The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office is asking Minneapolis restaurateur Kim Bartmann for detailed financial information about her businesses and wages owed to employees, following reports that workers laid off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have not been paid.
In a March 25 letter, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Moler asked Bartmann to provide documents and information by April 3, including the name and contact information of every employee and the unpaid wages owed them; financial accounts, credit cards, cash on hand and nonmonetary assets associated with each restaurant; and state and federal tax returns for each restaurant.
Reached by phone Friday, Bartmann said she had not received the letter but is working hard to pay her employees.
“I have acknowledged to all the employees that they are owed those paychecks, and that I will pay them as soon as I’m able,” she said. “The former employees and laid off employees that are working hard to try to hurt our efforts at delivery and takeout business are only shooting themselves in the foot.”
The Minnesota Wage Theft Prevention Act, which went into effect Aug. 1, requires employers to pay all wages, including gratuities, at least once every 31 days. Failing to do so can result in fines and prison time.
“Minnesota workers and small-business owners are both having a tough time affording their lives right now, especially in the hospitality industry that is such an important part of Minnesota’s economy and culture,” Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement Friday. “But even in this tough time, it’s still not legal to withhold wages that employees have earned.”
Bartmann’s holdings include Barbette, Tiny Diner, Pat’s Tap, Book Club, Gigi’s Cafe and Red Stag Supperclub. The restaurants closed and workers were laid off last week, though Barbette and Tiny Diner remain open for takeout and delivery.
Bartmann e-mailed employees on March 19 saying that paychecks for the March 9-15 period would not be available.
“The average small business has about 16 days of liquidity; this time of year, I have about 5,” Bartmann wrote. “Those days got eaten up by the coronavirus and a sudden, steep drop in sales over the weekend, which usually pays our payroll.”
On March 25, a group of 40 employees sent Bartmann a letter demanding that she provide their wages within 24 hours. That night, Bartmann sent employees another e-mail outlining her efforts to meet payroll.
“We acknowledge and agree that we are obligated to pay you the wages you are owed,” she wrote. “At this point, given the unprecedented impact COVID-19 has had on the restaurant industry, we’re seeking emergency funding and/or loans through various government programs and individuals in order to satisfy payroll demands.”