Susur Lee to Reimburse Workers After Tips Illegally Taken
Celebrity chef Susur Lee has informed current employees that they are no longer docking tips at Toronto restaurants Lee and Fring’s, and will reimburse staff for past deductions, CBC News reports. The chef came under fire in mid-August when former employees revealed that tip money was being withheld to pay for spilled drinks, incorrect orders, and broken plates. Management called these deductions “IOUs”.
Susur Lee recognizes and apologizes for the fact that the IOU policy remained in place after the Ministry of Labour changed the laws concerning gratuities in 2016.
Susur Lee Restaurant Group will also be contacting previous staff members in order to issue refunds.
Susur Lee Restaurants Used IOU System
Employees from multiple Susur Lee restaurants claim that large portions of their tips were being withheld to pay for various errors that occurred during their shifts, including drink spills, incorrect drink orders and broken dishes.
Deductions – or IOUs as they were called – would be indicated in pen on the tip envelopes handed out to workers. Some of these IOUs amounted to more than $100 over a one-week period.
Dylan Turner, a bartender who worked at Fring’s for a total of six months before quitting in July of 2016, was charged an IOU of $101.70 to cover a drink order.
“It was pretty laughable to show my other server and bartender friends how little money I was making for how much I was working,” Turner told CBC News.
Taylor Davis, another former bartender at Fring’s, said that most of his IOUs were linked to transgressions like spillage and wrong drink orders, and amounted to an average deduction of $50 a week.
After initially informing CBC News that they were looking into the matter, Kelsea Knowles, a spokesperson for Susur Lee Restaurant Group explained that the IOU policy was no longer in effect. They also indicated that funds from the IOUs went towards staff events and uniform purchases.
A petition has been started by organizers, asking Susur Lee to pay back the money deducted from tips.
What the Employment Standards Act Says
Prior to June 10, 2016, Ontario’s Employment Standards Act did not provide legal protection to tips and other gratuities. Employers were allowed to make deductions from employee tips for such things as spillage and damage.
Protecting Employees’ Tips Act, 2015 (“Bill 12”) amended the ESA to prohibit employers from withholding gratuities, except in very limited circumstances, including:
- Statutory Deductions
- Court Orders
- Tip Pooling
Bill 12 also ensures that an employee cannot waive this new employment standard, even if the employee provides explicit permission, verbally or in writing. Examples include:
- giving your employer all of your tips in exchange for a higher rate of pay
- waiving your right to minimum wage in exchange for keeping all or a higher percentage of tips
- giving your employer a portion of your tip other than for a tip pool
“Even if the employee agrees to hand over a percentage of their tip to cover broken dishes and spilled drinks, it is still illegal for an employer to deduct anything that is owed to the employer from tips,” confirmed employment lawyer Lior Samfiru, senior partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP.
For more on these amendments to the Employment Standards Act, read the Government of Ontario’s entry on tips and other gratuities.
In The News
Can Susur Lee Employees Get Their Tips Back?
Given that a representative of Susur Lee Restaurant Group has acknowledged that an IOU policy was in effect up until August 2017, employees may very well be able to recoup those lost amounts.
But what are an employee’s chances of actually getting that money back?
“If the amount deducted from tips was clearly indicated on something like an envelope, that may be enough evidence for the Ministry of Labour to decide that money is owed to the employee in question,” said Samfiru. “However, if an employee does not possess a marked envelope, it may be very difficult to actually prove what they are owed. This is especially true if the employer suggests that lower amounts were deducted.”
Employees can seek recourse by either filing a complaint with the Ministry of Labour, or by starting a court action against the employer.