Retail

Chipotle’s Latest PR Problem: 10K Employees Accusing It Of Mass Wage Theft

It has not been a good 2016 for Chipotle so far, as it has tried — with limited success — to bounce back from the wave of food poisonings that centered on its stores last year.

Now, it is facing a lawsuit from 10,000 or so angry employees that claim that the QSR chain is guilty of massive wage theft, which left scores of employees working late hours “off the clock” for no pay.

“Chipotle routinely requires hourly-paid restaurant employees to punch out, and then continue working until they are given permission to leave,” according to the class-action lawsuit known as Turner v. Chipotle. It’s named after a former Chipotle manager in Colorado, Leah Turner.

Turner contends she had to work without pay and was told to make workers under her do the same in order to meet budget goals. Briana Alexander is one of the nearly 10,000 workers who have joined the lawsuit. She worked with Chipotle in Miami for about a year in 2013. She claims she was asked numerous times to stay later than her shift, post-punchout, noting that this sometimes entailed working 12+-hour days.

“Behind the scenes, [Chipotle] is not always what it seems,” Alexander told CNNMoney. “I can say I have worked off the clock.”

This is not the first of such suits Chipotle has faced, but it is the largest. As of Friday (Aug. 26), 9,961 current and former workers have sent in consent forms to join the lawsuit. Those forms hail from every state Chipotle operates in, according to lawyer Kent Williams of Williams Law Firm, who is representing the employees in Turner v. Chipotle.

“Chipotle has argued this is a few rogue managers who aren’t following policy. Our view, especially given the number of people opting in, is that it’s a systematic problem at Chipotle,” said Williams.

The main batch of complaints seem to center around closing time, which theoretically should happen between 11 p.m. and midnight. Chipotle’s system automatically clocks workers out by 12:30 a.m. in most places, but workers note that this does not stop managers from holding them well past that time. Said managers are theoretically supposed to adjust those hours, but workers allege that doesn’t always happen. One former employee — who has not joined the suit — noted that he was once asked to work 12 hours past the end of his shift and that he was never compensated.

For its part, Chipotle denies the allegations and said the case has no merit.

Customers have placed “an extraordinary level of trust in us and have come to know that we will do the right thing when it comes to our food, our employees and our approach to running a business,” said Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder and CEO, on the company’s earnings call in late July.

The firm intends to continue fighting the case.

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