Florida is a great place to operate restaurants thanks to its huge tourism draw and an influx of retirees with disposable income.
But restaurant owners, managers, and employees need to be aware of the labor laws and protections in place in the Sunshine State, like Florida’s unique approach to the minimum wage—which is steadily on the rise.
But beyond minimum wage laws, there are other Florida-specific regulations—like overtime laws and child labor laws—that affect the restaurant and hospitality industry.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is general in nature and businesses should consider whether the information is appropriate to their needs. Legal and other matters referred to in this article are based on 7shifts' interpretation of laws existing at the time and should not be relied on in place of professional legal advice. 7shifts is not responsible for the content of any site owned by a third party that may be linked to this article and no warranty is made by 7shifts concerning the suitability, accuracy or timeliness of the content of any site that may be linked to this article. 7shifts disclaims all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded) for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information contained in this article and any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on the information contained in this article.
Overview of Florida labor laws for restaurants
Other than laws surrounding pay and tipping, the following types of labor laws in Florida are the most applicable to those in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
Food safety training
Florida law (specifically, F. S. 509.049) requires food safety training for every employee in food service. Each employee must receive training and certification within 60 days of hire.
Several state-approved private companies offer this training. Each of these certificate courses requires employees to pass a test to verify they have obtained the necessary knowledge to handle food safely:
Safe and sanitary workplace practices
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation inspects Florida restaurants. This agency largely bases its food safety standards on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) model food code.
Restaurants must pass a food safety plan review and initial inspection before opening, then subsequent inspections over time. The frequency of these repeat inspections varies based on the types of food served and the severity of previous violations, if any. However, all public food service establishments regulated by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation must have between one and four unannounced inspections each year.
Child labor laws
In Florida, restaurants may employ minors who are:
- 16 or 17 years old, with a few limitations (like not working before 6:30 a.m. or after 11:00 p.m. and not more than 30 hours per week during the school year).
- 14 or 15 years old, provided they work only between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. and no more than 15 hours per week during school days (when school is in session).
- Working directly for their parents (such as in a family-run restaurant)
Those 13 years old and younger may not work legally, with a few exceptions (such as the family exception, but only when the children aren’t required to be in school).
Minors may not serve, pour, bartend, or sell alcoholic beverages. In the state of Florida, the minimum age to serve alcohol is 18, per the NIAAA.
Discrimination, harassment, and retaliation
Discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are all against the law in Florida. While cases can sometimes be difficult to prove, a recent string of high-profile settlements illustrates the importance of getting this area right:
- Applebee’s settled a racial and homophobic harassment claim for $100,000: Two employees repeatedly harrassed another employee, and after complaining to management, the victim saw hours cut (and no intervention).
- Whataburger paid $180,000 to settle a workplace retaliation claim: A general manager allegedly required a local manager to hire white applicants and not black applicants, and when the local manager complained, she endured numerous forms of retaliation.
- Chipotle paid $70,000 to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit: A female service manager experienced repeated derogatory comments and sexual harassment from a male crew member, but after repeatedly reporting the behavior to general management and seeing no change, she threatened to complain to corporate—and was then fired within three days.
What is the minimum wage in Florida?
The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association reports that as of September 30, 2023, Florida’s minimum wage is $12.00 per hour. However, the state minimum wage is set to increase annually through 2026. Attorney Matthew K. Fenton (of law firm Wenzel Fenton Cabassa) explains:
“In November 2020, Florida voters approved yearly increases to Florida minimum wage through 2026. Incremental increases of $1.00 per year until the minimum wage reaches $15.00 per hour in 2026.”
But there’s a catch: Tipped employees are treated differently, resulting in an effectively lower minimum wage for tipped employees.
Laws regarding tipped employees
These are the Florida tip laws that apply to any business employing tipped workers.
Employers may take a tip credit of up to up to $3.02 per hour
While smaller than the amount for federal law, a tip credit of $3.02 per hour is legal in Florida.
The tip credit lowers the minimum wage for tipped employees by the amount of the tip credit, allowing Florida employers to reduce the minimum wage they pay—as long as the employee makes enough in tips to reach the actual minimum wage.
Employers cannot claim employees' tips
Employers do not have the legal right to claim any part of employees’ tips as income for the business itself.
Employers can pay their employees less in this industry because employees can earn more via tips. For that to work, employees must have the right to keep those tips.
While employers can’t claim employee tips, pooling remains legal in Florida.
Employers must pay tipped employees at least $8.98 per hour
The hourly cash wage rate for tipped employees through September 2024 is $8.98 per hour (minimum). This number comes from subtracting the tip credit of $3.02 per hour from the full minimum wage ($12 per hour).
This is higher than in many states because the federal minimum wage and tip credit are lower.
Employers cannot withhold tips from employees to cover costs
Withholding tips used to be a common way for restaurateurs to cover various costs or expenses. However, withholding tips is illegal in Florida, thanks to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
One Florida restaurant recently ran afoul of these regulations: It used servers’ tips to tip sushi chefs, restaurant owners, and managers.
Wage and Hour Division District Director Nicolas Ratmiroff explained the problem:
“Tips are the property of the employees who earn them. No employer has the right to keep any tips unless they are given directly to the manager who directly serves a customer.”
Another pair of restaurants did something similar, withholding a portion of employee tips to cover unpaid “dine and dash” meal tickets.
Overtime pay in Florida
Florida doesn’t impose its own state laws around overtime, so the federal rules for overtime compliance apply in the state. Those rules state that work above 40 hours per week must be paid at time-and-a-half (1.5 times the standard hourly wage).
Tipped employees working for Florida minimum wage have overtime calculated as follows:
Full minimum wage rate x 1.5 - tip credit
$12 x 1.5 - $3.02 = $14.98
Don’t multiply the tipped minimum wage ($8.98) by 1.5, or you’ll underpay employees for overtime.
Meals and breaks
Florida has its own law for employees under 18, who must get a 30-minute meal period if they work for more than four hours.
There’s no state-specific rule for employees over 18, so Department of Labor regulations and the FLSA take effect. In those guidelines, employers don’t have to provide breaks or meal periods. If you do offer breaks (20 minutes or less), they must be paid. Meals (30 minutes or more) may be unpaid.
For more information on Florida restaurant labor laws, consider these additional helpful resources:
Simple to set up, easy to use. Give your restaurant the team management tools they need to be successful. Start your free trial today.
Start free trial
No credit card required