Ex-employees of a restaurant in the Village say that they were not paid for weeks of work — and one says she was then threatened with legal action for criticizing the restaurant over the alleged pay issues. She claims she is owed about $200, and two other ex-employees say they are owed more than $500 each.
Those ex-staff say they have taken the complaints against Village restaurant Mon Osti de Resto to Quebec’s labour board, the Normes de Travail (CNESST). One of them says she is also being threatened with a lawsuit for writing an online review of the restaurant highlighting her pay dispute.
However, in response, restaurant co-owner Salem Nefzaoui said that he had issued money to the CNESST to be sent to those ex-staff, and that all files had been closed, although at the time of writing, they said they had still not been paid. Three ex-employees contacted by Eater all said they had not been contacted recently by CNESST, and that they believed that their files were still open.
A representative for the CNESST declined to comment on the number of open complaints against Mon Osti de Resto.
One of those ex-employees says that while she received paychecks at the beginning of her employment, these were often late, and were only supplied after she asked for them. She told Eater that she decided to quit because she was concerned that she would not be paid properly after coming to work one day and learning that a cook had quit because he hadn’t been paid. (The identity of this and other workers have been verified, but their identities are withheld here.)
Nefzaoui acknowledged that pay had sometimes been late, but claims that this is not unusual in the industry. However, the CNESST has specific rules for the timing of pay, stating that regular employees must be paid every 16 days, or within one month for an employee’s first paycheck.
“It’s a reality in the restaurant industry. I made mistakes, I’m trying to correct them,” said Nefzaoui.
When seeking her final paycheck and mandatory four percent vacation pay, the ex-employee who resigned says that Nefzaoui and co-owner Marilyn Michaud did not respond to her phone calls, and gave varying excuses when she went in person. She says that she was eventually given a check, although it bounced, and the resulting bank fees put her into debt.
Nefzaoui disputes this, saying that the check had been post-dated, and that the server was instructed to wait until the date on the check before depositing it, and that she deposited it too early (Canadian banks are not meant to deposit post-dated checks early, although it can still happen). However, the server says the check was rejected due to a lack of funds, not for the date.
According to the CNESST, paychecks must be cashable within two business days — Nefzaoui says that the check was only issued two days in advance of when it should have been cashed.
Over a month after her final shift, the ex-employee then wrote a Facebook review of the restaurant, alleging that the restaurant was not paying staff properly. Some others also wrote Facebook or Yelp reviews criticizing the restaurant’s pay practices.
After publishing the review, she wrote to Nefzaoui on Instagram, and received a message back — both Nefzaoui and the ex-employee sent this message chain to Eater.
“I don’t work hard just so a shitty psychopath like you can go and put shit on Google.” wrote Nefzaoui.
His message also admitted that staff had not been paid, but explained that this was due to “difficult circumstances” — although the same chain of messages also indicated that Nefzaoui was reluctant to pay because of the online reviews.
“I was going to make an effort to send you an e-transfer, but when I saw your friend’s comment on Google, well, fine, make your threats, and go to [the CNESST],” he wrote to her in French. (Nefzaoui claims that the server asked her friends to write reviews criticizing the restaurant.)
The following day, a bailiff showed up at her apartment to serve her a formal legal demand letter.
That letter, written on behalf of the restaurant, claimed that the restaurant lost a 60-person reservation due to the online reviews, and demanded the ex-employee to pay $8,000 in damages to the restaurant within ten days or they would be forced to pursue further legal action. It alleges that the server deliberately set out to damage the restaurant’s reputation.
The server says she was scared off by threats of legal action from the business owner and deleted her own Facebook post, but that she still believes in what she wrote.
“It was pretty scary to have them come to my own apartment. he accused me of inviting people to write stuff about the restaurant but I really did not do that. So I was pretty shocked,” she said.
Speaking to Eater, Nefzaoui doubled down on his legal threats, noting that he was now seeking $20,000 in damages because some bad reviews had remained online for several weeks (although not hers).
Nefzaoui also said that the reason he was struggling to pay some staff in November and December was due to a break-in on the evening of November 10 that lost the restaurant several thousand dollars.
However, two other ex-employees who worked at Mon Osti in August and September also say they were not paid.
One former server says he worked for six weeks and didn’t receive a single paycheck. He says he asked for pay several times, and says that co-owner Michaud said he had never provided his bank information to the restaurant. Screenshots sent to Eater from the ex-employee indicate that he did send that information to his boss, in the form of a void cheque.
The ex-server also alleges that Michaud refused to pay him because she was not pleased with his work — he noted that he had never worked as a server before this job, but was not given any training at the restaurant.
“I feel like it’s really unfair, I worked my ass off there even though there weren’t many clients, it was a painful job.”
One other ex-employee says he worked at the restaurant when it opened in summer 2019, and that he was given various excuses as to why he wasn’t paid. Documents provided by him show that that one check he was issued bounced because the account it was issued from had been closed down. While he did receive tips, he claims he didn’t receive upwards of $700 of other pay.