I’ve recently started working for a restaurant (which will be anonymous for now) in Virginia (U.S.A.) as a waiter. I’ve learned to enjoy it, but recently a customer left without paying. I looked around everywhere to see if I misplaced the tab somewhere, but couldn’t find anything. I asked my boss to see if she received their payment, but she didn’t. We both looked at all the receipts for that day, and couldn't find theirs. My boss then said if they didn't call in and pay within a week, I would be responsible to pay for their check.
Is this fair? It wasn’t my fault they left without paying, but my boss said it wasn’t her fault either. Is this policy different among restaurants? Is this even allowed? I’m assuming it isn’t allowed, as I don’t think it’s fair that the waiter should pay, so should I tell my boss anything?
UPDATEThank you guys so much for all your responses. My conclusion is it is obviously not legal to make a waiter pay for a dine-and-dasher. Thankfully, the people held in question actually did pay, we just completely missed their payment in the receipts (they did not tip me though >:-( ). When I told my boss I did the research and she wasn't allowed to force me to pay, she told me she did not know that, and wouldn't do that again. Seems like we were able to resolve the problem briskly.
Here is Virginia law:http://www.doli.virginia.gov/laborlaw/laborlaw.html
Legally, you can never be paid less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour. If you work for an hour, you must make at least $7.25 (tips can count toward this). Your employer can't dock your pay below minimum wage--depending on the amount of the tab, and how much you make, making you pay the tab could easily take you below minimum wage.
From Virginia's Department of Labor:
The law prohibits employers from making deductions, other than for taxes or other items required by law such as garnishments, without first securing the employee's written authorization to do so. Even with written permission, employees cannot be required to forfeit their wages for shortages, errors, damages, etc. Employers can be assessed a $1,000 penalty per violation or face criminal charges for intentionally and willfully violating this law.
IANAL, but that seems pretty clear. Point this out to your manager. Unfortunately, the service industry in general is somewhat notorious for violating employment laws, so you may have to be prepared to go to the department of labor with this. They may also be able to fire you (they're not allowed to retaliate for you making a complaint, but in practice they might try or come up with an excuse).
The best course of action, IMO, is to show the law to your manager. If that doesn't work, start looking for another job (Even if they don't retaliate, you shouldn't have to put up with this garbage), and show no mercy filing complaints with the DOL.
It's the company's money, not yours. Some "customer" stole from the company, not from you. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why you should pay for the company when someone stole from them.
You say it's not your fault, your boss says it's not her fault either. Nice argument, but it's wrong. It's her business. Everything that occurs in that business is her responsibility. She doesn't give you a share of the profits, then why should you share the losses?
PS. The boss apparently wants you to pay for the difference between "customer pays" and "customer runs away without paying". The highest reasonable amount the boss could ask for is the difference between "person never orders anything" and "customer orders, eats, and doesn't pay". If the price of the meal is $30 but the actual cost of providing it is only $10, then asking for more than $10 is unreasonable, because that's the actual cost of the thief turning up at the restaurant.
IANAL but this is not fair. That is a company loss. Take it up with your local labor commission.
They can no more make you pay for skip than they can make a dishwasher pay for a broken plate.
I was doing contract work and the customer we were working for did not pay so the contract agency tried to not pay us. Someone called the state labor commission and we got paid immediately. The risk is on the business owner not the employee. If they want to fire you for not doing your job then they have a case but they cannot charge you for the ticket.
It's a pretty common policy, even in jurisdictions that explicitly forbid it. (Some employers, like some landlords, break the rules with a fair amount of confidence that they won't be taken to whatever board enforces them, or at least not often.) While I don't own a restaurant, I have a number of family members who have worked both front and back of house and say this is the policy where they work. (I have also seen retail cashiers held responsible for shortages in their tills even if the shortage was caused by a quick-change artist or a counterfeit bill. Again this may not be legal but it is nonetheless common.)
There are two reasons for it. One is that it motivates the waiters, who are really the only ones who know the state of each table, to get payment from customers quickly and accurately. The second is that if a restaurant covered "skips", a waiter could encourage friends to skip or even accept a generous tip to "look the other way" while strangers skipped. Heck, they could even put an entire cash payment into their pocket and just say the people skipped.
Are any of these likely to happen? Shouldn't a good manager be able to spot that sort of thing and fire the bad apples instead of forcing good people to pay for thieves? Sure, but many restaurants aren't managed well. You can even argue that knowing dine-and-dash comes out of the waiter's pocket, not the rich restaurant (ha!) will reduce the number of people who do it.
As for whether it's acceptable, that is up to you. You can choose not to accept it by taking your employer to the labour board if it's forbidden where you live, which may work, but is likely to affect your relationship with your employer, or getting a job somewhere else. I doubt you can get your manager to change the policy based on you not liking it: it's not as though all the other waiters love this policy or the manager thinks it's what waitstaff want.
Is it acceptable to ask a waiter to pay if a customer leaves without paying?
If I owned the restaurant in question, that's not something I'd ever do.
To me, employees are valuable. Unless I thought the waiter was stealing from me (which is a completely different problem), I'd just chalk it up to "the cost of doing business".
I know that word of this sort of poor treatment gets around quickly, and the owner is going to be making it harder to hire new waitstaff. The job is difficult enough, without worrying that your pay is going to be docked due to an idiot customer.
And as a customer, I avoid restaurants when I know they are jerks to their workers.
Do cashiers in the bank have to pay it back if they get robbed? In normal countries the state (police, courts) has the monopoly to say "you did wrong and have to cover the incurred losses". Nobody else may fine you as a person.
Normally if someone thinks you caused them losses, the person has to involve law enforcement which decides if your actions really caused this etc. In this case the fault would clearly be on the malicious person who walked away and you would never have to cover this.
Sometimes there is a clause in contract that says that you have to pay fines or cover losses in some cases. Usually it goes like "either you pay or the contract ends" or just "you have to pay all loses that are caused by your actions". In most places (including Virginia as explained by user2896564) the labor law prohibits that. The logic is that if you make losses maliciously, it has to decided by law enforcement not employer. If, on the other hand, you make losses by error, it's the employers fault for you being in the position while not skilled/rested/trained enough not to make the mistake. And he may not decide to punish you for that.
But remember the last sentence. If the employer expects you to make sure clients pay and can't simply walk out without you calling them back and involving security/police, then this might all be your fault. While you may not be fined monetary, the employer can lay you off because you turned out to be unfit for the role. This is the reason why very often employees give in and cover the losses, sometimes even willingly - "sorry boss, I messed up, I will cover the losses". Not because they have to legally, but because they know they made an error and don't want to be detrimental employee.
By the way, these "you will be fined for this and that" while being forbidden in the employment contracts, is common for memberships. It's totally fine to kick a person from a fellowship or kick a sports club from a league if they break the rules and refuse to pay the assigned penalty.
It's totally illegal, and poor management practice. I instead would offer as a manager to provide incentive to those who prevent skips if it was a legitimate problem. For instance, everyone who has no skips gets a 5$ bonus at the end of the week. This way they're still mitigating some of the direct risk and providing an incentive for you to check up on the customers. They could even do things like having a team outing if the entire team has no skips for x number of days/weeks.
Do you normally get a cut when client pays? No - then it's not your problem. I think it's reasonable and makes sense. They should have got security cameras installed and working. There are other services to track down people, not part of waiter's job.
Even if we ignore what the law says here as pointed out in detail in the other answers, then the point of view of the boss still doesn't make sense. The incurred costs for not paying the bill will typically be far less than the bill. The cost of the food is typically of the order of a few dollars, the time the cook spent preparing the food would typically be just a few minutes. The bill is an order of magnitude more than the total costs, because of fixed costs like the wages of the personnel etc.
When I eat in restaurants, I personally experience this first hand as I need to eat far more than most people. I will order food that's specially prepared, the quantities are more than double of that would be in a normal menu, and yet I'm paying the same as for a normal menu. And that's possible because the food itself costs almost nothing and it's not more work for the cook to prepare my meal than it is to prepare a normal menu.
I worked as a waitron for many years in a major well-respected restaurant chain in Virginia. There were skip-outs on rare occasions, customers who sat there crying that they couldn't pay their tab, etc. Management did not offer money to pay -- it was the waitron's responsibility -- but they were sympathetic and tried to investigate and recover the money, which worked a few times. I see both sides. It would be IMPOSSIBLE for management to police and cover these losses. Waitrons would continually claim "skip-out" and pocket the money. It's completely untenable to have management pay. Anyone that says, "I wouldn't patronize a business like that." I say -- wake up. You already have and do so every time you go out.