Japanese restaurant chain Wagamama has been fined an undisclosed fee for failing to pay its staff the National Minimum Wage.
Wagamama was one of 43 hospitality sector employers ‘named and shamed’ on the government’s latest list of companies breaking the law. Also on the list were TGI Fridays and Marriott Hotels. In total, there were 179 firms identified, according to the The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Wagamama was found to have been the worst offender. The chain “underpaid” the minimum wage to 2,630 workers; they were owed a total of £133,212 collectively. Wagamama has had to repay an average of £50 to each of its employees.
The problems at Wagamama stem from a “misunderstanding” as regards uniform policy, a company spokesman said.
He told Eater: “As an employer, we have always paid minimum wage and make sure that our staff receive 100 percent of their tips. This was an inadvertent misunderstanding of how the minimum wage regulations apply to uniforms and as soon as we were made aware of this in 2016 we acted immediately to correct the position.
“In the past, we didn’t realise that asking our front of house staff to wear casual black jeans or skirt, with their Wagamama branded top, was considered as asking them to buy a form of uniform and so we should have paid them for it. Lots of other businesses were also unaware of this regulation around casual wear.
“We have gladly made payments to current and previous employees who missed out dating back from 2016 to 2013. We have also updated our uniform policy and we now pay a uniform supplement to cover the black jeans.
“Our people are the heart and soul of Wagamama and we take great pride in supporting and helping them to build their careers with us.”
TGI Fridays blamed a similar uniform policy issue after reimbursing workers for a shoe allowance. Marriott, meanwhile, was found to have underpaid 279 members of staff more than £250 each on average. The group also apologised and cited an error uncovered after “a routine HMRC audit in 2015.”
Business minister Andrew Griffiths said: “There are no excuses for short-changing workers. This is an absolute red line and employers who cross is will get caught — not only are they forced to pay back every penny but they are also fined up to 200 percent of wages owed.”
This month, the government is set to launch an awareness campaign before the new National Minimum Wage rates kick in on 1 April. There are also plans to give all workers the right to a payslip following Good Work, a Matthew Taylor Review of the gig economy and modern working practices.
Wagamama was founded by restaurateur Alan Yau in 1992 (who went on to found such revered establishments as Hakkasan and Yauatcha), and has 120 branches in the UK. It is credited for being one of the first restaurants to bring accessible Japanese-inspired cuisine to Britain’s high streets.
Days before Christmas, the company had to apologise after a note was shared by a member of staff seemingly banning team members from calling in sick.
The note, which was first sent to Unite’s hospitality division, said: “No calling in sick! May I remind you that if you are unable to come for your shift it is your responsibility to find somebody to cover your shift (as per contract and handbook). Calling in sick during the next two weeks will result in disciplinary action being taken.”