Philly airport Legal Sea Foods wraps up odd pay policy

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

Sometimes unique workplace situations lead to creative solutions, but those solutions aren’t always, well, legal. Legal Sea Foods’ location at the Philadelphia International Airport has two positions that apparently exist nowhere else in the chain: silverware rollers.

The restaurant employs two workers whose sole function is to keep the restaurant’s customers supplied with clean, neatly rolled silverware.

The airport Legal Sea Foods must also comply with a minimum wage law no other restaurant in the chain does: Philadelphia’s new living wage law. It requires any business leasing from a landlord that receives economic development funds from the city to pay at least 1½ times the minimum wage—which comes to $10.88 per hour. The law took effect July 1.

Because the silverware rollers received no tips, management at the restaurant required all other employees to contribute $5 per shift to ensure the workers’ pay plus tips met the minimum wage. No one complained and the practice went swimmingly.

But then the Philadelphia ordin­ance took effect, and management sent a memo to workers telling them they would now have to contribute $8 per shift to keep the silverware rollers afloat.

That was too much for restaurant employee Dave Anglin, who complained to a manager. Her explanation didn’t satisfy him, so he called Philadelphia Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky. Polaneczky contacted Legal Sea Foods corporate headquarters in Boston to ask about the policy. Their reaction was … uh, what? They flew two representatives to Philadelphia to investigate.

Corporate executives apparently had no knowledge of the pay contributions and immediately ended the practice. Then they fully refunded all the workers who had been forced to contribute to the silverware rollers’ fund.

Advice: Establish procedures to ensure your attorney reviews all pay disputes. That will help keep you from being blindsided. Legal Sea Foods’ in-house lawyers acted quickly to correct the problem once they learned of it.

Final note: Legal Sea Foods could have included the silverware rollers in a tip-pooling program, but that would have depended on the amount of total tips received. Too little and the company would have had to make up the difference to equal at least the least minimum wage.

Taking a specified amount from other employees is never acceptable.

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