B.C. woman shocked to find a charge for employee health benefits on restaurant bill

Click to play video: 'Victoria restaurant asks patrons to pay for employee health benefits'
Victoria restaurant asks patrons to pay for employee health benefits
Is it the start of a welcome trend in B.C. or just a pushy way of passing along the cost of being an employer to customers? A Victoria woman says she was surprised recently to see a small fee added to her restaurant bill as health benefits for employees. Kylie Stanton reports – Oct 12, 2022

A B.C. woman was shocked to recently discover a new charge on her restaurant bill.

Ann Hardy and her husband went out for lunch last week to 10 Acres in Victoria.

They shared a meat and cheese plate and two drinks and when it came time to pay, Hardy said her husband noticed there was a charge of $1.25 for something called EHB. She said when they asked their server, they were told that was for Employee Health Benefits.

“I said, ‘Are we supposed to pay for that?’ and they said, ‘Yes’,” Hardy added.

Last November, the B.C. government announced it was going to become the first province in Canada to implement a permanent paid sick leave program.

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All workers in B.C. are eligible for five days of sick pay and businesses are legally required to provide the days to their employees.

At the time, some small business owners said this was an additional financial burden passed on to them from the government without any additional support.

“I think it’s great that employees are getting health benefits but I don’t think the customers should have to pay directly,” Hardy said.

She said they have never come across this issue before and think that the business should build the cost into the overall financial plan and not pass it on to the customers.

“I think it’s disgusting, quite frankly. I don’t like it.”

Hardy added that they were never told before dining that there would be this charge and they did not offer to remove it.

Click to play video: 'Labour advocates slam B.C.’s new permanent paid sick leave program'
Labour advocates slam B.C.’s new permanent paid sick leave program

In a statement to Global News, management at 10 Acres said health benefits became an employer cost in 2020 and then the five days of paid sick leave was added in 2021.

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“While we support our employees and want them to enjoy those benefits, these costs also need to be passed on,” the company said. “Most customers recognize rising inflation, be it wages or food and supply costs, as a reason to increase prices.

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“We felt consumers would not necessarily realize the cost associated with health care benefits, therefore we decided rather than rolling them into inflation price increases, we would include a service charge.”

They continued on to say only a handful of people over the past eight months have noticed the two per cent charge and been unhappy with it. “If a customer is unhappy with the charge and would like to opt-out, we are willing to honour that and remove it from their bill,” 10 Acres said.

Click to play video: 'Ask an Expert: paid sick leave'
Ask an Expert: paid sick leave

“I think it smacks of being quite sneaky actually,” Hardy added. “I think they should build it into their plan because most companies do that. Why should restaurants be the exception?”

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Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation, said in a statement that this is not actually a valid tax and there are rules that govern any kind of surcharge to ensure clarity for customers.

“The Employer Health Tax replaced MSP premiums people were forced to pay and is the lowest payroll tax in Canada, designed to ensure businesses help cover the costs of health care for their staff. More than 85 per cent of B.C. businesses do not pay the Employer Health Tax,” Kahlon said.

“Our government has provided significant supports to small businesses: making the food delivery fee cap permanent, half a billion dollars in grants during COVID-19, the small business tax rate and saving restaurants up to 20 per cent by allowing them to purchase alcohol at wholesale prices. We’re going to continue to support small businesses while ensuring workers get the supports they need.”

Click to play video: 'Report says restaurant prices set to rise across Canada'
Report says restaurant prices set to rise across Canada

Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association said this EHB charge is not a usual practice in B.C. but it is more common in other parts of the world, such as California.

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“The convention is that it would get absorbed into the cost of the meal, not as an add-on, typically,” he said.

“I think that by doing this, the other side of that is that you’re being completely wide open to your guests and all the charges.”

Although, he added it might make people feel uncomfortable about asking about charges on their bills.

“Most people don’t look at their bill,” Tostenson said. “I don’t think it’s sneaky, it’s there if they ask about it.

“Most things get rolled around into the overall price, end of story.”

For Hardy, she said she will not be going back to the restaurant.

“It’s not that they shouldn’t get benefits, they should get benefits. But the company should pay for them.”

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