Waitress writing on a pad

Discussion topic: Was restaurant right to fire waitress for refusing to refund $200 tip?

Elizabeth Bromstein|

Say you’re a waitress and someone accidentally tips you $200. Should you be obliged to pay it back?

A Virginia waitress refused and reportedly lost her job. Then, she was supposedly offered that job back. Frankly, I think she should have stayed fired.

The story goes that Chanetrice Carter was working at an IHOP in Henrico, Virginia, when a customer left her a $200 tip on a $25.76 card transaction. Of course, she was thrilled.

“I said, ‘my goodness, I just got a $200 tip,’” said Carter. “This is amazing. This is crazy.”

A week later she was called into a meeting and asked to refund the money, because the customer meant to write $2.

“A part of me was upset,” she said. “A part of me was mad.”

The owner of the restaurant refunded the customer’s money, and wanted Carter to give it back within seven days. She didn’t and, according NBC 12 was fired. The local news outlet picked up the story and consulted with a legal analyst who said the firing wasn’t unlawful.

“Nobody’s rights have been violated here,” said Steve Benjamin. “There has been no unlawful termination. She didn’t have to return the money, but they can in turn fire her because she is just employed at will.”

However, as a result of the NBC 12 reaching out to the IHOP district manager, Carter claims she was offered her job back. She says the district manager offered her a meeting and in that meeting his first words to her were, “How soon can you come back?!” The report didn’t say whether she accepted.

I think this story is very odd. I wouldn’t have hired her back. She should have returned the money. I wouldn’t want anyone working for me who would keep money that wasn’t intended for them.

There are a few things to note, however. The first is that a $2 tip on a $25 tab is terrible, and the customer should tip better. Still, I’m guessing that $200 is a lot of money for this person, and they needed it back.

The second is that here is a case where the “right” thing and the “kind” thing are not the same thing and nobody did either one. The “right” thing for Carter to do would have been to return the money, which was not rightfully hers. By keeping it, she basically made a free $200 that came out of someone’s pocket. The “kind” thing, on the other hand, would have been for the district manager to let her keep the money. He was under no obligation to do so, and perfectly in his right to ask for it back and to fire her for not returning it, but it would have been nice. I don’t know how much IHOP makes, but I think it’s probably more than their waitresses, and it’s clearly a lot of money to Carter since she clung to it so fiercely.

So, everyone in this tale is kind of a jerk.

Regardless, I can’t imagine any manager wanting to work with someone who would pocket money that doesn’t belong to them, and I assume the only reason they (allegedly) offered to reinstate her was because they were afraid of bad publicity.

As I said, I think she should have stayed fired.

What do you think? Was Carter wrong to keep the money? Was the manager wrong to fire her? Right to fire her? Right to offer her job back? Discuss!

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Category: Career Dilemmas, Recruiting and Managing,