Bernie’s Burger Bus chef-owner Justin Turner knew he was going to have a rough day in the media at some point in the near future, but he didn’t know what day it would come. Turns out, it was Monday, May 14.
That’s when the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor announced that it had reached a settlement of $62,754 with Bernie’s Burger Bus “to settle overtime and recordkeeping violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).”
An investigation by WHD found 49 Bernie's Burger Bus employees at the company’s locations in Bellaire and Katy “were paid straight-time rates for their overtime hours instead of the time-and-one-half required by law after failing to combine hours that employees had worked at two separate locations for the company when determining whether overtime was due.”
For his part, Turner makes no excuses for the violation of the law. “We made a mistake. We’ll gladly pay for our mistake,” Turner says. “We value nothing more than our employees. I didn’t realize I was doing something wrong until someone pointed it out.”
According to Turner, the violations occurred in 2016 after the opening of his second location in Katy. Growing from food trucks to two restaurants had created a business that was larger and more complex than Turner knew how to operate in full compliance with the law.
“I attribute a lot of my early success to the fact that I can run a really good kitchen, but I’m not a businessman,” Turner says. “When I went from the food truck to a restaurant, I had no clue what I was doing.”
When Turner hired Ben Miller to serve as the company’s vice president of operations, he brought experience from corporate restaurants with multiple locations. Miller immediately realized the restaurant had a problem it needed to correct. According to Turner, the company’s records demonstrated to the investigators that it fixed the problem that summer and has been in compliance with the law ever since — including the opening of the Heights location in 2017.
Turner also notes that the fine only includes the wages he owed employees. Because Bernie’s had already fixed the mistake and cooperated with investigators, the Department of Labor didn’t impose any additional fines. The company has already paid approximately $49,000 of the money owed and will complete the entire amount as quickly as it can find current addresses for the remaining people who are owed money.
“I have no problem fessing up to being not smart [about running a business],” Turner says. “There are still people who are part of that lawsuit that work for me. They understand we made a mistake, but there’s no malice.”
“The U.S. Department of Labor will continue to enforce the law,” says Betty Campbell, Southwest regional wage and hour division administrator, in a release. “We encourage employers to use the numerous resources WHD offers — including online videos, confidential calls, or in-person visits to our local offices — to ensure they have the tools they need to understand their responsibilities and to comply with federal law.”