UnderCover Waitress: Stolen Bank

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Stolen Bank

Ask the Waitress!
"I have a bring your own bank system in the restaurant that I work at. Tonight my wallet/till was stolen and all the cash was taken. Do I have to pay what was stolen?"
Ouch. First, you are the victim of a crime. Sorry for your troubles.

For the record, this situation seems different from Dine and Dash. When customers dine and dash, they steal the cost of their meal and service. In this scenario, somebody stole the waitress' billfold and bank.

At first blush, it seems ridiculous to require waitresses to pay for theft. If somebody broke into the restaurant after hours and stole, would whoever locked up be responsible? (I hope I am not giving any owners out there ideas...) On the other hand, who among us has never seen a restaurant owner or manager behave in a ridiculous manner? Anybody? No?

The answer to the question is directly related to where the crime took place. For example, in Quebec, Canada, servers may be required to pay for customer theft, broken dishes, and I am not sure what else. I am sure that I am glad I don't wait tables in Quebec.

Wiser Waitress refers to federal law when she states that employers may not charge employees enough money to bring the waitress below minimum wage. She writes that it is illegal to require
"... server’s to pay the bill for customers who walk out,mistakes on bills, food sent back and breakages that bring the servers wage below min wage.  for example, if a walkout occured and the bill was $200, the owner could not make the server pay the entire amount.  Under the revised FLSA fact sheet #15, the employer may in some cases only withhold an amount that does not bring the servers wage below the federal minimum wage of $7.25." [sic]
I'd quit before I agreed to work numerous shifts at minimum wage to make a restaurant owner whole from customer theft. However, state laws sometimes prevent the employer from deducting loss due to theft from the employee's pay. Each state in the union has it's own department of labor regulating worker pay and paycheck deductions.

In Wisconsin, legislative document 103.455 states, in part:
"No employer may make any deduction from the wages due or earned by any employee, who is not an independent contractor, for defective or faulty workmanship, lost or stolen property or damage to property, unless the employee authorizes the employer in writing to make that deduction or unless the employer and a representative designated by the employee determine that the defective or faulty workmanship, loss, theft or damage is due to the employee's negligence, carelessness, or willful and intentional conduct, or unless the employee is found guilty or held liable in a court of competent jurisdiction by reason of that negligence, carelessness, or willful and intentional conduct..." 
So, the waitress has to authorize the employer to make deduction for theft UNLESS the theft is the result of employee negligence, carelessness, etc. For example, if a waitress left her bank on the bar in a busy restaurant and walked away for thirty minutes, I think she could reasonably be held liable for the employer's loss when the bank disappeared.

Connecticut is more vague about whether the employer may deduct for customer theft:
"Sec. 31-71e. Withholding of part of wages. No employer may withhold or divert any portion of an employee's wages unless (1) the employer is required or empowered to do so by state or federal law, or (2) the employer has written authorization from the employee for deductions on a form approved by the commissioner, or (3) the deductions are authorized by the employee, in writing, for medical, surgical or hospital care or service, without financial benefit to the employer and recorded in the employer's wage record book." [Emphasis mine.] 
I had trouble finding anything specific on CT state laws that would or would not empower a restaurant owner to deduct wages for customer theft. If anybody has a link to this information, please feel free to share in the comments, thanks.

One thing I notice on forums and websites in which people discuss employees standing up for themselves is the feared consequence of employer retaliation and job loss. Please know that an employer may not retaliate against you for complaining about your rights being violated. This is true regardless of who is found to be right. In other words, if you complain and the Department of Labor finds that your employer did nothing wrong, your employer may not retaliate. You have the right to complain or to ask for help from organizations that oversee labor. If you are retaliated against, go right back to the Department of Labor and complain again, this time about retaliation. Or go to a lawyer.

Best of luck, and thanks for asking the waitress!


  1. It's a patchwork, it seems. Some jurisdictions will get you screwed over in those circumstances.

    1. Voice of wisdom from Canada, thank you! I wonder that there is more variation among the provinces up there than there is among the states down here...


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