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    Joy advises and represents employers. She operates with the core belief that it is possible – and in the employer’s best interest – to proactively address workplace challenges before they become problems or lawsuits. Joy ...

A recent Field Assistance Bulletin issued by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on February 29, 2012, announced a substantial change of the DOL’s enforcement position regarding mandatory tip pooling with back-of-the-house employees. 

As we have discussed in this blog previously tip pooling is the practice by which the tips of regularly tipped employees are pooled together and then redistributed among employees, including, on occasion, employees who do not customarily receive tips. Employees may voluntarily participate, or they can be required to participate by the employer.

In 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision, Cumbie v. Woody Woo, Inc. (596 F.3d 577 (9th Cir. 2010), which held that DOL limitations on an employer's use of the employee's tips did not apply when the employer does not take a tip credit. In states like Oregon and Washington, where the employer must pay a tipped employee the full minimum wage and is prohibited by state law from taking a tip credit, the employer is permitted to impose a mandatory tip-pooling arrangement and insist that tipped employees share their tips with back-of-the-house employees, not just with employees who customarily receive tips. The court's ruling was a significant win for employers in the Ninth Circuit; the employer was represented by Garvey Schubert Barer, amicus briefs were filed by Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association and others, and the DOL even submitted a brief and argued part of the case for the employee -- and lost.   

Our newest post comes from my Portland, Oregon colleague and partner, Joy Ellis. For those of you who have not met Joy, Joy serves as the Portland Chair of our Hospitality, Travel and Tourism Practice Group. She also has over 15 years of legal experience in the areas of commercial litigation, employment litigation and employment-related advice, and brings us important news on the latest chapter of ongoing litigation between online travel companies and the many jurisdictions that have sought to collect allegedly unpaid or underpaid lodging taxes. This latest installment involves our own City of Portland. Thank you Joy for this important update.

Across the country, online travel companies (“OTCs”) are involved in litigation with local officials over the tax on hotel rooms. City officials argue that online travel sites shortchange the cities on their local hotel taxes. The OTCs disagree.

Here’s the crux of the issue: let’s say a guest books a hotel room through an OTC’s website. The traveler booking the room pays an amount to the OTC, part of which goes to the hotel and part of which is kept by the OTC as a facilitation and service fee. The fee attributable to the hotel includes the often severely discounted ("net" or "merchant") room rate agreed upon between the OTC and the hotel, plus the hotel tax owed on that discounted rate. City officials want the hotel tax to be based on the entire ("retail") amount paid by the traveler to the OTC. The OTCs argue that local lodging tax on hotel rooms should be remitted based on the actual amount a hotel receives for a room rather than the total amount that a guest pays the OTC for a room.

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Greg Duff
Greg Duff founded and chairs Foster Garvey’s national Hospitality, Travel & Tourism group. His practice largely focuses on operations-oriented matters faced by hospitality industry members, including sales and marketing, distribution and e-commerce, procurement and technology. Greg also serves as counsel and legal advisor to many of the hospitality industry’s associations and trade groups, including AH&LA, HFTP and HSMAI.

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