A recent episode of the popular Fox television show “Kitchen Nightmares” went viral and shocked viewers across the country. Clips showing the owners, Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, verbally abusing staff members, physically assaulting patrons and generally coming unhinged, certainly made for great TV but it was also an excellent case study in labor law violations.
The Bouzaglos are owners of the now infamous Amy’s Baking Company and are currently in the midst of a public relations meltdown. After their nightmarish appearance on the show (where host Gordon Ramsay walked out in disgust and, for the first time, did not finish remaking the restaurant), Amy and Samy took to social media to settle scores. The two lashed out on Twitter and on Amy’s Baking Company's Facebook page at detractors, with Amy saying that the restaurant was ordained by God and that all the “haters” should kill themselves. Samy took a more direct approach and said he was keeping note of all names posted on Yelp and would take appropriate action against them.
Though things seemed as bad as they could be, they somehow managed to get worse. One of the more infuriating things mentioned on the show was how Amy and Samy have a habit of confiscating all tips from their employees. Samy was especially adamant about the practice, saying their waiters and waitresses were lazy and stupid and did not deserve the money. Samy said that because they pay their waiters minimum wage he did not believe they were obligated to give them tips and ignored all criticism from Ramsay that the practice amounted to stealing.
The stir created by the show and a flood of complaints from indignant viewers prompted a statement from the Department of Labor clarifying the tipping issue. The DOL said in a press release that while it would not reveal whether it had formally launched an investigation into Amy’s Baking Company, it disagreed with Samy’s position on tipping. Specifically, the DOL says that even if companies do not take advantage of the tip credit (meaning they pay their employees the minimum wage or more), regulations contained in the Fair Labor Standards Act are clear that tips are the property of the employee, not the restaurant. The DOL further said that employers do not have the right to take an employee’s tips for any reason other than use in a tip pool between workers.
After the tipping debacle came yet another public relations disaster for the restaurateurs. It was just revealed that in the wake of the negative media coverage the two have fired all their previous workers and rehired new employees who were required to sign an employment contract. The contract was leaked to the press and, while it contained several relatively sane provisions, the vast majority of it was crazy, if not downright illegal.
One such gem was a provision which said that all employees agree in advance to work all holidays and weekends without exception. Anyone who fails to do so will be fined $250 by the Bouzaglos. Amy’s Baking Company also inserted a provision stating unequivocally that all tips earned remain the property of the restaurant and that waiters waive any claim to the money. Even more curiously, the contract contains a clause saying that due to the hard work and expense of training new employees, any worker who is fired or quits ABC will not be permitted to work for any other restaurant within a 50-mile radius for one year.
Employment lawyers have already said many of the provisions in the employment contract are unenforceable. Given the recent nightmares suffered by the Bouzaglos it’s hard to imagine things getting any worse, though Amy and Samy have shown there may be no end to their ability to make things difficult for themselves.
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