What’s at the Root of Your Workplace Wage and Hour Violations? (Cool Exercise Can Help You Understand)

Perhaps you work as a server at a New York City restaurant.

You notice that some points in the tip pool are given to workers that are prohibited from sharing by law. Workers not allowed to share in the pool normally include:

Silver polishers, dishwashers, coffee makers that do not bring coffee to the tables, kitchen staff, expediters, napkin folders,wine directors, chefs,managers, floor managers, Maitre d’s with managerial authorities and owners
Or maybe you’ve been victimized by subtle but devastating sexual harassment at your new job.

You’re confused about what’s happened, and you crave clarity about what to do next.

In addition to connecting with an experienced New York City wage and hour law firm, like Joseph & Kirschenbaum, LLP, take three minutes to complete the following exercise.

The exercise is called “The 5 Whys.”

The “5 Whys” derives from a Japanese process improvement methodology. It’s a useful exercise if/when you ever need to gain clarity on what to do about a difficult situation. It forces you to focus on root causes, rather than on superficial assumptions.

Here’s how the “5 Whys” works.

Write down a situation that’s been bothering you. Then ask yourself the question (on paper): “Why has this situation been happening?” Then answer that question on paper. Drill down by asking yourself “why” a second time: “Why has this [secondary problem] persisted?” Iterate the exercise five times (ask “5 Whys”), and you’ll arrive at the root problem.

Here’s an example of how to apply “5 Whys” to a wage and hour situation.

Let’s say that you’re a waiter at a high-end New York City restaurant. You’ve been unfairly (and, you suspect, illegally) docked tips and overtime wages. You know that you’ve been victimized, but you’ve “let things slide” for months. So you start the exercise by asking the following:

Why #1: “Why haven’t I done anything about the fact that my manager keeps dinging my tips and failing to pay my overtime?”
Answer #: “Because I’m afraid he’ll fire me or cut down my shifts if I complain.”

Why #2: “Why am I afraid that he’ll fire me or cut my hours if I complain?”
Answer #2: “Because when Vinnie (another waiter) complained about a similar problem eight months ago, they slashed his hours, and he eventually quit. And that scares me.”

Why #3: “Why does that scare me?”
Answer #3: “Because I really need this job to pay my bills and support my family.”

Why #4: “Why do I need to pay my bills for my family?”
Answer #4: “Because I care about my family. I have a fundamental need to provide for them.”

In this case, we only took four “Whys” to drill down to something that was very core. This exercise won’t necessarily lead to an immediate solution, but it can put our problems into context. It can help us recognize that our powerful emotions connected to seemingly trivial problems often speak to much deeper aspects of who we are.

For help understanding, step-by-step, what to do about your suspected wage and hour violation or sexual harassment case, get in touch with the team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum, LLP. Call us now at (212) 688-5640 for an effective, free evaluation of your case.

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