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Can't take the heat? Don't be a sous-chef (or a lawyer, or a journalist, or a doctor...) Add to ...

They claim they were deprived of legislated minimum wages and overtime pay, were forced to work more than 10 hours a day, and were robbed of their rightfully earned tips.

But the 11 former and current restaurant employees suing acclaimed chef Mario Batali for allegedly violating labour laws at his New York establishments are getting little sympathy online from those familiar with the restaurant industry.

“Boo hoo hoo. Who are these people? If they don't want to work long hours they chose the wrong industry,” one commenter wrote on the food website Chow.com.

Get real

Another commenter, who had worked in restaurants for three years, regularly putting in 10-to-12-hour shifts, wrote: “Cooking and/or working in restaurants is not glamorous work. If you don't like the hours after a week, quit, and find something else.”

Because the subject of the employees' and ex-employees' complaints, lodged late last month, are considered common practice in restaurant culture, it's perhaps not surprising that they're getting flak from others in the biz.

And while few would argue that any employer should be allowed to flout the law, it's not just restaurant workers, say experts, who should bone up on their job requirements before plunging into the career market. Whether they want to be lawyers or line cooks, lumberjacks or medical residents, prospective employees should be prepared for the gruelling realities of their jobs, says career expert Tony Lee.

Otherwise, they risk loathing their circumstances mid-career.

As publisher of U.S.-based CareerCast.com, which compiles an annual worst-jobs list, Mr. Lee says he frequently sees people set themselves up for misery by having unrealistic expectations about their chosen occupations.

“One of the most common things you hear is people going into careers for all the wrong reasons and waking up at some point in their career, five years down, 20 years down [the road], saying, ‘What am I doing?'“ he says.

Law tends to rank as one of the unhappiest professions: Many lawyers are lured into the job by the promise of a high salary or the potential for early retirement, Mr. Lee says.

In reality, he notes, “when you actually get into practising law, it tends to be fairly boring, [it's] lots of paperwork, very analytical, long hours and not at all what people expect, so you have many unhappy lawyers.”

Mark Forsyth, a third-year medical student at the University of Manitoba, says he's bracing for several stressful, arduous years as he enters his internship and residency training.

As an intern in anesthesia or surgery, he anticipates he'll be working up to 30-hour shifts on minimal sleep, and receive roughly $500 a month. When he eventually becomes a medical resident, he expects his salary will increase to around $40,000 a year, although given the long working hours, he has been warned that he'll earn less than he could at McDonald's.

Despite the hellish road ahead, Mr. Forsyth says that he's up for the challenge. “You don't want to look back and say, ‘What if? What if I didn't do this?'“ he says.

Although he sympathizes with his overworked and sleep-deprived peers, “it's just kind of the nature of the beast,” Mr. Forsyth says, noting that the alternatives are pretty clear-cut: “You have to choose a different specialty or rotation that's a little more conducive to normal hours or you get out of the profession.”

Mr. Lee points out that one person's nightmare can be another's dream job, in spite of high stress and poor working conditions. A fat paycheque and security can't guarantee job happiness, but knowing the nasty sides of an occupation can at least help people make the right choice, he says.

According to CareerCast's worst-jobs list of 2010, oil-industry roustabouts, lumberjacks, ironworkers, dairy farmers and welders hold the top five overall most underpaid, stressful and demanding occupations. CareerCast takes into account a range of factors for each job, including degree of competitiveness, income potential, unemployment rate and health hazards.

Yet each year, Mr. Lee says he receives complaints from people protesting that their jobs don't belong on his list.

One lumberjack, he recalls, “called and said, ‘Why would you put this on the bottom? It's a wonderful job. You're outdoors all day. It's great physical activity,'“ Mr. Lee recalls.

What's more, added the lumberjack, “I've gone two years now without a major accident. I don't have two fingers on my left hand, but I don't miss them.”

Adds Mr. Lee: “The guy was completely serious. … There are certainly people who love terrible jobs.”

































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