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State investigates Don Ho’s owner for unpaid wages

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Don Ho’s Island Grill owner Phillip Johnson was unaware of a state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations investigation of his business, launched after former employees filed complaints of unpaid wages with the agency’s Wage Standards Division.

"I’m still holding course on trying to get everything organized … on figuring stuff out," Johnson said Thursday.

On Wednesday he estimated the amount of back wages owed at $26,000. Johnson said he understood that employees felt "betrayed" and that he was working to make good on staffers’ last two paychecks.

The restaurant ceased daily operations at the end of June and will open only for private parties and special events through August, when Johnson says he expects daily operations to resume.

The investigation, given the division’s meager staffing, is "going to take a while," so employees might receive quicker satisfaction through the courts, said Pam Martin, Wage Standards Division administrator.

Employees with paychecks dishonored by the bank "have the right to go to Small Claims Court and get a judgment and get the money on their own," she said.

Former employees still may print and fill out an online complaint form and bring it into the division office at 830 Punchbowl St., Room 340.

In the meantime they are likely to be approved for unemployment benefits even if the restaurant was behind on its unemployment insurance payments, said William Kuntsman, labor department spokesman.

Employers are to make quarterly payments into a reserve account, and so "if you close your business for whatever reason, the employees are entitled to come in and file for unemployment, (which is) charged to their account," he said. However, if the employer’s account contains insufficient funds, benefits are paid out of the broader unemployment trust fund, Kuntsman said.

On the Net:

» hawaii.gov/labor/wsd
» www.courts.state.hi.us/self-help/small_claims/small_claims.html

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