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Restaurant case beyond unreasonable

"The Case of the Working Interview" involving a cook and a Grants Pass restaurant has long since boiled over. Someone should have turned down the heat before now, but other employers should take the hint and check their practices.

The owner of Blondie's Bistro interviewed Martin Robinson for a position as a cook almost a year ago, and he performed a few tasks as a tryout — what's apparently known in the trade as a working interview. He returned the next day and worked a full shift, then decided he didn't want the job. The owner, Bobbi Best, paid him for the shift, but not for the "interview."

Robinson hired attorney Jeffrey Rosas, who went after Best for violating state law, which says any work performed, even as part of an interview or training, must be paid.

Paying Robinson up front would have cost Best $30. Even after fines and penalties for her failure to do so, she could have made the case go away for $4,400, and Robinson's attorney says his client would have accepted $2,300 before filing suit.

Instead, Best now is facing a bill of more than $21,000 for the $4,400 plus Robinson's attorney's fees, and she's already paid her own attorneys $13,000, so she could be out more than $30,000.

One of Best's new attorneys says he can't understand how the situation got so expensive, saying, "I don't think the system is working."

No kidding.

It's hard to know for sure, but what appears to be happening here is a system designed to enrich attorneys at the expense of a small-business owner doing what she thought was legal. Rosas' website now says he's looking for more workers who may have done "working interviews."

There's no question Robinson should have been paid for the working interview. There's also no question Best should have paid up when the matter was first brought to her attention, and she appears to recognize that, but too late.

This should be a lesson to other employers: If you ask people to perform work, pay them now, or you'll pay dearly for it later.