Hundreds of Hard Eight BBQ employees owed nearly $261,000 in back wages

ROANOKE, Texas - As the clock ticks for Texans to claim $8 million of back wages owed to them, FOX 4 News has learned the employer with the largest amount of unclaimed wages is a restaurant with 5 North Texas locations.

The reason for all the wages owed came down to tips.

The U.S. Department of Labor and the owner of Hard Eight BBQ both want to get the word out that there is more than $260,000 in back wages just waiting to be claimed by former employees.

Vicki Nivens, the owner of Hard Eight, blames a misunderstanding that led to a mistake when distributing tips.

"Employees to me, At the end of the day, they make your business. I am not here every day. I can't do that," said Nivens. "You have to take care of the people who take care of you."

She says what led to the investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor was her desire to take care of managers who earn an hourly wage and often do the same work as other employees.

"Definitely a learning process," Nivens said.

The restaurant was allowing hourly shift managers to receive a share of tips, but she says she did not know that violated federal law.

"Our managers sweep the floor, take out the trash, go to the pit and cut meat if they have to, they are everywhere too. I did not think it was fair, but they did not see it my way," Nivens said with a laugh.

The Labor Department told FOX 4 the Fair Labor Standards Act does not allow managers or supervisors to keep tips the business' workers receive for any purposes.

"I did go to bat for the managers, but in the end they found us non-compliant with that part of it," Nivens claimed.

The investigation began at the Roanoke location, but included all five locations, which are in Stephenville, Coppell, The Colony and Burleson.

Her accountant broke the news of what it all added up to.

"I said, ‘How much is it?’ He told me and I said, ‘Are you kidding me? For tips?’ I tell you, Texas people tip. They are great tippers," Nivens said.

In the end, Hard Eight BBQ owed $867,500 to 910 workers.

That's an average of $950 to each employee at the time.

Of that, Nivens and the Labor Department have not been able to find 487 employees still owed nearly $261,000.

If the money is not claimed by August, it will go to the U.S. Treasury.

"I do want them to get their money, absolutely," Nivens said.

Hard Eight has now changed their rate of pay for managers to make up for the tip money they no longer receive.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Investigation was completed in August 2021, and Nivens says they have been in compliance since then. The deadline for former employees to claim their back wages will be this August. After that, the money will go to the U.S. Treasury.

To find out if you are one of the 12,000 Texans with unclaimed back wages, you can go to the U.S. Department of Labor's database here.