Tip Pool

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

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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.

DOLs Tip Pool Rule Poses Tough Decision For Restaurants

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Tip pooling was the topic of a recent Law 360 article that discussed the legal challenges the U.S. Department of Labor’s tip pooling rule could face. The tip pooling rule bars restaurants from requiring their wait staff to share tips with employees in the back of the house. The rule might be revisited in the wake of a new administration. Louis Pechman, founder of waiterpay.com was quoted in the article discussing tip splitting by front and back of the house workers.

Former employees of Wahlburgers in Brooklyn claim they were denied wages, file lawsuit

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New York Daily News has reported that Wahlburgers, subject of the popular A&E reality show by the same name, is being sued by former employees for unpaid overtime and tip violations.  The attorneys for the former restaurant workers in the case is Louis Pechman, founder of waiterpay.com and Mitchell Schley.

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.

Sex Harassment Case Filed Against Johnny Utah’s Restaurant

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Johnny Utah’s has been hit with a complaint alleging sexual harassment, as well as minimum wage and overtime violations, tip theft, and spread of hours violations of the New York Labor Law and Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Complaint, filed on behalf of eight waitress at against Johnny Utah’s Rockefeller Center location in New York federal court, alleges the Midtown restaurant, which is advertised as a “wild west party” and known for its mechanical bull, subjected its female servers to unwanted sexual conduct such as inappropriate touching, comments, and propositions. The lawsuit alleges that among other things, servers were expected to flirt with patrons, ride the bar’s mechanical bull shirtless, and kiss other female servers. The waitresses and bartenders were expected to take shots with and sit on the laps of male customers and were told to ignore any unwanted touching. Any employee who complained was assigned fewer shifts or was terminated.

Additionally, the lawsuit claims that the servers did not receive the minimum wage, overtime, and “spread of hours” pay they were lawfully entitled to receive. According to the lawsuit, employees regularly worked 60 to 70 hours per week but were only paid for 40 hours of work. Servers also were required to share their tips with managers and their tip money was often withheld to cover cash register shortages.

Lawyers for the workers are seeking to recover minimum wages, overtime compensation, spread-of-hours pay, misappropriated tips, uniform-related expenses, unlawful deductions, compensatory damages, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees.

Tip Lawsuit Filed Against Pat O’Brien’s Bar in New Orleans

pat obriens bar drinks

Pat O’Brien’s, a New Orleans bar famous for creating the “hurricane” drink was sued by bartenders alleging violations of tip and wage payment laws.  Louis Pechman, founder of waiterpay.com, is lead attorney on the case, which was reported on by The Times-Picayune and The Advocate.

Texas Steakhouse Pays Texas Sized Settlement for Wage Theft Violations

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Big Texan Steak Ranch has agreed to pay $650,000 in minimum wage back wages and $150,000 in liquidated damages to 279 current and former wait staff following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, which found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and record-keeping provisions. Violations stemmed from an illegal tip pooling arrangement by the restaurant, in which management dipped into the tips of the waiters, waitresses, and busboys of the restaurant

According to the DOL’s investigation, Big Texan illegally retained a portion of the restaurant workers’ tips to pay for business costs, such as menus, glassware, trays and contest prizes. The restaurant also made illegal deductions from workers’ paychecks for uniforms and withheld additional percentages of tips as a disciplinary tactic, bringing those workers’ hourly wages below the required federal minimum wage. Additionally, the company failed to maintain accurate time and payroll records.

The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates of pay for hours worked beyond 40 per week. In accordance with the FLSA, an employer of a tipped employee is required to pay no less than $2.13 an hour in direct wages, provided that amount plus the tips received equals at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. If an employee’s tips combined with the employer’s direct wages do not equal the minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. Employers are required to provide employees notice of the FLSA tip credit provisions, and to maintain accurate time and payroll records.

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.

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