This screenshot allegedly shows the perpetrators of a dine-and-dash at the PressBox in Clovis. Image via Sontaya Rose ABC30 Facebook page

published on October 12, 2018 - 4:04 PM
Written by Edward Smith

What began as a social media post asking for help in identifying a couple who skipped out on a restaurant bill ended up exploding with hundreds of online comments – many concerning a policy of who pays when customers don’t.

ABC 30 aired a story Oct. 9 about PressBox Sports Grill in Clovis offering a $100 reward to anyone who could help the restaurant find two people who racked up an $80 bill the night of a pay-per-view UFC fight. Reactions to the story largely centered on a company policy that had servers pay out of pocket to make up for money missing from the till.

When one of the managers did an interview with ABC 30, she said the restaurant had split the tab with the server, according to Greg Miller, a manager at PressBox who was not working that night, but was there.

“Usually what we do is an investigation just to make sure it isn’t fraud,” Miller said. “At that point anybody could just be like ‘oh, I had a walkout,’” and then pocket the money customers gave them for the meal.

The couple came in that Saturday night and put their bill on a tab, along with a $20 cover to watch the fight for each of them. Toward the end of the fight, as per procedure, the servers went around and asked if customers were planning on staying, according to Miller. The couple told the server that they would stick around a little bit longer, but when people started to leave, they left with them, leaving behind an $87 bill. Between the manager who was working that night and the server, the missing money had to be accounted for when they closed.

“She ended up paying $27 out of her own money to balance the till that night,” said Miller, who was unable to explain why that was the amount the server paid on an $87 bill.

The next day, following a company investigation, he said, they comped the bill and repaid the server along with a tip that was missed.

Comments exploded once the story hit social media. Many people were outraged the server would have to pay to make up for the theft. Some people said this is a regular occurrence in the restaurant industry and they too had experienced having to pay out of pocket when customers ditch the bill.

Because of policies like these and others, Miller said he has known of some servers who will voluntarily pay out-of-pocket in order to avoid warnings and write-ups from businesses.

The policy, however, may be in violation of California law.

“Labor Code Section 2802 says it is illegal to deduct a business loss incurred directly as a consequence of discharge of duties,” said David Parker, founding shareholder and attorney of Fresno-based law firm Parker, Kern, Nard and Wenzel, which specializes in workers’ compensation and employment consultation.

This law often applies to employees who might drive their personal vehicle for work or use a personal cell phone. Any charges or fees they incur as a result of that work must be reimbursed by the business.

“Even if it was their fault, the employer is obligated to reimburse it to the employee,” said Parker, who added that attorney fees and losses would outweigh any restaurant bill.

“California courts are more likely to rule against an employer who seeks that wage reduction,” Parker said.

Ian Wieland, partner at Fresno law firm Sagaser, Watkins and Wieland, said it was “flat-out not legal” to punish a person through their paycheck, citing the same labor code. The only caveat he stated was gross incompetence.

Following the backlash from people on social media threatening boycott, Miller said the company has changed their policy.

“Instead of having a server balance their till, what we’re doing now is just completely taking care of it,” Miller said.

“The Facebook posting just got out of control,” he added.

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