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« the chapter you weren't planning on writing. | Main | Petersham Nurseries. Richmond Surrey, London »

28 October 2008


Thanks for posting this!

Here are a couple of links to new york city resources:
Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, and the Urban Justice Center, which stands for "individual rights & social change."

Thanks Becca! Always good to know about NYC services. ~ Shuna

I like your blog so much :) It always gives me pause to think, a moment to question, or, in this instance, a chance to get fired up.

Here in Florida all folks are "at will" employees and can be let go on a moment's notice with little recourse. Viva La Revelucion.

Hello Greg,

Workers are "at-will" here and also in London, but this term does not take away anyone's access to City, State and Federal labor laws covering all workers. Many people died for these rights to get passed, and no one should ever be dissuaded from seeking them. Of course people still are, everywhere, which is one of the points of this post. ~ Shuna

Thanks for posting this. As an owner of a food business I think this is an excellent post because owners try to get the most out of their payroll dollar and employees need to protect themselves and know their rights. It keeps everyone honest with both sides knowing their rights. If you are an employee keep a record of your hours week to week. Pay attention to what is happening in your particluar establishment. Are the regulars cutting back? Has the owner cut back anywhere--food purchases, inventory, personnel, their own lifestyle -- all of these are clues they might be pro-active to the slow down and trying to ride out the storm. Is business volume or sales down? Just keep an open eye and think about your options. I know of many line cooks who are working side jobs in the food industry and other industries- non-competing with their main place of course until the rocky road smooths out. The food business is to some extent a love hate relationship- you love the job well most of it but sometimes the pay isn't so great for employees or employers and this is one of those times for both.

great post shuna.

i've long wondered why in this industry when one fights for their rights as a worker, they're seen as 'less passionate'. workers rights are workers rights. we aren't slaves.

i've fought with past employers for money, and walked out when they wouldn't pay. if i was more passionate about being a cook, i was told i would stick it out.

thank you for bringing this to the attention of others. we aren't bad people for fighting for our rights.

These are great resources, and I hope anyone with questions about payment and labor rights will use them. However, speaking from sad personal experience, if the business that employs is going down so hard that they can't make payroll, GET OUT ASAP. DO NOT WORK FOR FREE. I worked for a failing dot-com for over a month w/o a check on promises that we'd get paid soon...only to see the whole thing shut down. We filled out all the paperwork at the Labor Board to get the back pay we were owed...but were told that, unfortunately, the investors and creditors were in line before us. None of us ever saw a dime of what we were owed.

Ugh. I have personal experience with this. Unfortunately, there's only so much you can do. I'm in the tech industry and I was a part of the dot-com bust in 2001. My then-employer didn't pay me (us) for my last 5 weeks of work. By California law, if they don't give you what they owe you (including accrued vacation) the day they lay you off, they owe you for each day thereafter as though you were still working for them, up to 30 days. We sued the hell out of them via the Franchise Tax Board. Basically what came of it is they said, "Yep, we owe you that money, but we don't have it so too bad! :D" Taking that into account the extra 30 days and interest for 7 years, they owe me upwards of $10k-$13k (actually, probably more by now). I'll never see a penny of it. Really chaps my hide.


Thanks so much for those resources. It's actually very timely because my girlfriend (not in the business) hasn't been paid this month and hasn't been told when she will. Because it's a small company, there's no HR dept and she has no idea who to turn to.

I cooked briefly at a shiny brandspankingnew restaurant in SF that, beneath all the glamour, bounced payroll checks. While we talk of responsibility to people who bought houses that they couldn't afford, the same should go to people who start businesses that they don't know how to run, or that simply are not going to be successful because of the economy and the lack of demand. So many restaurants seem to fall into this, and I think that it has to do with the popularization of cuisine and the Food Network and other such garbage. Everyone just assumes they can cook, that they can run a business, and that it's their god-given slice of the american dream. Maybe it's time for some humility and respect.

Thank you so much for posting this. It's a great resource.

Great post, Shuna, and one that royally ticks me off. I was lucky enough to work for an employer that paid me well, and on time. After that, I freelanced on my own, and only once got left holding the bill. No way I would ( or could) work for nothing...........

FYI - the "San Francisco Labor Lawyers" link does not lead exclusively to lawyers who represent employees.

yep yep yep. The restaurant I work for is doing major cutbacks, trimming off all excess labor fat and really limiting food costs to the bare minimum. It is owned by a company who runs a few other high-end restaurants, a catering division, and a number of delis too, so I think the company will be fine; they've been around for awhile. But I am definitely feeling the pinch. Business isn't down compared to last year, which is a good sign, and since they're putting everyone on a spending freeze, that just shows that the business people are smart (even if the people whose hours are getting cut don't think so). I'm looking for a new job myself (outside the restaurant business), but I think it'll be awhile before I get one.

Aaaaaand I just got laid off!

Hi Shuna,

It was great meeting you on Saturday, and I'm enjoying your recent posts. For what it's worth, while America is an at-will employment jurisdiction, the UK is not. The Employment Rights Act here would be a first stop for anyone interested in employees' rights here.

You always seem to blog on a topic that is on my mind. My boss has been paying me late and it is pissing me off, making me a very cranky person in the kitchen. I don't bust my butt for no reason. Once employees are unhappy I think the business is doomed.

thank you! thank you! I'm a line cook at a high end restaurant and I'm paid hourly - usually 37-40 hrs/wk. Am I crazy or stupid for going in "off the clock" sometimes two hours ahead of time in order to get my station ready? Everyone says it's "the restaurant business dirty little secret" and you're supposed to come in on your own time? Also, if you don't then you don't have passion for food? Help!

hello Lotta, I don't think it's a secret that cooks do not have, nor will they ever have, 8 hour days. Cooks who have worked for me who expect a 40 hour week are delusional. If you can work faster and be more organized, you can work less hours, but I think the 8 hour day will always be considered part time, and we all know there are no part time cooking jobs. Full on or fired is what I've found. If you love the business, all those "extra" hours will pay off. ~ Shuna

I loved this post!
I saw it coming in October & November also.
I was laid off 1/26/09, an exec pastry chef.
Good Luck to all!!!
Next stop...owner/partner/operator
Sick of working for someone else!

Anyone know what the state of florida laws are if your employer (small company- 8 employees) doesn't make payroll. We don't want to be unfair, but want to have the law behind us when we address the issue with our employer next week.

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