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Bruce Carey Restaurant Group Reduces Laid Off Employees’ Final Paychecks by 25 Percent

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Employees of casual fine dining spots like Saucebox and Bluehour were laid off and had their pay “deferred”

Clarklewis’ busy kitchen
Kitchen at Clarklewis

Like thousands of other restaurant workers in Portland, employees at Bruce Carey Restaurants — which includes the casual fine dining spots Bluehour, Clarklewis, and 23Hoyt, as well as cocktail bar Saucebox — were laid off last week as the industry reacted to mandated dining room closures and other government restrictions intended to curb the spread of COVID-19. But former employees of Bruce Carey Restaurants found that their final paychecks were 25 percent short.

According to multiple former employees, the group laid off its entire staff on March 16, the day that Gov. Kate Brown mandated Oregon restaurants and bars close their dining rooms. A few days later, management reached out to employees and directed them to pick up paychecks from Clarklewis on March 21 between 2 and 4 p.m. Upon arriving, the employees say, there was a sign-in desk outside, and they were instructed to text a phone number with their name and place of work. An envelope which contained a paycheck and a signed note from Bruce Carey was then slid under the locked door of the building.

Employees opened the envelopes to find that each check was for only 75 percent of what they were owed for their final pay period. The included note from Carey, which served as official notice of the layoffs, acknowledged the shortfall, stating that “without any sales this week we came up short and are forced to defer 25 percent of your compensation until the restaurant reopens.” It continues, “It’s painful, but we hope you know that we really are doing the best we can to take care of as many affected people as possible.”

The workers, who did not want to be identified because they were afraid of retaliation within Portland’s rapidly shrinking restaurant industry, were dismayed with the the way that the restaurant handled the layoffs. “It was cut and dry and not at all compassionate,” said one worker.

Speaking with Eater by email, Carey claims he will make it up. “I fully intend to make good on paying everyone in full once the restaurants are operating again,” he wrote. “After closing so abruptly, there was no time to plan. There was simply nothing left. As with many of my employees, I am on unemployment for the first time in my life, something that seemed inconceivable just a few short weeks ago.”

Whether or not the restaurants do reopen, which is dependent on a number of factors, the laid off workers are still missing the funds now. “It’s a quarter of our paychecks, it’s a huge chunk,” said one. “And to have it all ripped away from us within a day...”