Last week, the Seattle Office of Labor Standards settled with diner mini-chain Skillet over alleged violations of paid sick leave laws and wage theft. The company has agreed to pay nearly $320,000 to 181 employees or former employees and almost $5,000 to the city of Seattle.
Founded in 2007 in an Airstream trailer by food truck pioneer Josh Henderson, Skillet is a familiar sight on Seattle’s dining landscape. Henderson sold the business in 2013, and the last Skillet food truck shut down in 2020, but the Skillet Group, as the entity is now known, has five locations, including one at Sea-Tac Airport and one that opened this summer in Post Alley near Pike Place Market.
The Office of Labor Standards accused Skillet of providing inaccurate service charge disclosures on its menus and receipts. These “suggested that 100% of the service charge went to workers serving customers, yet no part was paid to the front of house staff serving customers and large portions went to pay overhead for employee benefits and to the back of house staff,” the agency wrote. Skillet also allegedly fired an employee in retaliation for their opposing the service charge policy, didn’t provide the breaks required by law, and fired an employee for using paid sick leave.
“Working in restaurants for a decade, I always assumed there was a legal exemption which meant we were not entitled to rest or meal breaks. There is not. That is illegal. It does not matter where you work or how busy you are. It does not matter if it is the holidays, or someone called in sick,“ Zara Sedore-Mallin, a former Skillet employee, said in the settlement announcement.
“Our company takes compliance with local ordinances seriously, and we want to assure the public that our practices have undergone significant changes since 2017,” Skillet Group president Crellin Pauling said in a statement to Eater Seattle. “We want to emphasize that we have cooperated fully and transparently throughout the investigation process... We understand the significance of workplace standards and are grateful for the guidance provided by the OLS.”
Service charges have become common in the past several years as restaurants attempt to phase out tipping models, but the practice is confusing to some diners and not always beneficial to servers. Laws governing service charges vary by jurisdiction, but in Seattle, restaurants must disclose service charges on menus and receipts and make it clear what percentage goes directly to the employees who serve customers.
Skillet isn’t the only Seattle restaurant group that has run afoul of these regulations. In 2019, Tom Douglas’s restaurant empire paid $2.4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit from employees and former employees who alleged the restaurant was doing essentially what Skillet was accused of doing by OLS.