Hospitality staff at the Boar’s Head Inn, the Ivy resort owned and operated by UVA’s nonprofit development corporation, are complaining of unpaid wages and retaliation by management, and their outcry has shed light on a history of labor law violations at the University-affiliated hotel and country club.
In an anonymous letter mailed last month to UVA Foundation CEO Tim Rose, whose organization owns the Inn, employees said that despite twice coming under federal scrutiny for labor practices, “working conditions have not improved,” and staff are underpaid, shortchanged on overtime, and subjected to what they called “bullying” from managers.
The Inn has a less-than-spotless record when it comes to fair wage issues. Two separate Department of Labor investigations, the most recent completed last year, have resulted in the company being required to cough up more than $122,000 in back pay and $8,800 in fines for repeat violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The department first looked into wage issues at the Boar’s Head in 2000, when investigators from its Richmond Wages and Hours division began scrutinizing pay practices and the employment of minors. That time around, the department agreed to allow the resort to do its own self-audit, according to a report released under the Freedom of Information Act. The same report, released in the spring of 2001, revealed that the resort was underpaying dozens of staff members.
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers must pay employees overtime at 1.5 times their regular pay rate for any hours over 40 worked in a single week, and the overtime calculation must count commissions as part of employees’ regular rate. Certain employees aren’t covered by that rule, but in order for employers to count them as exempt, workers have to meet certain criteria: They must make 1.5 times minimum wage and get more than half their salary from commissions.
The 2001 report showed that 65 non-exempt employees were being shortchanged, their employers failing to count commissions as part of their regular pay when calculating overtime. The problem cropped up among desk clerks, whose commissions on certain sales weren’t added in, and among banquet servers, whose overtime calculations hadn’t included their share of the mandatory gratuity collected at events.
In addition, the resort’s self-investigation revealed 14- and 15-year-old employees were kept at work past 7pm during the school year on several occasions, a violation of child labor restrictions.
Eventually, the Boar’s Head paid more than $78,000 in back wages to the 65 employees, but wasn’t fined for the infractions. “This is a first time investigation and there is no evidence of willfulness,” the department’s report reads, and the company was reported to have been “very cooperative.”
But 11 years later, the department was again scrutinizing pay policy at the Inn. In March of 2012, the Richmond office launched an investigation, and while there were no child labor or minimum wage violations, it found some of the previous problems were still going on.
Between 2010 and 2012, some employees were improperly exempted from the overtime-on-commissions rule, according to the report on the investigation released last May and obtained under the FOIA. Others were being paid no overtime, or were only getting overtime when they worked more than 45 hours a week. The department also found that the company was failing to require certain employees to keep a detailed timesheet that calculated regular and overtime hours. And the Inn was still failing to calculate overtime pay rates correctly.
The investigation found the company owed 40 employees back pay amounting to $44,511. And this time, the department assessed $8,800 in what are known as Civil Money Penalties, or CMPs—fines for “willful or repeat disregard” for fair pay laws.
According to the investigation report, labor employees met with Inn management on May 30, 2012, and the company agreed to bring its practices in line with the law.
But at least some Boar’s Head employees say not much has changed. In their letter, written on Inn stationery and copied to C-VILLE, the employees said they’re still being stiffed on overtime, and claimed there are other problems, including retaliation against those who complain about pay issues. The employees say that hospitality staff’s entry-level base pay of $8.20 per hour isn’t a living wage, and that the Inn’s efforts to cut salary and benefit costs have led to middle managers and other employees pulling long weeks to cover unfilled positions, and receiving no overtime pay.
“Managers continuously are being told that they have to work 50-60 hours a week without any compensatory time or time-for-time off,” reads the letter from the employees, who did not identify themselves. “If you question the amount of hours that you are expected to work, the Manager is told, ‘this is the hospitality industry and if you do not like it—you are free to find another job!’”
The employees also claimed they have “nowhere to go for assistance,” because they believe the higher-ups in human resources share their identities with upper-level management. “The retaliation begins soon thereafter until you can’t take it anymore and you are forced to leave,” they wrote.
It’s not the first time Boar’s Head employees have written to those who run the resort to complain about working conditions. Around the time the Department of Labor was wrapping up its second investigation of the Inn, staff complained by letter to General Manager Matt Harris about bad treatment on the job. Harris responded in the June staff newsletter.
“I wish I could say that every team member is happy with every outcome—but I can’t,” Harris said in the newsletter. “However, I will strive to ensure that every team member knows that they will be heard and that they feel they have been treated fairly.”
His letter makes no mention of the labor law violations the company had just been fined for.
Rose, the head of the UVA Foundation, did not respond to requests to for comment on the employees’ complaints and the past censures from the Department of Labor. Neither did the UVA leaders who serve on the Foundation board, which includes University President Teresa Sullivan, COO Patrick Hogan, Vice President Bob Sweeney, and Board of Visitors member Victoria Harker. Instead, UVA spokesman McGregor McCance offered a one-page statement from Harris, in which he emphasized that he runs a for-profit hotel that operates independently from the University.
“The facility operates in a highly competitive market, offers market wages and competitive benefits,” he wrote. “The Boar’s Head will always review the local labor market, comply with employment laws and regulations, and pay a fair and competitive wage to its employees.”
Harris said that the Inn “took immediate steps to address the findings” of the 2012 investigation, which he characterized as an audit. He also said the Inn regularly reviews policy on overtime exemptions with its attorneys.
But the employees who penned the letter of complaint said the company—and the Foundation that owns it—doesn’t do right by those working behind the scenes.
“So little pay for a four diamond resort serving the wealthiest community members,” reads letter. “It would rather invest in its property, landscaping, lighting, etc. than provide a decent wage for its workers.”