Workers at Toronto celebrity chef Susur Lee’s restaurants have accused management of charging them for mistakes in an IOU system, CBC Toronto reports. Former employees at Fring’s, Lee, and the now-closed Bent say the restaurants docked their tips for infractions that included spilling a drink, bringing the wrong item to a table, or sending the wrong order to the kitchen — a practice that is forbidden under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act.
Former Fring’s bartenders Dylan Turner and Taylor Davis presented CBC Toronto with the receipts to prove it. On a tip envelope, a total amount of $528 is written out, followed by a subtracted IOU of $101.70, which Turner believes was taken because a group walked out on their check. Turner says he received the reduced sum of $426.30 as his total tips for that week.
IOUs added up to an average of $50 per week, according to Davis. Sometimes, management would deduct the full price of a meal, while at other times, workers would be charged “only” what it cost to make the food or drink they needed to replace. Staff, Davis says, were “terrified” of making mistakes.
In addition to Turner and Davis, CBC Toronto spoke to six former employees and one current staffer who have all confirmed the existence of the IOU system at Lee’s restaurants. A spokesperson for the restaurants says that the practice has ended and that the docked tip money was used for staff events. Ontario law allows employers to deduct employee wages with signed authorization, but not if those deductions pertain to a “loss due to faulty work.”
On Twitter, Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg credited “Chef Grant Soto,” a social media account run by screenwriter Taylor Clarke, with bringing the issue to light. Clarke posted several Instagram stories and encouraged staff at Lee’s restaurants to come forward.
Lee, who opened and closed Shang in New York City and announced plans for a World Trade Center restaurant in 2015, declined CBC Toronto’s request to to respond directly to his staff’s allegations.
Update 8/29/17, 10:00 a.m.: Chef Susur Lee has apologized to his staff and agreed to repay employees who had their tips docked in the IOU program, CBC Toronto reports. According to the public relations coordinator for Susur Lee Restaurant Group, the group is reaching out to current and former staff and will hire an HR consultant to ensure that everyone is properly reimbursed.
Employees received a letter from Lee and sons Kai Lee and Levi Lee in their tip envelopes last pay period stating that the IOU policy has been eliminated at all of Lee’s restaurants. The letter also apologized for leaving the system in place after a 2016 change in Ontario labor law that forbid withholding tips. In the letter, Lee noted he was not aware of the change in legislation.