DennisBeaverMay 22, 2010 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

For readers who are on medication for high blood pressure – especially anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant – it might be a good idea to have extra tablets handy before reading today’s story. You might need them, and will certainly be asking these questions:

“Why are we paying unemployment insurance judges close to $10,000 a month to toss common sense out the window and give benefits to people who obviously do not deserve them? When employers and former co-workers stand up for what is legally and morally right, why does it seem so often they are facing judges on a mission to reward rotten behavior?”

Our story began in January 2009, when Karen (names have been changed) began work as a waitress at Freddie’s, a small, family-owned, restaurant, similar to an IHOP or Denny’s. Especially in these types of restaurants, servers are key employees.

“Servers do not simply take orders and bring plates to tables. They are integral to the success of that business,” observes Martha Keller, who teaches Hospitality Management at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone campus in St. Helena.

“Research shows that if guests receive exceptional service, but the food is marginal, they will return because of the service, hoping the food gets better. However, regardless of how good the food is, if service is poor, they will not return and will tell others to stay away,” she points out.

Never justified to yell at a customer

Skokie, Ill.-based Lloyd Gordon of GEC Consultants has spent more than 40 years in the hospitality industry, and routinely testifies as an expert witness. When I asked him if it is ever permissible for a waitress to lose her temper and yell at a customer, his answer was brief:

“Never! The first time that this happened, if we kept the employee, they would be told if it ever occurred again, they would be terminated for cause. Should that take place, I would object to their request for unemployment insurance. Yelling at customers or treating them disrespectfully is the same as stealing from the employer. It should not be rewarded with unemployment insurance benefits.”

‘We look in the window to see if she is working’

Within days of starting her job at Freddie’s, Karen lost her temper and yelled at a customer. Instead of immediate termination, the owner wanted to give her another chance.

“Anyone can have a bad day,” Freddie reasoned. “Times are tough and it is always difficult to find good staff. I always feel that you need to give a person extra time to prove themselves,” he reasoned. (His kindness would prove to be the classic mistake made by so many employers.)

Things remained calm until the summer, when there were two episodes of over-the-top rudeness and downright frightening behavior.

In one situation, two elderly women, long time customers, ordered a cappuccino, “Which is always served in a tall, mug-type cup. But Karen used a regular sized coffee cup and only filled it half way, leaving out the whipped cream,” the customers stated.

“When we asked her for a correctly-filled mug with whipped cream – the way they always serve cappuccino – she rudely refused. In a very nasty and frightening tone of voice, she said that she could not fill it up, and that this is all they are allowed to give the customers.”

The women were so frightened of Karen doing something to them, that they begged the restaurant’s attorney to keep their names confidential.

Karen’s threatening behavior worsened.

Longtime customers Mario, Angela and their daughter, Sandy, came to the restaurant for lunch. After being seated, they politely asked Karen for silverware, as there was none on the table. “She returned and literally slammed silverware items down on the table. This was the beginning of an unbelievable experience,” they stated in a declaration filed in court.

Karen presented them with a bill which was excessively high. “We told her that when we deal with the blond waitress, we are charged the price which is shown on the menu. She screamed, “I am not that blond waitress!!!”

“We feel this young lady has some serious, potentially dangerous issues. After that experience, when we would go to Freddie’s, we looked through the windows to see if she was working. If so, we did not go in as we did not want another bad experience. We are concerned about our safety and do not want her to know where we live or work.”

Next week: Karen’s behavior becomes even more bizarre. Stranger yet, was how an unemployment insurance appeals judge so easily ignores the law and his own rules to reward a dangerous person.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.