Q. I own a four-star restaurant in a large metropolitan area. Unfortunately, customers sometime skip out on their checks. Can I deduct from the waitress’s salary the money owed by a fleeing customer?
A. Under state and federal law, an employer is required to pay its employees at least the minimum wage for all hours worked. At a four-star restaurant, it is highly unlikely that making such a deduction would result in your wait staff receiving below minimum wage (even under the special rules that apply to restaurant workers). But the law also requires you to pay hourly employees for all the hours they work. So unless the employee authorizes you in writing to make a deduction from his or her paycheck, it is risky to do so.
In addition, making deductions from employee paychecks because of customers’ misdeeds will probably lower employee morale and increase turnover. It probably makes more sense to offer incentives to your staff to ensure they make every effort to avoid unpaid customer checks.