Servers robbed by employers

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Photo by: David Yin

Teneile Warren, a Sous-Chef, described a dine and dash incident last year in which the bartender was forced to pay the full bill.

“Two customers at the bar left without paying their bill while the bartender was changing the keg,” Warren said. “I was standing at the bar counter and the bartender asked me if those two guys left and I said, ‘yes’. He went outside to try and find them but it was too late. They were gone.”

Several restaurant and bar workers are unaware of their rights in the workplace.

This leaves them at serious risk of being taken advantage of by their managers.

One such method would be to deduct an employee’s pay due to a dine and dash. 

That’s illegal.

Kerry Binkley is a server who has worked at several different bars and restaurants in her career.

Although her current workplace does not enforce wage deductions for a dine and dash incident, other locations have.

“I had students come in for lunch,” Binkley said, “It was right near a high school and two of them took off without paying.

Two of my customers went and chased after them and they went into the school. [The assisting customers] went to the principal’s office and called the police.

The police wouldn’t do anything about it, so I ended up having to pay for [the unpaid tab],” Binkley said.

Binkley stated that this incident happened approximately nine to ten years ago. But she believes that the practice is widespread and will keep happening.

“It’s not visible, but I’m pretty sure almost every large chain restaurant [charges employees for an unpaid tab],” Binkley said.

Max Bauer, an employment lawyer from Morrison Reist Krauss LLP, stated that he’s  rarely dealt with wage deduction cases from dining and dashing.

“I suppose some [workers] may not want ‘the hassle’ and/or the amount in question isn’t worth their time and/or effort,” Bauer said. “For some considering the lawyer, paralegal option, the cost of pursuing the issue may be a barrier.”

Bauer stated that there are still options employees could take, other than contacting a lawyer.

“[The employees] can contact the Ministry of Labour and file a complaint in relation to the wrongful deduction of wages, tips,” Bauer said.

“The Ministry can issue an order against the employer to repay the wages, tips amongst other orders (examples include: posting of material, to not deduct wages or tips from others in the future).  The Ministry can also fine the employer and or conduct further investigation into the employer’s labour practices.” 

He said employees can engage directly with their employer and some employers may be unaware of their legal obligations. 

The Employment Standards Act of 2000, commonly known as the ESA, officially dictates how managers should treat their employees in the workforce.

The law determines several work-related inquiries in Ontario, such as minimum wage, working hour limits, and the termination of pay, among other issues.

Section 13 states: “An employer shall not withhold wages payable to an employee, make a deduction from an employee’s wages or cause the employee to return his or her wages to the employer unless authorized to do so under this section.”

Such exceptions include: statutory deductions, court orders, and the employee’s written consent, and should not be applicable in a dine and dash situation.

Warren added that owners tend to hold a certain opinion when it comes to dining and dashing.

“When you get a section in a dining room, it is your responsibility.  If customers dine and dash, it means you weren’t paying attention. A part of the job is to be able to do multiple things at once and keep an eye out.” Warren said.

“That’s how owners see it and some owners establish that explicitly.”

However, Bauer disagreed with the statement and stated that although servers play a role in attempting to limit dine and dash situations, the responsibility is the employers, just as the financial loss is the businesses’ to absorb. 

 “Ultimately the customer that stole the food [should be held responsible in a dine and dash situation].  Following that, the Employer unfortunately has to bear the loss.”

Bauer added that further education on Employee Rights could help protect employees from complying with illegal workplace habits.

Have you ever experienced or heard of servers being made to pay for dine and dashers? 

Contact Imprint: editor@uwimprint.ca.

 If you wish to seek legal council on the matter, reach Morrison Reist Krauss LLP by phone or email at (519)-576-5351 or at mail@mrkfirm.com.