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2 SF Burger King owners fined by state of California

The state’s California Labor Commissioner’s Office has fined two San Francisco Burger King franchise owners $2.2 million in wage theft, to be paid to 230 former employees.

This decision comes after Golden Gate Restaurant Group’s Monu Singh and Harkiran Randhawa lost an appeal against the $1.9 million fine issued in June 2020 by the Labor Commissioner’s Office. The quote is now set at $2.2 million, which includes accrued interest.

The case originally started in 2019 when a group of Burger King employees at the infamous 1200 Market St. location in downtown San Francisco “basically walked off the job,” according to Alexx Campbell, a senior attorney at the nonprofit law firm Legal Aid at Work. Campbell has been working on this case since its inception.

Through their lawyer, Colin Calvert of law firm Fisher Phillips, Singh and Randhawa denied any wrongdoing in an email to SFGATE.

“We intend to appeal and believe the ruling is not supported by the testimony and evidence secured,”[ads1]; Calvert wrote.

Former employees allege that Singh and Randhawa deliberately understaffed at least six San Francisco Burger King restaurants under Golden Gate Restaurant Group ownership in an effort to cut costs. The practice is said to have created unsustainable working conditions for employees, according to the Labor Commissioner’s investigation, which was reviewed by SFGATE.

This type of cost-cutting maneuver was not unique to the 1200 Market St. location, the investigation found.

“The breaches in question were not isolated instances that were the failure of frivolous oversight but, based on the evidence, part of a pattern of operation initiated and/or known by both [owners],” read the decision from the Labor Commissioner’s office.

Employees working at Burger King locations owned by the Golden Gate Restaurant Group said they worked unpaid overtime and worked through mandatory breaks under California law. They also alleged that they often acted as cashiers, cleaners and other positions that were not their own, according to the investigation’s report.

One chef said she was working overtime because no one on staff was qualified to cook food safely. Other employees, such as Sonia Crisostomo, were reportedly asked to come in early and perform tasks such as depositing money in the bank even after clocking out.

Managers also stated that they were under intense pressure from restaurant owners to deliver high sales numbers while keeping labor costs low, according to the Labor Commissioner’s Office. Former manager Sandra Gutierrez told investigators she had a regular shift from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but often showed up earlier and worked later “because there weren’t enough people to run the store,” the investigative report said.

She reportedly did not clock the extra hours, due to pressure to keep labor costs down.

The investigation also concluded that employees were often paid “10 days after the end of the biweekly pay period.”

The California Labor Commissioner’s Office alleged that Singh and Randhawa were aware of several labor shortage complaints originating from employees and management, but would not increase staffing “unless sales were higher.”

The survey found that owners would consistently change employee time cards after the fact and attribute the changes to computer “system errors” or would label it “forgot to clock in.”

Other changes by the Golden Gate Restaurant Group included falsifying meal break forms to show that employees had taken a break when they had not, and setting up the time-tracking software in a way that would not allow “too many” employees to work at the same time.

Campbell, a senior lawyer at Legal Aid at Work, said there had been two investigations by government agencies looking into Singh and Randhawa. Along with the investigation by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, the city of San Francisco is reportedly investigating the Golden Gate Restaurant Group, although any conclusions from that investigation have not yet been released, Campbell said.

For now, the former Burger King employees will not receive any of the citation money. Because Singh and Randhawa plan to appeal this current decision, the next step in the process involves a higher court deciding a final outcome. Singh and Randhawa can appeal each decision until it reaches the California Supreme Court, potentially.

“This may take some time to fully resolve,” Campbell said.

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