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Public hearing held for bill that would regulate pay in restaurants

HARTFORD  -- Lawmakers in Connecticut are looking at new legislation that would regulate pay in restaurants.

In Connecticut, wait staff make $6.38 an hour plus tips, but an issue with pay arises when it comes to what many call "server side work"- such as cleaning bathrooms or restocking silverware. It’s a time in which servers are required to be paid the state minimum wage, but it isn’t always the case.

A public hearing was held Thursday morning for a proposed bill that would allow workers to sue owners for wages they believe they were owed, but includes a provision that limits what restaurants must pay if they can prove they were acting in “good faith” and in compliance with the law.

Some servers don’t mind, but others believe it ups the ante for restaurant owners to take advantage of workers.

“It would basically give them leeway to use me and pay me $6.38 an hour and tell me to clean this,” server Valeria Nettleton said.

Although restaurant owners believe the bill clarifies the rules for employers and think it would actually benefit employees.

“It won't really change anything, the bill is getting in line what the Labor Department has been enforcing, teaching for the last several decades “ Max Restaurant Group Owner Richard Rosenthal said.

The Senate did not vote on the bill following the public hearing, but said a debate process will take place in the future.

Earlier this year, Lamont vetoed a bill that would have required the Connecticut Department of Labor to clarify its rules for when restaurant workers earn the $6.38 an hour tip wage and when they don't. At the time, Lamont raised concerns about how the legislation would have repealed the current regulations retroactively in order to address any pending lawsuits.

He noted that could "extinguish a worker's right to an amount lawfully required." A spokesman for the governor said the administration then spent much of the summer trying to reach a compromise with the restaurants and unions, in hopes of holding a vote in a special legislative session.

While the draft proposal still allows workers to recoup wages they believe they're owed, it also limits what restaurants must pay if they can prove they had a "good faith belief" their actions complied with state law. It also calls on the Department of Labor to come up with new regulations and guidance concerning the complicated wage issue.

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