Gratuities

Department of Labor Rescinds Tip Pooling Rule

tip tip pooling tip theft

The United States Department of Labor announced that it will revoke an Obama-era regulation prohibiting restaurants from pooling customers tips with back-of-the-house workers.  Although this change could have a significant impact in many areas of the country, New York State still has restrictions on who can participate in a tip pool.

The Legal History

Unless state laws require higher amounts, as is the case in New York State, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), a federal law, requires employers to pay employees at least the federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour worked.  The FLSA allows restaurants to pay employees who regularly receive tips as little as $2.13 per hour if they make the difference (i.e., $5.12) per hour in tips.  The $5.12 difference is known as a “tip credit,” which is a privilege that the FLSA gives to restaurants.  The FLSA also allows restaurants to require tip-receiving employees to pool their tips for distribution among employees.

Before 2011, there was much debate about which employees could participate in a restaurant’s mandatory tip pool.  Some courts concluded that only employees who regularly receive tips and who spend at least 80% of their time serving customers at tables, known as “food service employees,” could participate in a tip pool.  These courts concluded that if a restaurant forced food service employees to share their tips with non-service employees, such as cooks or other back-of-the-house employees, then the restaurant violated the FLSA and had to pay back tips and other wages to the food service employees.  Other courts reached the opposite conclusion.  They reasoned that any employee should be allowed to participate in the mandatory tip pool as long as the restaurant did not take a tip credit and, instead, paid its employees the full minimum wage rate ($7.25 under federal law, but higher under New York State law).

In 2011, the US Department of Labor enacted a regulation that back-of-the-house employees cannot participate in a tip pool with front-of-the-house food service employees regardless of whether the restaurant takes a tip credit. The 2011 regulation mirrors the New York Labor Law and the New York State Department of Labor’s Hospitality Wage Order, which limit tip pooling to food service employees only.  In New York, back-of-the-house employees can never participate in a mandatory tip pool with front-of-the-house food service employees.

The Recent Change and Effect in New York

Under the Trump Administration, the US Department of Labor has announced that it will revoke the 2011 regulation.  The effect of this revocation is that in many areas of the country, but not in New York, restaurants that do not take a tip credit can require front-of-the-house employees to share their tips with any other restaurant employee.  Note that, restaurants that take a tip credit against front-of-the-house food service employees still cannot require them to share their tips with back-of-the-house workers.

These changes at the federal level have no impact in New York, whose laws and regulations already require that tips left by customers be given to front-of-the-house employees.  Under New York laws, food service employees can be required to share their tips only with other food service employees.   For example, a tip pool in a New York restaurant is lawful if it is composed of non-managerial bartenders, servers, bussers, and runners.  However, it would be unlawful for a New York restaurant to require servers and bartenders to share tips with a cook or manager.

“Best Restaurant in America” To Pay $2 million to Settle Tip Theft Lawsuit

Blue HIll tip theft lawsuit

Dan Barber’s Blue Hill restaurant has agreed to pay its waitstaff $2 million to settle an unpaid wages and tip theft  lawsuit.

Recognized by Eater as the Best Restaurant in America for its locally-sourced farm-to-table cuisine, Blue Hill at Stone Barn and its sister restaurant in Manhattan was sued by two former servers in 2016 on behalf of themselves and all servers, bussers, bartenders, runners, and hosts and hostesses.  In their lawsuit, the servers claimed that Blue Hill required them to share their tips with expeditors, who were kitchen employees that did not interact with the restaurant’s customers.  The servers argued that this tip pooling system was unlawful.  Under the law, waitstaff should not be required to share their tips with restaurant employees who do not interact with customers, such as kitchen employees.

Attorneys for the workers also claimed that whenever there was a private event or banquet at Blue Hill, the restaurant led customers to believe that the “service” or “administrative” fee that they paid was a tip that would be distributed to the waitstaff.  According to the servers, Blue Hill unlawfully pocketed all service charges that customers paid, even though those amounts should have been given to the waitstaff as tips.

The wage theft lawsuit claimed that Blue Hill did not pay them minimum wages, as required under New York State law.  Because Blue Hill required the waitstaff to share tips with kitchen employees, like expeditors, in an unlawful tip pool, the restaurant could not pay waitstaff at a reduced minimum wage rate and take a tip credit.  Normally, if a restaurant meets several legal requirements, it may pay employees who regularly receive tips at a reduced hourly wage rate.  The restaurant loses this privilege if it pockets any part of the waitstaff’s tips or creates an unlawful tip pool.  For this reason, the servers claimed that they were owed the difference between the reduced hourly rates they were paid and the full minimum wage rates in New York.

Since the settlement, Blue Hill has eliminated tipping at its restaurants, a growing trend among New York restaurants.

 

Opening A Restaurant in New York: Legal Issue Boot Camp

New York City Bar Association Logo

The New York City Bar Association will hold the CLE program “Opening A Restaurant in New York: Legal Issue Boot Camp” on March 24. The program will focus on the corporate, real estate, liquor license, and labor/employment issues involved in opening a restaurant in New York City. Speakers on the panel include Jack Gordon, partner at Kent, Beatty & Gordon LLP; Carolyn Richmond, partner at Fox Rothschild LLP; Sonal Shah, General Counsel of Ark Restaurant Group; Alex Victor, partner at Davidoff, Hutcher & Citron LLP; and Larry A. Welch, Associate at Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe LLP.  Lou Pechman will be chairing the event. For more information on the program please visit the event page.

The Real-Soprano’s “Bada Bing!” Strip Club Sued for Wage Law Violations

The New Jersey strip club used for Tony Soprano’s “Bada Bing!” club in the hit TV series “The Sopranos,” in addition to another club under the same owner, was hit with a class action lawsuit by its former employees. It is alleged that Satin Dolls and The Harem were illegally retaining private dancers’ tips and failing to pay them minimum wage by deducting “house fees” from their wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and New Jersey Wage Laws (“NJWL”).

The entertainers allege in their lawsuit that Satin Dolls and The Harem required customers to tip dancers during private or VIP dances. However, the dancers did not retain the entirety of their tips. For example, if a customer tipped $300 for a private dance, the strip club would retain approximately $150, even though customers believed that the dancers were keeping 100% of the tips. In addition, entertainers were required to share their tips with managers, including the “house mom”, the DJ, and security personnel through mandatory tipouts at the end of each shift.

The entertainer’s rights were also violated under the FLSA and NJWL due to the clubs’ policy requiring dancers to pay “fines,” “fees,” and “miscellaneous improper surcharges,” bringing their pay not only below the minimum wage, but to a negative wage. “House fees” collected prior to each shift would amount from $30-$80 depending on the night. Attorneys for the entertainers are seeking to recover unpaid wages, illegally retained tips, illegal deductions from wages, and other penalties from the respective clubs.

Happy National Waiters and Waitresses Day!

old school waiter photo

Today is National Waiters and Waitresses Day. To commemorate, check out this blog about the top ten wage violations in the restaurant industry written by waiterpay.com founder Louis Pechman, featured on the Huffington Post.

Banquet Hall Employees Sue the DoubleTree Hotel

double tree hilton logo

Banquet hall servers at the DoubleTree Hotel in Westchester, New York are suing for the hotel’s failure to pay minimum wages, overtime wages, spread-of-hours pay, unlawful deductions, and improper distribution of gratuities.

According to the collective action lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court, DoubleTree waiters were not paid for the overtime hours they worked. Employees regularly worked more than 60 hours per week but were only paid for 40 hours a week. Additionally, according to the Complaint, the hotel retained service charge payments made by customers even though they reasonably believed that money would be distributed as gratuities for the workers.  Furthermore, DoubleTree failed to reimburse its staff for the laundering and maintenance of their uniforms.

The suit also alleges that employees did not receive the minimum wage and “spread of hours” pay required under the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New York Labor Law. Lawyers for the employees are seeking to recover their unpaid wages, liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees.

Pizza Hut Delivery Driver Sues For Unpaid Service Charges And Overtime

pizza hut logo

Pizza Hut is being sued by a former delivery driver for keeping all of the mandatory service charges it charged its customers and for unpaid overtime pay.

According to the lawsuit, filed on August 11 in Manhattan federal court, Pizza Hut charged its customers a mandatory $2.75 “delivery fee” for deliveries and misled its customers to believe the fee was a tip for its delivery drivers. As a result, delivery workers were often not paid tips directly from customers. However, Pizza Hut did not pay its delivery drivers any part of the delivery fees, allegedly violating New York labor laws. Under New York Labor Law, mandatory service charges that are purported to be gratuities belong to the employees.

The lawsuit also alleges that Pizza Hut violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay its delivery drivers the correct overtime pay for hours worked over forty because it did not include the delivery drivers’ share of the delivery fee into their regular wages.

Attorneys for the delivery drivers are seeking unpaid gratuities, unpaid overtime pay, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees.

Four Seasons Hotel in Hawaii Pays $4 Million to Settle Tip Lawsuit

four seasons hotels and resorts logo

A tip theft lawsuit filed by food and beverage workers at the Hawaii Four Seasons hotel has been settled for $4 million.  The lawsuit which challenged the hotel’s automatic deduction of gratuities left by patrons was approved by Judge Helen Gilmor after five years of litigation.

The Four Seasons hotel food and beverage service workers sued Four Seasons in 2008, alleging that the hotel kept portions of gratuity fees it automatically added to guests’ checks such as those added on bills for large parties.  In 2010, Judge Gillmor ruled that Four Seasons unlawfully retained service charges that should have been given to waiters, busboys, and other service staff.

This case highlights the unlawful practice of employers pocketing tips and gratuities meant for servers.  In New York, Section 196-d of the New York State Labor Law prohibits employers from demanding, accepting, or retaining, directly or indirectly, any part of an employee’s gratuity or any charge purported to be a gratuity. A charge purported to be a gratuity must be distributed in full as gratuities to the service employees or food service workers who provided the service.  For more information on the law, see the Hospitality Wage Order.

Waiterpay Founder Featured on Brooklyn TV

Louis Pechman, the founder of Waiterpay, was a featured guest on BK Live’s June 2, 2014 segment on Tipped Wages.  The segment focused on pay issues in New York City restaurants, including concerns about the increase in lawsuits for illegal pay practices.  Among the topics discussed were the differences between minimum wage and tipped minimum wage, the complicated set of laws involving the tip credit, spread of hours, and other worker rights issues.

Food Network Celebrity Willie Degel Agrees to Pay $900,000 to Settle Wage and Hour Lawsuit

uncle jacks steakhouse logo

Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse and its owner, Food Network Celebrity Willie Degel, will pay $900,000 to settle a wage theft lawsuit filed against its restaurants located in Bayside, Queens and Midtown, New York City.  Ironically, Degel was featured on Food Network’s Restaurant Stakeout, a show which followed Degel as he visited restaurants across the country with hidden cameras to capture their food service problems and attempted to fix them.

On May 22, 2014, Judge Loretta Preska, Chief United States District Court Judge in the Southern District of New York, approved a $900,000 settlement between the restaurants and its workers, who alleged that their worker rights were violated by the restaurant.  Approximately 239 restaurant workers who worked between September 2002 and September 2008 at the New York City and Queens restaurants are expected to benefit from the settlement.

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2008 by captains, waiters, runners, bussers, and bartenders, alleged that the restaurants failed to pay them at the legally required minimum wage, routinely shaved their hours when they worked over 40 hours and refused to pay them overtime wages for hours worked over 40, misappropriated gratuities belonging to the waitstaff, failed to pay spread of hours pay when the employees’ workdays exceeded ten hours, and refused to pay for employee uniforms or laundering of such uniforms.

DISCLAIMER: The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form. Please verify that you have read the disclaimer.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form