Workforce

Can servers be required to deep clean the restaurant kitchen?

workers cleaning
Photo: Shutterstock

Question:

Hello! I’m a server and my boss wants us to come in for a day dedicated to deep clean the kitchen. However, this is not in my job description, and they’ve neglected cleaning their kitchen for years. I don’t feel comfortable doing this. Can they force me to do this? Side note: I clean tables, mop, sweep, restock no problem, but I don’t feel as if this is fair.

– Server, Florida

Answer:

Your question reminds me of a lyric to a Keb’ Mo’ blues song, “Everyone likes a party, but no one wants to clean.”

Many restaurants have a weekly all-hands deep clean, at least in the back of house, which is a practice I highly recommend.

I understand your discomfort—it’s gross, messy, hard work to deep clean a kitchen, especially one that has been neglected. I don’t know anyone who would be excited to do that work. While I understand that deep cleaning is not a core part of your job as a server and that light cleaning such as sweeping and mopping is, most job descriptions have an “other duties as assigned” bullet, and this is clearly another assigned duty.

Unless you have an employment contract or union agreement that clearly delineates what a server does and does not do in your organization, this request seems like fair game for at-will employment.

All of that said, you raise a few larger issues that are important for employers to consider to attract and retain employees:

  • Regular deep cleaning makes days like this much less onerous.
  • Employers should pay full minimum wage or higher (not take the tip credit) for these days. I’d also recommend offering bonus pay for employees who volunteer to take this work on rather than requiring it.
  • In this challenging labor market, hiring a professional cleaning service may be better for employee morale and retention, and may also result in a cleaner kitchen.

As often happens, the problem you raise in this column stems from a communication breakdown. If you knew going into the position what the expectations were, you would likely not be so upset about the request.  

As always, check with your attorney and local restaurant association for your specific situation as this column is not legal advice.

More on job descriptions here.

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