is always more work to be done. Frankly, it's impossible to be paid for everything that could and should be completed at any job.

Having said that, I'm not surprised at all that your girlfriend is being asked to invest some of her own time to progress in the company. When I was an engineer, I was expected to continue my education and it was not assumed or offered that I would be paid for that privilege. I received tuition reimbursements, but no time reimbursements. Therefore, the basic premise of your girlfriend needing to pony up for the privilege of a better future is common and, frankly, not unexpected.

The basic rules of labor laws can be summarized as follows: employers can't force you to work unreasonably, but neither are they obligated to provide you with work. Expecting every gallon of gas, every moment of time, to be reimbursed is, frankly, unrealistic. It's harsh, but if that's the kind of life you're looking for, your girlfriend needs to find another job.

However!

Assuming you're descriptions are accurate (it's 3rd party hear-say, after all), there is an obvious disconnect between the trainer and the executive management. Maybe the management is as toxic as the trainer, but it's unlikely. I think you have a toxic trainer who's hiding reality from her bosses, probably to meet her own goals/bonuses.

Most trainers I've worked with over the decades are more than happy to talk you through the expectations of training — including the need for personal investment, if required, so that nobody is surprised by what's happening. This trainer appears to be hiding complaints about her and about abuses of individual investment.

Which doesn't help you much

Because boat-rockers are rarely appreciated. Management doesn't want toxic trainers, but they don't want to be bothered with problems, either. I didn't. It was too easy a trap to fall into. Taking the time to fix misunderstandings and abuses cost me, the employer. Your girlfriend could circumvent the trainer — but that always comes with a price.

So, where do you stand?

  1. If the management job has good career potential, and the training program is measured at most in months, then you should buck up and deal with the momentary inequity. It would be a shame to lose a profitable future for a couple of extra bucks today and the price of forcing the company/trainer to do better often results in a continuing toxic environment (even if the "problems" are fixed).

  2. If the management job doesn't represent a good pay raise or career move, then your girlfriend should be looking for a better job. That is NEVER an easy choice and many of us have stood in the "I really can't afford to lose this job" moment — but it's the harsh reality of being the only viable option.

The real shame here is that the trainer may know the same thing you told us: that your girlfriend can't simply throw in the towel. It's cruel, but she might know she has your girlfriend over the proverbial barrel. You could complain to the labor commission, but you'd better have a backup job when you do. Whistle blowers are rarely appreciated.

  • In principle I'd agree about the training, but what also matters is the extent to which the skills she's learning are transferable. In engineering, I'm sure most training is extremely transferable. In the restaurant business, it's harder to say. – user1602 Feb 12 at 10:45
  • @Kyralessa, I suspect the skills involved with managing staff, managing vendors, and customer service are nearly universal - and that's not assuming that there aren't restaurants all over the place that would benefit from the training. – JBH Feb 12 at 15:53
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As a Human Resource Manager, I see a major FLSA violation from the issue you have described about your girlfriend. Her 1 year work Visa does not make her a slave employee. It appears that her trainer is in under the impression that either your girlfriend does not know her right or the trainer is rather aloof. My advice for you is to seek legal counsel.

-1

I used to have a 18 month visa back in 2006. Employers usually know that. I recommend that before making a decision about quitting the job, it is very important to get better information such as type of visa, rights, etc. If she has a work visa, I'm assuming it is probably J1. In this case, she most likely has a sponsor that would protect her in case she has been taken advantage of. The only issue about J1 is that the worker only can complain about the employer listed in the visa and not another employer.

When I was hired to do an "internship" for 18 months, I was promised a minimum of 30 hours a week and I would have the chance to work different areas of hotel, including front desk, reservation, events. I was not given any positions and rather than that I was thrown to work at arcade, clean floors, housekeeper, etc. I was a graduated and experienced professional, multilingual. Agencies, hotels, and all get tons of money. Everyone gets their piece of the $ 5,000 I paid back in my country as a personal goal of becoming more diverse and learn different skills. For everything in life, there are pros and cons.

Believing I would come and gain more knowledge, I started from the bottom all over again. That being said, I would have to work from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm, no breaks, no lunch, then over time if needed (16 hours plus a day). If I ate, it had to be quickly as 10 minutes because they were short staff. Then, when tourists are gone, no hours were given for a month at all. Fifteen hours a week if I was luck enough. Besides receiving a minimum age of $6,50 an hour back in 2006, I had my weekly rent ($80 week) discounted from my pay check for a tiny house provided by employer (three hundred square feet and poor conditions to be shared between four other J 1 workers). Along with that, employer also discounted uniform (2 shirts $20 each) , name tag ($15), key ($1) laundry fee $1 per day to wash uniforms discounted by the employer, all from pay check. Oh, and deposit of $250. Sometimes a different area in the hotel would be considered a second job and they split fifty fifty. Main position twenty hours for $6, 50 and second area, another twenty hours for under the minimum age ($5, 20 an hour) so they could save the cheap labor. Most students spoke poor English and didn't complain as they were scared. Everything was pretty much against the law in my experience. If we, J1 seasonal workers claimed to leave the employer before visa expired, they threatened to cancel visa so the workers would be undocumented before they even had the chance to get the plane. This normally didn't happen, but they threatened to keep the J1 worker. It is a sad reality because to get a J1 isn't for free. The longer the visa, the more you pay. I didn't come because I needed the money, and was looking for something beyond that. After seeing so much unfairness, I ended up REPORTING THE Employer to my sponsor and they helped me. My sponsor stopped receiving other workers from that agency, called me to threatened me. The owner said on the phone " I forbid you to complain about us or you will see what happens". My employer was reported to immigration as they changed my visa to another employer and the deposit they never returned to workers regardless the house was in good conditions or they finished the program, they were obligated to return to me. They also got in trouble for paying under minimum wage. So good luck.

-1

JBH hit everything on the nose. Absolutely correct. I just want to add that legally you are entitled to compensation for all hours worked as an hourly, non-exempt employee, to include answering emails, watching training videos, etc. However, all US States have at-will employment laws(with some specific exceptions), meaning that an employer can end employment of workers at their choosing without cause, so long as that decision is not made for discriminatory or other illegal reasons. So yes, your girlfriend can document and demand compensation for hours worked beyond her shift, but that employer could simply pay her those hours and subsequently fire her with no real consequences.

  • Time spent studying at home may or may not count as hours worked depending on your contract and applicable labour laws. And that's the kind of hours being talked about here. I know for me any time spent on studies is usually not counted towards hours worked, hasn't been for a long time, unless it's study ordered/paid for by the employer AND during my regular work shift duration (so if I am contracted for 8 hours a day and the 2 week course is 12 hours a day, I am paid for 8 hours a day but expected to put in the extra 4 as unpaid overtime). This is quite normal. – jwenting Feb 12 at 7:16
  • @25S this is not an answer. This can be a good comment instead. – I. Hamad Feb 12 at 7:42

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