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Downtown Café Uses Dubious Contract To Make Staff Pay For Certain Losses

The café was struck by a scam — and then things got tense

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Yelp/Café Pacefika

A downtown cafe has drawn ire from members of its staff after introducing a new rule that could require employees to pay back their employers for damages at work if they felt an employee had been significantly negligent.

In December, Café Pacefika, which is tied to a non-profit affiliated with an adjacent medical clinic, asked all employees to sign a contract addendum (an add-on to the original employment contracts that staff signed), wherein staff would agree to pay back certain damages or losses that occurred under their watch. The addendum (which can be read in full here) reads that staff “will be held financially responsible for any breakage or loss caused by a dishonest or willful act, or by his/her/their gross negligence and/or willful misconduct.” Employees were asked to sign it shortly after the restaurant was hit by a scam.

The contract addendum was provided to Eater by a café employee who was upset at the idea that staff could be forced to pay for mistakes at work. Under Quebec law, employers cannot force staff to compensate their bosses for losses or damages that happen in the workplace, if those damages were related to their jobs: they “cannot require an amount of money from an employee to pay for expenses related to...operations”.

The government body that oversees labour disputes, Quebec’s Normes du Travail, did not comment on whether or not this specific contract was valid, but a representative from that commission reiterated, “At no time can an employer oblige an employee to pay for any costs connected to business operations, such as a customer who leaves without paying, shoplifting, or broken equipment.” Employers can also not deduct money from paychecks to make up for such losses.

Café co-owner Shuvo Ghosh said the addendum was born from a need to hold employees accountable at work. He deferred questions about the contract’s legality to café manager Andrea Karpman, who said the café knows the laws around withholding pay from workers.

“I can guarantee you 100 percent that we are fully aware that removing any pay is not allowed. What this is pertaining to is gross negligence or willful misconduct,” she said.

“If something is compromising the safety and security of the establishment …then at that point legal action can be taken and that’s where the addendum is coming from,” she said.

Employees were asked to sign the contract addendum just days after the cafe was hit by a scam, according to one Pacefika employee who asked to remain anonymous. The scammer had targeted numerous establishments by pretending to be a deliveryman, bringing a fake delivery and taking cash for it. He would typically pretend to phone café managers or owners if staff questioned his motives.

The employee described the scam as convincing, given the scammer knew details like the names of staffers and managers, and even the colour and location of envelopes containing money for delivery drivers. That employee ultimately handed over $500, a loss that upset the owners and manager, according to emails between the owners, managers, and staff after the scam. Montreal police concluded that the employee was not at fault, said the scam victim. Pacefika’s owners tell Eater they agree with that assessment.

Karpman said that while the scam boosted the “need” for the addendum, that kind of modification to the contract had been in the works beforehand, although one employee tells a different story.

“It basically made it so if anything happens like that [scam] again... to an employee, they would have to pay,” said one employee.

Eater spoke with the scam victim, who said that while her pay was never docked, Ghosh, Karpman, and co-owner Andreea Gorgos asked her to voluntarily repay the $500 that was lost. “I said I’m uncomfortable with that… I asked if I could give an answer the next day. [Karpman] said well, I need to do payroll tonight so I need to know now...the very next day, I received an extremely long email telling me that they were really hurt and that I should have more empathy for how they’re feeling.”

Ghosh disputed that account.“There was absolutely no pressure being applied, and nothing that has ever been docked.”

However, emails sent to both the scam victim and a group message to other staff are suggestive that the scam victim should take responsibility for the loss, even if they do not explicitly ask for money.

An email from Ghosh to the victim suggested the employee find a way to fix the situation:

“After the incident, we presumed you would make some offer to rectify the situation, I was not scammed...[redacted names] were not was surprising that you did not come to us or write us with any further comments or statements. It was never said, “maybe I could do some extra hours after the holidays, to make up for some of the money that was given to the scammer.”

He also invoked the café’s connection to a non-profit organization. “If you were partly responsible for losing money or goods from any charitable organisation, would you really do nothing if you felt badly about it?” the email read.

Another email sent from Ghosh to all staff seemed to encourage the staff to help cover losses.

“[Redacted] told us that he wanted to talk to the team about helping [redacted] cover the loss. [Redacted] also mentioned her desire to help out. That’s a nice gesture and we leave it to the team to discuss...we honestly hate to pin things on one team member, but we don’t know how else to tackle this.”

It would not be legal for the café owners to demand a scam victim repay lost money, according to the Normes du Travail. Yet when asked under what circumstances the contract addendum would be invoked, Karpman said it could be used to ensure the café’s finances if a similar situation repeated itself. “[It would be invoked] if the nature of the incident caused the safety or security of the establishment to be compromised. The details of the scam incident could fall under that.”

The addendum is not the only unusual part of Pacefika’s contracts with its staff — the original contract was also leaked by an employee who described the cafe as a tense and awkward workplace. It includes a non-disclosure agreement (meaning staff must keep details of their employment confidential, or risk a lawsuit).

It also contains a non-compete clause, which bars staff from working in another café within five kilometres of Pacefika for twelve months after leaving their jobs without explicit permission. While legal, such contract provisions are typically reserved for staff in full-time, professional jobs, and not relatively low-wage baristas.

Karpman told Eater that while these parts of the contract have never been enforced, it was a matter of the café protecting itself. “There is so much opportunity for somebody to infiltrate an organization and move on and take a lot of what they’ve learned with them.”

Café Pacefika

1443 rue Lambert Closse, Montréal, QC H2H 1Z5 (514) 933-7333 Visit Website