When not to charge for server slip-ups

ampersand wine bar champagne


If my boss charges me for opening a duplicate bottle of wine, does the bottle of wine now belong to me? They charge us the full price, not the cost. Then they keep the wine and sell it.

– Rebecca, Server, Georgia


In this column, we’ve previously discussed whether it is allowable to charge employees for their mistakes. While some states prohibit or restrict the practice, charging you for the mistake is allowed in Georgia, provided that the charge does not take you below minimum wage. As we have previously discussed, just because an employer can charge for your mistakes doesn’t mean he or she should. There are also considerations like culture, job satisfaction, employee retention and the normal cost of doing business that should influence an operation’s policy.

That said, you raise an interesting question that has not come up in this column before—if you break it, did you buy it? If you are being charged for a mistake like a duplicate order, is the mistake yours to keep? While I don’t think there is a definitive answer, my advice would be for operations to keep in mind both the gravity of the error and the potential for recovery when charging employees for mistakes. For example, in your case of opening a duplicate bottle of wine: If the wine could be sold by the glass and you were not making a mistake intentionally or regularly, my opinion is that you should not have been charged—it is an easy recovery financially. Another case, like accidentally keying in “well done” on an expensive steak that the guest wanted medium, would not be as easy a recovery.

In my opinion, to profit from your mistake by both charging you for the wine and then receiving additional revenue by selling the same bottle of wine is unethical.

My overall preference is not to charge employees for mistakes, even where allowed, unless borne out of ill will or negligence. In my experience, the loyalty and satisfaction of employees will more than make up for the cost of occasional errors. Others disagree and if charging for mistakes is allowed and your policy, so be it. But in my opinion, profiting from employee mistakes is never OK.

More on employee mistakes here.

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