I own a restaurant. My employees are scared to come into work. Should I fire them all and start new?

I own a restaurant. My employees are scared to come into work. Should I fire them all and start new?

Patty Lamberti
 | 

Restaurants across America have been forced to shut their doors this month.

And it's not because states or cities have mandated closures light of rising COVID-19 rates. 

It's simply that restaurant owners don't have enough employees to keep their doors open. 


Pardon the pun, but December has been a recipe of distasters for restaurant owners:

  • Many staffers became ill with COVID-19, so they could not come into work.

  • Many staffers are scared to come into work, because they don't know the vaccination status of customers (and even in cities where vaccination proof is required, many customers don't wear masks while talking to service workers). 

  • Many schools switched back to remote learning, forcing restaurant employees with kids to stay home to monitor their children.

  • Many service workers simply could no longer stand being mistreated by customers. According to the Harvard Business Review, 60% of restaurant workers said they had suffered from emotional abuse and disrespect from customers, and 78% said their mental health was negatively affected in the past 12 months. 

So what can a restaurant owner do, legally at least? Here are some tips:

Don't resort to contracts.

It may be tempting to draw up a contract that includes a clause requiring employees to give you two weeks notice before quitting, especially around a holiday like New Year's Eve. But don't waste your time. It's unlikely that in the face of a public health crisis, a court would uphold such a contract. 

Instead, raise wages and guarantee hours. 

Waiters earn an average of  $16 per hour in America, according to
Zip Recruiter. 

While that may seem like a decent salary, it isn't unless you work a lot each week. Service employees often aren't guaranteed 40 hours per week.

Higher wages only work if employees are guaranteed hours.


"If [you] don't have enough hours, even a better hourly wage doesn't allow you to pay your rent or put food on the table," Rebecca Givan, an associate professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers' School of Management and Labor Issues told CNN

Shift your emphasis away from "the customer is always right."

In order for restaurant employees to stay, they must feel valued and safe. 

Restaurant management should engage staff in regular discussions and training about how to deal with unruly, harassing and potentially dangerous customers. 

More sexual harassment claims in the U.S. are filed in the 
restaurant industry
 than in any other. As many as 90% of women and 70% of men working in restaraurants reportedly experience some form of sexual harassment, according to a Haarvard study. 

The researchers found that unless those who are subject to harassment have a genuine support system at work to turn to, they will simply quit. 

This means that managers should be trained in how to spot and address customers who harass or otherwise mistreat servers and staffers.  And it's not just the managers who need training - all staff should be trained and feel empowered to protect fellow employees from harassing and unruly customers. 

Don't expect your employees to partake in this training for free. Pay them to be there. 

Keeping your restaurant employees happy requires more than legal language. It requires a genuine committment to change.
This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

 
Patty Lamberti

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