Restaurant employees can’t sit down at indoor table?

(WSVN) - A husband and wife are trying to keep their restaurant going as they work seven days a week, 14 hours a day during the coronavirus pandemic. If that wasn’t tough enough, an inspector walked in and made a demand they could not believe. What was it? Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser tells us.

You almost have to be a workaholic to own a successful restaurant.

Katia Roque, Munchies Cafe: “It is my husband and I. We run it ourselves. We’re here every day. We open at 5:30 in the morning, and we close at 7 p.m.”

Katia and Eddie have owned Munchies Cafe on Bird Road for 17 years, and despite the seven-day-a-week, 14-hour days, they like it.

Katia Roque: “Our employees are great, and we love our business. We have very loyal customers that have helped us out through these very difficult moments.”

The virus moments, now virus months, now hitting their cash register as hard as it’s hit the country’s health.

Katia Roque: “Maybe half of what we were making. It’s very difficult.”

With indoor dining banned, Katia has relied on her ventanita, or takeout window, and three tables outside.

Plus, she left one table with two chairs inside for employees to sit and take a break or for her to pay the bills.

And then…

Katia Roque: “The inspector came in. I stood up, I told her we were the owners, and she said, ‘I’m sorry. It is not allowed. You must take the table outside right now.'”

Katia tried to explain to the Miami-Dade inspector that the table was not for customers but for her and employees.

Katia Roque: “Can we have this table? Can my employees take their break there? Can the owners sit? These are non-paying customers.'”

The county inspector said, “No. Get the table outside immediately.”

Katia Roque: “She simply said, ‘Listen, I’m doing my job. Don’t argue with me, and I have to give you the warning.'”

Maybe it was the six months of their income cut in half. Maybe it was the seven-day-a-week, 14-hour grind to try to save their business, but after being told she could not sit at this table in her own restaurant, Katia had enough.

Katia Roque: “We lost it. We told her how difficult things are, how hard we’re working, how it’s one table to sit down for 10 minutes a day.”

The county inspector would not budge, and Katia gave up.

Katia Roque: “There was nothing else I could say, because then we’re afraid that they’ll give you a fine, they’ll shut you down.”

Katia can’t sit at a small table to rest inside her own restaurant. The inspector thinks they are doing what the county order requires.

Or does it, Howard?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “No, it doesn’t, and this is ridiculous, because the county law is targeting customers. Of course the owner and their employees can sit and rest or eat at an indoor table.”

We are getting a lot of mask questions. This one: can you be fired for complaining about a fellow employee not wearing a mask or not wearing it properly?

Howard Finkelstein: “No, you cannot. You are protected under federal law. If you are fired, file a complaint with OSHA. The link is under this Help Me Howard story.”

If you have the coronavirus, can your association force you to stay in your home and fine you if you come outside?

Howard Finkelstein: “They cannot keep you in your condo, but they can keep you out of the common areas like the pool or clubhouse. However, they do have to let you walk through the common area to get in and out of your condo as long as you wear a mask. If you do that, they cannot fine you.”

Katia Roque: “I love to help my customers. I love to see them leave happy.”

Miami-Dade County admitted their inspector was wrong, writing, “Employees can use the indoor table for work breaks and meals.”

One less headache for Katia as she battles to keep Munchies Cafe alive.

Katia Roque: “Most of all, we do it for our employees. We don’t want to see them go home. We all have bills. We all have families.”

You just have to feel horrible for so many small business owners struggling to survive and understand the constantly changing rules.

Howard Finkelstein: “And you have to feel bad for the city and county inspectors, because some of the rules they are told to enforce are confusing and not clear at all.”

Someone cooked up a problem that’s got you in a hot spot? Take it off the back burner and dish it up for us. Hopefully we can set the table for a solution.

OSHA whistleblower complaint link:
osha.gov/whistleblower/WBComplaint.html

CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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