N4T Investigators: Restaurant Runaround? - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Restaurant Runaround?

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TUCSON- He was trying to make some extra money before leaving for the U.S. Army. But now a Tucson man gives a big thumbs down to a Tucson Foothills restaurant. Not only does he allege "Five Palms Steak and Seafood Restaurant" didn't pay him on time, but he says they broke the law.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators sat down with the restaurant's owner, Nino Aidi, who granted us an on camera interview Thursday.

"Would you say the restaurant is well managed," asked Bret Buganski.

"It's getting into being well managed," said Aidi.

We showed him lawsuits filed in Pima County Consolidated Court against him and the restaurant in the last three years. Two people allege Five Palms owes them hundreds of dollars for unpaid housekeeping and carpet cleaning services. Two more people filed complaints against the restaurant with the Industrial Commission of Arizona Labor Department, for unpaid wages in 2014. Both cases are now closed. One of the cases closed because Five Palms paid the ex-employee during the course of the state's investigation. The other is closed because the case was ruled incomplete because some paperwork was left blank.

"We get our up and down and we've been making mistakes we've been correcting all of the mistakes," said Aidi.

But there's another mistake Aidi would later admit to the N4T Investigators.

"I did not know really about it, that's for sure," added Aidi.

"I was just trying to get a couple of extra bucks in my pocket work at a reasonably good restaurant which I heard great things about until I got there, said former employee Jacob Bristol.

He worked as a food runner for the restaurant for nearly one month and said he waited more than three weeks for his first paycheck. He said that was only the beginning.

"Day after day, I'd come in and it wouldn't be there," said Bristol."I'd come in the following Saturday and they said we don't have it for you, you can get it the next Saturday. I'd come in the next day it's not there."

Then he showed us his check stubs. The pay periods are one week and run from Saturday through Friday. But the check dates are 14 days after the pay period ends.

"Looking on the actual checks themselves they show that they are outside of the law," said Jeff Bristol, Jacob's father. "I've been doing payroll for businesses for many years."

In fact, Arizona state law says in most cases, employers have to pay their employees at least twice a month, no more than 16 days apart. They also have to pay their employees within five working days after the end of the most recent pay period.

Jacob's father discovered the mistake and called us for help. He says he got the runaround the multiple times he called the restaurant to ask why the checks arrive late.

"There was kind of a laissez faire, that's just the way it is that's the way we do things," said Jeff Bristol.

"That's a clear violation of the timely wage payment law," said Nina Rabin, who is a clinical law professor at the University of Arizona. Rabin specializes in employment law and says cases like Jacob's are extremely common, especially in the service industry.

We asked Rabin the question," how are they able to get away with this?"

"If nobody is going to report it, if the employee like you said would rather get the wages and not complain then they'll keep doing it," said Rabin.

"Of course we did have cash flow problems you know but we never denied anybody," said Aidi, who did admit to the N4T Investigators the restaurant in the past paid some employees and vendors late. However, he said they always paid up, albeit sometimes late.

"Why those mistakes happened in the past, well obviously because of bad management no question about it," said Aidi.

But when it came to Jacob's complaint, Aidi first said the restaurant was not violating the law and some managers who sat behind our camera told us the same thing.

Bret Buganski showed him the state law on paper, and that's when Aidi asked us for a copy of it which he read right in front of us.

"I admit, we are wrong," said Aidi.

"You guys are wrong?" asked Buganski.

"Yeah, if the state law say that and we are not doing it then we are wrong and it has to be corrected," said Aidi.

Buganski asked, "when are you guys going to correct the problem?"

"Today (Thursday December 10, 2015),  trust me we do it today," added Aidi.

We asked him, "put yourself in the shoes of someone like Jacob, how frustrated would you be?"

"A lot, definitely, definitely," said Aidi.

Five Palms finally did pay Jacob what he had coming. Rabin told us if a business is caught violating state labor laws, an employee can potentially be entitled to three times the wages the person should've made on time.

If you have a story for the N4T Investigators, email investigators@kvoa.com or call the tipline, 520-955-4444.

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