If you didn’t know already, being a server is hard. You stand on your feet all day – sometimes late into the night – waiting on people who just don’t give a damn about you. You put on a smile, appear to be interested in their day, and recite the chef’s specials all in the hope that you come across as nice enough to be awarded a sizeable tip.
Life could just be about to get worse for workers though, as the Department for Labor have made a proposed change to tip regulations under what’s called the Fair Labor Standards Act. The rule would “rescind portions of tip regulations”, which could have major consequences for waiters.
The changes would do away with laws surrounding “tip pooling”, which allows servers to combine their tips and give a portion of them to non-tipped workers like kitchen staff. Now, this is fine as it will help bridge the growing pay inequality between cooks and servers. But the problem here is what the changes would allow employers to do.
Employers would be able to pocket tips from their employees as long as those workers earn minimum wage. The owners could use the extra money to improve the business but they could also take it for themselves, which is usually the case. The Washington Post reports that this is a reversal of a policy that stems from a few years back, wherein tips became the legal property of the worked who earned them.
So even if servers hustle and take on tons and tons of tables, their bosses can still swipe their profits, leaving them with the bare minimum. This feels like a huge step backwards – I mean, imagine baking yourself a cupcake for it to be taken away right before you’re about to eat it.
The Economic Policy Institute finds that this form of wage theft is common and it costs workers roughly $8 billion annually. That’s an average of $3,300 a year stolen from a full time worker who is probably already on the lower end of the salary spectrum.
And that’s not all, bartenders are also likely to be affected by wage theft and this new rule.
Tip pool violations have spurred lawsuits against numerous high-profile chefs and restaurateurs throughout the years. Chefs like Charlie Trotter, Mario Batali, and the owners of Zahav have all been accused of tip stealing, but were quick to apologise and return the money their workers were due. However, these are only a few examples of something that still happens on the daily.
If the proposed Department of Labor changes are enacted, this all-too-common practice will be made completely legal. If there’s any good news, it’s that these proposals have just been opened for public comment – meaning you have 30 days to air your grievances.
I think you know what to do.