Tipped Employees Under the Fair Labor Standards Act

posted by Scott Behren  |  Jun 4, 2010 8:22 PM [EST]  |  applies to Florida

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In many instances these days, employees are coming to my office with questions about tips, what hourly rate an employee who gets tips must be paid and whether an employer may retain all or any portion of its employee's tips.  This posting is intended to address some of these issues.  Much of this information is taken from the U.S. Department of Labor's fact sheet on this issue.

Tipped employees are those who customarily and regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips. Tips actually received by tipped employees may be counted as wages for purposes of the FLSA, but the employer must pay not less than $2.13 an hour in direct wages.

If an employer elects to use the tip credit provision the employer must:

1) Inform each tipped employee about the tip credit allowance (including amount to be credited) before the credit is utilized.

2) Be able to show that the employee receives at least the minimum wage when direct wages and the tip credit allowance are combined.

3) Allow the tipped employee to retain all tips, whether or not the employer elects to take a tip credit for tips received, except to the extent the employee participates in a valid tip pooling arrangement.

If an employee's tips combined with the employer's direct wages of at least $2.13 an hour do not equal the minimum hourly wage -- $7.25 an hour effective July 2009-- the employer must make up the difference.

The law forbids any arrangement between the employer and the tipped employee whereby any part of the tip received becomes the property of the employer. A tip is the sole property of the tipped employee. Where an employer does not strictly observe the tip credit provisions of the Act, no tip credit may be claimed and the employees are entitled to receive the full cash minimum wage, in addition to retaining tips they mayshould have received.

A compulsory charge for service,  (service charge) for example, 15 percent of the bill, is not a tip. Such charges are part of the employer's gross receipts. Where service charges are imposed and the employee receives no tips, the employer must pay the entire minimum wage and overtime required by the Act.

Tip Pooling: The requirement that an employee must retain all tips does not preclude tip splitting or pooling arrangements among employees who customarily and regularly receive tips, such as waiters, waitresses, bellhops, counter personnel (who serve customers), busboys/girls and service bartenders. Tipped employees may not be required to share their tips with employees who have not customarily and regularly participated in tip pooling arrangements, such as dishwashers, cooks, chefs, and janitors. Only those tips that are in excess of tips used for the tip credit may be taken for a pool. Tipped employees cannot be required to contribute a greater percentage of their tips than is customary and reasonable.

Credit Cards: Where tips are charged on a credit card and the employer must pay the credit card company a percentage on each sale, then the employer may pay the employee the tip, less that percentage. This charge on the tip may not reduce the employee's wage below the required minimum wage. The amount due the employee must be paid no later than the regular pay day and may not be held while the employer is awaiting reimbursement from the credit card company.

If your employer is retaining your tips, you may want to consult with an employment lawyer.  In addition, if your tips plus hourly wage are not exceeding the minimum wage or you do not believe you are getting paid for overtime, than you should consult with an employment lawyer.  If you have problems with any of these issues you can also contact the U.S. Department of Labor.

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