Dear Salty, Last night as I was carrying some clean wine glasses from the kitchen out to the dining room, I slipped on a small spill in the kitchen and fell into some metal shelves. I broke all the nice glasses I was carrying and had a couple small cuts, but was otherwise fine. The chef/owner of the restaurant saw this, and the first words out of his mouth—before asking if I was okay—was “That’s coming out of your paycheck.” Can he actually make me pay for them? I feel like it’s the restaurant’s fault for not cleaning up that spill, but I don’t know what legal ground I’m on here.
Not Clumsy I Swear
Dear Not Clumsy,
Sorry about your slip! These things happen, we’re human. If you’re a career server who hasn’t spilled food or drinks on a customer yet, it’s only a matter of time.
My answer to your question is two-part. First, the legal question. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers can’t make workers pay for the costs of broken inventory if it would push their pay below the federal minimum wage. That also goes for tipped employees, which I’m assuming you are: If the employer claims a tip credit, the tipped employee is considered to be making only minimum wage, so “the employer may not take deductions for walkouts, cash register shortages, breakage, cost of uniforms, etc., because any such deduction would reduce the tipped employee’s wages below the minimum wage.”
You could try explaining that to your boss, and you can further remind him of this lawsuit against a South Carolina restaurant that charged employees for broken plates and glasses. The restaurant owner eventually had to cough up a cool $1 million. (I’m guessing your boss would rethink his position.)
The second part of my answer has less to do with the law and more to do with your boss being such a nickel-and-dimer. I get that margins are thin and waste sucks, but he’s got to realize that a few broken glasses are a cost of doing business. People trip, they fall, they drop things. You can’t dock them for the plates they break and the soap they use to wash their hands and the water they drink out of the tap. It’s not just illegal, it’s shit for morale.
I know us servers aren’t making a ton of money, but the market is in favor of restaurant workers looking for jobs—and has been for a while. Depending on how big a jerk your boss actually is—not asking whether you’re hurt is ratbag behavior, in my book—you might polish off that resume and take your talents where they’re appreciated.
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