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Vancouver restaurant must pay former chef nearly $30K over unpaid bonus, Employment Standards Branch rules

Vancouver restaurant must pay former chef nearly $30K over unpaid bonus, Employment Standards Branch rules-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Phil Scarfone, the former head chef of Nightingale, is pictured in a handout photo from 2019. (Hawksworth Communications/Handout)

The agency that maintains standards for working conditions in British Columbia has ruled that a Vancouver restaurant must pay its former head chef nearly $30,000 following a complaint over a bonus he says he never received.

Nightingale, a restaurant run by fine dining group Hawksworth Restaurant Services Inc., has also been fined $500 by B.C.’s Employment Standards Branch for contravening the Employment Standards Act over Phil Scarfone’s wages.

The ruling was issued on Jan. 26 and shared with CBC News by Scarfone.

In December 2021, Scarfone also filed a lawsuit against the company over the bonus money. Scarfone told CBC News on Sunday that the lawsuit has been resolved by the employment standards ruling.

The Employment Standards Branch said Scarfone had been employed with Nightingale for eight years starting in 2011 and had worked his way up from a junior sous chef to head chef, for which his salary was $102,500 a year.

On Jan. 1, 2019, Nightingale and Scarfone signed an incentive bonus program, which paid Scarfone thousands of dollars more based on the performance of the restaurant.

According to Scarfone’s lawsuit, the bonus was negotiated because of the “considerable” publicity he would bring to the restaurant and the company following his appearance as a contestant on Top Chef Canada.

Scarfone resigned from the restaurant at the end of November that year, effective Jan. 15, 2020.

The ruling says his employment was terminated by the restaurant effective Jan. 2 and that all outstanding wages were paid to Scarfone, except an annual 10 per cent bonus Scarfone alleged he was still owed.

‘Not persuasive’

Scarfone filed a complaint with employment standards on Jan. 4, 2020.

In its investigation, the branch said that under the incentive program signed with Scarfone, his boss David Hawksworth had the right to “remove, terminate any and all sections of the incentive program,” and, following Scarfone’s termination, argued the bonus clause had been made in error and conflicted with other agreed-to incentives.

But the branch ruled that Scarfone’s bonus fell within the definition of wages under the act and that he was entitled to the bonus in accordance to the agreement’s terms and conditions.

“The discovery of an error in the Agreement almost a year after it was signed along with the timing of the discovery coinciding closely with Mr. Scarfone’s resignation and subsequent termination before the end of his notice period is not persuasive,” the determination stated.

Owed $29,468.59

Employment standards has directed Nightingale to pay Scarfone $25,917.80 in wages, $1,555.07 in annual vacation, and $1,495.72 in interest.

The ruling also imposed a $500 penalty on Nightingale for contravening section 18 of the Employment Standards Act, which ensures that employees are paid all wages owed within 48 hours of being terminated.

Hawksworth did not immediately respond to CBC News about the ruling.

Scarfone appeared on Top Chef Canada‘s seventh season in 2018. Fourteen contestants from across the country competed against each other in culinary challenges for a top prize of $100,000.

He placed second, losing only to fellow B.C.-based chef Paul Moran.

CBC

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