Shorted: Wage Theft, Time Theft, and Discrimination in San Diego's Restaurant Industry

Wage theft is a national problem, especially in low-wage industries. In cities and states previously studied, the restaurant industry has consistently been found to be one of the most abusive. In San Diego County, 125,700 people – 

nearly one-tenth of all workers – are employed in restaurants, and the industry is growing at almost double the rate of overall employment in the county. This survey of 337 employees of restaurants throughout San Diego County uncovered disturbing numbers of legal violations and other  exploitative workplace practices among restaurants of all kinds – from fast food to fine dining. This is a pilot study that offers a glimpse into the work lives of San Diegans employed in the restaurant industry, and highlights issues that warrant further exploration and the urgent development of policy solutions. Survey respondents included employees of at least 163 distinct workplaces scattered throughout San Diego County and probably substantially more. We conducted in-depth interviews with 30 survey respondents to clarify and enrich the findings, analyzed census data and collected observational data at 40 top local restaurants. Many of the findings replicate what has been found in studies conducted elsewhere.

 |El reporte en español está disponible aquí

Key Findings:

  • Wage Theft: More than three-quarters (77%) of 337 restaurant employees surveyed have been victims of wage theft by their employers during the past year, and a third said it happens regularly. Restaurants’ varying systems of distributing tips are confusing and open to abuse.
  • Break Violations & Fraud: Nearly a quarter of our sample said employers made them falsely record taking unpaid meal breaks. More than 80% reported violations of their legal rights to breaks, either working more than 6 hours without having a meal break or being prevented or discouraged from taking rest breaks.
  • Time Theft & Unstable Schedules: Most workers surveyed get their work schedules less than a week in advance and 85% get less than two weeks’ notice. Other common practices, such as on-call and open-ended scheduling, rob employees of their personal time.
  • Sick Time & Health: More than three-quarters (78%) of workers in the sample have gone to work when they’re sick, injured, or in pain, and 65% have done so repeatedly. Only 11% reported having any paid sick time, and only 17% get any health insurance from their jobs.
  • Discrimination: In our survey, wage theft most often targeted women, Latinos, and “back-of-the-house” staff. Observational data on 40 high-end local restaurants show white males disproportionately represented in “front-of-the-house” jobs.

How is this issue effecting San Diegans?


Read Sandra's Story Here


Full Press Conference

TV News Coverage




Latest in the news on the Shorted Report

El reporte se basó en entrevistas realizadas a más de 300 trabajadores en 160 restaurantes de distintos tipos, en los que se encontró además que los grupos más propensos a ser víctimas de esta práctica son mujeres, latinos y personas de la tercera edad. Read More

By Doug Porter, San Diego Free Press

study by San Diego State University Department of Sociology and the Center on Policy Initiatives found persuasive evidence of widespread wage theft, labor law violations and widespread discrimination in restaurants throughout San Diego.

If you went in to a grocery store and took something without paying, you’d face arrest. If you robbed a bank you’d be eligible for jail time. Both are thefts. Both are crimes. Read More

By Kevin de León

“They told us, ‘We are going to give you more money, but we need you to do a better job,’” Sanchez said. Not long after that, the paychecks that they were receiving started bouncing, making it impossible for them to buy groceries at the store that routinely cashed their checks.

by Chris Fuhrmeister 

In a study conducted by the Center on Policy Initiatives and San Diego State University, results show an astonishing 77 percent of San Diego restaurant workers have reported wage theft in the last year. Of the 337 workers surveyed, one-third said wage theft occurs on a regular basis. The most commonly reported type of theft was unpaid, off-the-clock work, which 60 percent of respondents said they have experienced. Read More

Telemundo & El Economista

Entre los robos más comunes de sueldo se encuentra solicitar a trabajadores que trabajen sin paga adicional antes o después de su jornada habitual, falta de compensación por horas extra, deducción en su cheque por daños en el restaurante, pago menor al salario mínimo, entrega injusta de las propinas obtenidas y discriminación. Read More

Times of San Diego

The scathing report released Tuesday by the San Diego-based Center on Policy Initiatives surveyed 337 restaurant workers on “wage theft” and other issues. San Diego State University’s sociology department helped in preparing the report, and KPBS quoted SDSU professor Jill Esbenshade, lead investigator, as saying: “Overwhelming numbers of restaurant workers reported they had been cheated of money they are owed in wages and tips, as well as their break time and personal time.” Read More