MADISON, Wis. — Friday means payday for most people. But for 200 Milio’s Sandwiches employees, that’s not what they got.
Several employees forwarded a company-wide email to Fox 47 from Milio’s Sandwiches owner Mike Liautaud stating, “We want to give you notice that due to our business closures and related issues, we do not have adequate funds to issue your payroll checks this week. We are working very hard to secure funds to pay you as soon as possible. But at this point, I cannot make any promises when that might be.”
For employees like Samantha Griffin, who has worked for Milio’s Sandwiches for three years and is now the general manager of the Sun Prairie location, this came as a shock.
“I’ve absolutely loved my job,” Griffin said. “It’s been very enjoyable. I’ve loved working hand-in-hand with people, with the community. It’s been a good company to work for so far.
Griffin said she had no idea what to tell the staff at her location when she received the email less than 24 hours ago.
“It’s completely mind-blowing,” she said. “To go to work every single day to absolutely just love the environment and love the company and think that you’re doing something for them and for everyone else. To think that you’re a part of a family, so to speak, a company, and then when everything just kind of hits the wind, to be put out to just fend for yourself. It was terrible.”
Two hundred employees are now jobless and without their last paycheck. This comes in the midst of a pandemic and just days before bills are due.
Milio’s Sandiches owner Mike Liautaud spoke openly about his decision to close Tuesday. He says for health and safety reasons, he did not want to expose his employees or customers to the virus.
“It’s very painful to me,” Liautaud said. “I have had a 30-year track record of making payroll every single Friday. Never in my life have I ever had to make this decision where the money is not available. The money is simply not available simply because I closed my doors. I have no money coming in whatsoever and it’s just something, as a business person, I have to live with.”
“We started closing down other stores before this,” Griffin said. “We were losing stores. Things just weren’t financially going in the up direction for this company. So I understand not being able to continue, but not being able to pay your employees last two weeks of work is just unacceptable.”
Employees are wondering how this is allowed. Attorneys say it’s not.
“It is not legal,” said Colin Good, senior council at Hawks Quindel. “Wisconsin has a statute 109.03 that requires employers to pay their employees for every hour they’ve worked.”
Liautaud said he’s aware that it is illegal.
“From my attorney’s direction, I have at least til the 31st til I’m out of compliance, so I’m still currently in compliance,” Liautaud said.
Good confirmed that Liautaud does have a grace period, but when asked if he could say if employees would be paid in that time, Liautaud said he couldn’t be certain.
“At this very moment, the cash is not available and I’ll have to deal with the consequences on my own,” Liautaud said.
Good recommends that employees who want to ensure they are paid should file a free claim on the Labor Standards Bureau website. Although the department would not be able to enforce that payment be made, a notice will be sent to Liautaud and employees can get information on how to take the issue up in small claims court.
“Under statute, not only is he legally required to pay the back pay for each of his employees, but also interest on that back pay and then, it’s a fee-shifting statute. So, the attorneys who are helping the employees can re-coop the money in attorneys’ fees that they would be owed,” Good said.
Griffin said she feels for her staff who can’t afford to go without a paycheck for so long.
“These are people that really count and save and need every single penny on that paycheck,” Griffin said. “These aren’t middle wage higher end up employees by any means. So this could very well financially devastate some people today.”
Griffin and several other employees we spoke with who did not want to be interviewed said they have filed for unemployment.
Liautaud said he is applying for a federal grant to give him the funds needed to pay his employees and get his business back up and running.
“We will get through it,” Liautaud said. “All our employees will be paid. I just hope that they have the patience to get through this with me and I’m doing the best I can to get them the things that they deserve.”