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Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Restaurant unfairly
fines employees

Question: I work at a busy buffet-style restaurant. We have had cases of customers walking out without paying their bills. The restaurant managers have since made a rule that if a walkout occurs, the servers who waited on them must either pay the full amount of the check or sign a warning notice for negligence. According to the managers, three warning notices may result in suspension or termination. In a separate though related matter, the managers have made a rule that if any hard copies of checks (the original ticket/check issued to each table) is missing at the end of a shift (for whatever reason, regardless of whether a server was at fault), the servers in that section will have to pay a total of $50 from their own pockets. Are any of these policies legal? Do employees have any recourse if they are suspended or fired for these reasons?

Answer: The short answer is that employers may not withhold anything from an employee's paycheck because of fines, cash shortage, breakage or losses, said Patrick Stanley, spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Regarding the $50 penalty for a missing check, Stanley said the answer would be the same: "If that $50 constitutes any part of the pay of an employee, it cannot be withheld."

If you have further questions about this, call Stanley at 586-8750.

If you want specifics, the Hawaii Revised Statutes deals with the withholding of wages under Chapter 388-6. Among other things, that section of the law says:

"No employer may deduct, retain, or otherwise require to be paid, any part or portion of any compensation earned by any employee except where required by federal or state statute or by court process or when such deductions or retentions are authorized in writing by the employee. "

It specifically says employees cannot authorize a withholding to pay for such things as fines; cash shortages in a common money till, cash box or register used by two or more persons; fines, penalties or replacement costs for breakage; losses "due to acceptance by an employee of checks which are subsequently dishonored if employee is given discretion to accept or reject any check."

Regarding warning notices leading to termination, be careful of what you sign because that gets a bit more complicated. As far as the law goes, the employer does not need any reason to terminate an employee, Stanley said.

The question would then be if the termination was a result of misconduct, he said.

If the terminated employee applied for unemployment benefits, the employer could say there was misconduct because the employee was not careful or was negligent, he said. In that case, an investigator would have to make a determination, he said.


To the people in the parking lot at Longs Moiliili on the morning of Wednesday, March 22. I accidentally locked my baby daughter in the car and was a bit emotional. Mahalo to the nice man who stood by the car to be with her while I went into the store to call someone for help; to the nice security guard, Oscar, who talked to me to keep me calm, so I could keep making funny faces at my daughter to keep her calm. And to the wonderful lady (a mom, too!) who gave me encouraging words and an umbrella to keep me dry in the rain. Aloha no, na ke Akua e malama, a hui hou kaua. -- A relieved mom

Need help with problems? Call Kokua Line at 525-8686,
fax 525-6711, or write to P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802.
Email to

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