Can an employer make an employee pay for customers who walk out on their bill?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Can an employer make an employee pay for customers who walk out on their bill?

I work at a restaurant and I had guest walk out on their bill on two different
occasions and the owner wanted me to pay out of pocket for the bills that were
not taken care of. Is this illegal?

Asked on April 5, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Virginia


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

When a customer leaves a restaurant without paying it is called a "dine and dash". And from what you have written, your employer's dine and dash policy is likely illegal. In most states, it is against the law for an employer to deduct from an employee's salary for an amount owed by a customer who has skipped out on their check. The minimum wage law ensures full pay for all hours worked. And an employer who illegally deducts money from an employee's wages faces severe penalties. That is unless you specifically agree to be (typically that consent must be in writing) or the terms of an employment contract or union agreement allow for this. However, you could be terminated for not doing so. The fact is that most work relationships are "at will". This means that you can choose to work for an employer or not. In turn, your employer can fire you for any reason or no at all. Therefore, while you have the legal right to refuse to make up for a walk-out, you could lose your job for not doing so. 
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IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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