Cheesed-off workers chase unpaid wages

A grilled cheese sandwich. Stock photo by Getty Images

Some gleeful online commenters are cheering the abrupt shutdown of a Toronto restaurant that apparently stiffed its employees for thousands of dollars, but that apparent karma doesn’t really help shortchanged workers.

The Grilled Cheese made headlines last week after a cheesed-off employee’s Reddit rant prompted investigations from Global News and the Toronto Star.

Kris Kadas said that employees are collectively owed more than $6,000 in unpaid wages and owner Robbie Yuill routinely threatened or laughed off anyone who asked for the cash.

The shop’s been shut down, but Kadas and other employees haven’t seen any cheddar and he says the situation has left some of them in dire financial straits.

A GoFundMe page probably won’t help much, having raised just $417 of its goal of $7,724.

So what can you do if your boss won’t pay what you’re owed?

Court is always an option. You can take your employer to small claims court, which is a low-cost and relatively easy form of litigation to recover smallish sums, usually $25,000 or less, depending on the province.

See: Small claims limits by province

However, Kadas says Yuill typically paid employees under the table, so there’s little documentation and that probably makes it tougher to prove a case in court.

So another option is filing a complaint with your ministry of labour. Depending on your type of job, you’re likely covered by your province’s employment standards act or the Canada Labour Code. These all provide ways to file complaints and recover lost wages.

Most of them are similar. An unpaid employee lodges a complaint and an investigator looks into it. There may be limits on how much, or for what period you can seek unpaid wages. Federally, you can seek a maximum six months worth of payments and you must also file a complaint within six months of the last date when you should have been paid.

Those time limits vary according to provincial laws. Last February, Ontario extended that complaint window, allowing employees two years in which to file a claim. It also eliminated the former $10,000 cap.

If the investigator finds the complaint is valid, they’ll tell the boss to pay up. If that doesn’t work, they can issue a payment order or seek a court order.

Unpaid wages could also constitute a lien against the restaurant and the unpaid wages may supersede other debts the business owes.
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