Bar accused of withholding wages, tips partially pays up — after CBC tells servers' stories

Employees with a North York sports bar who said they haven't been paid since it shut down in March now say they've received some of their money via e-transfer. The three women say the payments came after CBC News published their story Friday morning, but they say they're still waiting for their tips.

The 3 employees got some of their wages, but not their tips, via e-transfer Friday

Three servers at Hoops Sports Bar & Grill say they finally received some of their wages via e-transfer Friday for shifts they worked before the COVID-19 shutdown. (Submitted by Maya Essery)

Three employees with a North York sports bar who said they haven't been paid since it shut down in March due to the pandemic now say they've gotten some of their money via e-transfer.

The payments came after CBC News published their story Friday morning. 

The women worked as servers and bartenders at the Hoops Sports Bar & Grill on Keele Street, which remains closed amid COVID-19.

Each said they were owed between about $500 and $1,000 by the eatery, which is part of a chain of four restaurants — two located in Toronto, and one each in Vaughan and Niagara Falls, Ont.

"I couldn't pay my rent," said Maya Essery, 21, who's also a student at Sheridan College. 

"We put in the work; that money is ours."

Essery and Camille Bourguet, 20, now say they received money Friday that covers their unpaid wages, but not their tips.

Autumn Patriquin, 20, said she didn't receive enough money even to cover her wages.

Still, even those payments were a long time coming. The women said they tried multiple times to contact Hoops management, trading texts with the restaurant's general manager over the last four months.

Hoops Sports Bar & Grill has several locations in Ontario, including this one on Keele Street in North York. (Doug Husby/CBC)

Despite repeated attempts, CBC Toronto wasn't able to reach anyone who would identify themselves as current managerial staff at the restaurant. Two people who said they were former members of Hoops management wouldn't agree to a formal interview. When asked why the women hadn't been paid, both said the shutdown was unexpected and longer than they'd imagined.

The servers said they've accessed the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and are looking for new jobs, but they want what they're owed.

Patriquin, a single mother with a one-year-old daughter, said she was owed about $1,000 in wages and tips. She received about $400 via e-transfer.

"It was not fun … We didn't think it would go on for this long or that it would take us this long to try and get our money," she said.

CBC Toronto also contacted the Ontario Ministry of Labour to ask how many similar complaints it's received in recent months, but was told it would take until early August to compile the data.

Mixed messages from management

Like many restaurants, the North York Hoops location closed in mid-March after  Ontario declared its state of emergency.

All three women said they'd been in contact since then with the restaurant's general manager — who identified himself as Anton Moty — asking when they'd be paid.

They said he told them the accounting office was closed and that they would be paid when the business reopened. Many of their messages went unanswered.

Although many restaurants have begun to reopen, the North York Hoops location remains closed. (Doug Husby/CBC)

Over the phone Thursday, Moty told CBC Toronto he no longer worked for Hoops and he has no power to pay the women. He did say four servers still need to be paid, but the amount is closer to $1,200 or $1,300 total.

Moty said Eesan Subra, with the chain's head office, would pay the women sometime in the next few days. When contacted, Subra said he's also no longer with Hoops, but the women would be paid. He did not say when that might be.

The women dispute the dollar figure, saying they're owed much more when tips are included, but they could not provide an exact figure.

CBC News spoke to Moty by phone on Friday. He acknowledged the e-transfers went out to the women, but when asked about their tips, he said they are handled by a different person and are part of a different cash-out process. He said those payments should be calculated by Monday.

Maya Essery, who worked at Hoops for about four months, says she's trying to find another job. (Submitted by Maya Essery)

'It's still illegal'

Toronto lawyer Randy Ai, who specializes in employment law, said there's no reason the women should've had to wait so long to receive their money.

"Unfortunately, I am seeing some employers decide to cheat their employees of wages and they use the pandemic as an excuse," he said

"It's still illegal under provincial employment law to withhold wages from employees … [They] should be paid ideally by way of regular payroll, but if there is a delay, then they should be paid as soon as possible."

Randy Ai, who specializes in employment law, believes some employers are using the pandemic as an excuse not to pay their workers. (Submitted by Randy Ai)

Oren Barbalat, an employment and labour law associate with Hyde HR Law in Toronto, said although he hasn't heard of this particular situation happening amid the pandemic, he does often hear about workers in the hospitality industry going unpaid.

"Employees feel relatively powerless in this situation," he said. "If their employer owes $1,000 you might not go and retain a lawyer. It can get expensive, and you may not know what your rights are."

He said if wages remain unpaid, an employer would be in contravention of Ontario's Employment Standards Act. 

"There's some technicalities about what's included as wages, and even though tips aren't wages, they still have to be paid. They can't arbitrarily be withheld."

Oren Barbalat, an employment lawyer, says some regulations have changed as a result of the pandemic, but when it comes to wages already earned, employers are required to pay them. (Submitted by Oren Barbalat)

He said he'd advise the women to take their case to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, adding he doesn't think the current pandemic would result in any leniency for this particular matter. 

"The government has gone to great lengths to help employers," he said.

"There are many programs the employer can avail themselves of …  In terms of back wages, the obligation is clear. If someone's worked, they've earned that money."

Essery told CBC News she still plans to file a complaint.

"It's not acceptable … and I want to make sure that the labour board knows this is what's happening."