As we’ve looked into in the past, while there are many employers who might hold servers accountable for an unpaid bill (this side-eye glance is for you, dine-and-dashers) those that do are are often in violation of the Department of Labor’s rules regarding wage deductions. But that didn’t stop one Brooklyn waitress from getting the boot, she says, after she refused to fork over her the cash to cover customers who dined and dashed on a $96 meal.
The waitress tells Gothamist that was given the boot from her job at a midtown restaurant after the customers skipped out without paying. She says it was a busy night and she was helping a coworker out when the three men left.
“As soon as I realized, I went into full blown shock and then a state of panic knowing that I’d be held responsible for their $96 tab,” she said. When she told her manager, he later said that she and her fellow coworkers would have to cover the tab.
“I believe he said this because it was relayed to him that I was not intending to pay the tab, and he wanted to guilt me into it or he’d make my coworkers pay for it,” she told Gothamist. “I really hope he didn’t do that to them. We all work very hard in very stressful poorly managed conditions for not a lot of money right now. $96 is more than we each made in that shift…”
She says the restaurant instilled a “culture of fear” with its servers, and that while it was “repeatedly drilled” into their minds that they’d be held responsible for any unpaid tabs, she’d never seen the practice actually put to use.
After she was fired, she spoke with the folks at the Division of Labor Standards about filing a complaint of retaliation.
“Your employer cannot make any deductions or require payment out of pocket for any losses or damages. Therefore, your employer cannot require you pay the tab for customers who walk out. If they want the money, they will have to sue you in civil court…” explained the DLS. And while her employer and any other can fire workers for any reason except discrimination, they’re not allowed to give someone the boot for complaining about a violation of the Labor Law, and forcing employees to pay for an unpaid tab is just such a violation.
She says she’s doing this in an effort to keep it from happening to other mistreated restaurant workers.
“I am very tired of hard working people being exploited through emotional manipulation by restauranteurs. There are many other people who have the same anxieties over their work as I went through, who are being mistreated or taken advantage of, but can not say a word because they feel they have no recourse.”