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The High Cost of Getting Paid: How Payroll Cards Cost Darden Employees

“The High Cost of Getting Paid: How Payroll Cards Cost Darden Employees,” examines Darden Restaurants’ use of payroll cards, which apply costly hidden fees to over a hundred thousand of their low-wage employees.

The study, based on an in-depth survey of over 200 Darden employees, examines the unsubstantiated claim that the cards are a convenient substitute to cash or checks for employees without traditional bank accounts. The findings show that thousands of low-wage workers at Darden are actually paying high fees just to access their own earned wages. In addition to detailing the many troubling impacts that payroll cards have on workers, the report also outlines a set of policy recommendations to protect Darden workers and can serve as a model to protect other low-wage employees nationwide.

Darden’s tipped servers reported special complications using the payroll card. In states where tipped employees earn the federal subminimum wage of $2.13 per hour, much if not all of their wages go towards paying taxes. For tipped workers, fees can create an additional barrier to accessing wages on the payroll card because fees amount to a larger percentage of their wages. This provides a disincentive for workers to access their wages via the payroll card and may have the effect of allowing Darden to shift the costs of doing business onto their already low-wage tipped workforce.

Key findings include:

  • 76% of employees reported having to pay fees to access their wages at the ATM.
  • 42% reported experiencing problems accessing their wages through the payroll card.
  • 24% of employees reported fees at point-of-purchase.
  • 63% reported that they were not told about all of the fees associated with the card before it was issued to them.
  • 49% reported that they do not have access to ATMs that do not charge them a fee to access their wages.
  • 26% reported not being allowed to choose an alternative method of payment to the Darden payroll card.
  • 23% of employees reported not being given instructions on how to use the Darden Card.
  • 54% of employees who used the card to fill up their gas tanks have experienced large authorization holds on their card as a result.

Recommended solutions for policymakers include:

  • Support legislation that eliminates the lower minimum wage for tipped workers.
  • Pass legislation that ensures workers have unlimited free access to the entirety of their wages.
  • Provide clarity to employers about how to offer payroll cards in compliance with the law.
  • Require that workers be clearly informed about card fees in multiple formats in plain English, supplemented by a hard copy of the fee schedule in the workers’ first language, before being issued their payroll card.
  • Allow workers to withdraw wages and verify account balances free of charge by telephone and at an accessible network of ATMs.
  • Ban inappropriate fees for basic account information, declines, overdraft fees, and other fees that constitute a barrier to a worker’s free access to their wages.

Find the full report here.