Just when it seemed that service charges were all the rage, tip pooling has reemerged to grab the headlines. Making the rounds from courts to agencies, and now Congress, the issue appears to have been settled by Congress that employers can impose mandatory tip pooling to include certain non-tipped employees.
Can Non-Tipped Employees Participate in the Mandatory Tip Pool?
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”), employees who are customarily and regularly tipped can be required to participate in a mandatory tip pool. Under a tip pooling approach, the employer directs tipped employees to combine their tips, and the employer determines a structure for redistributing the tips among the employees in the tip pool. As we have reviewed previously in this blog, employees in tipped positions have challenged mandatory tip pools that include non-tipped employees, such as dishwashers and cooks, asserting that they violate the FLSA. Because those employees are not customarily and regularly tipped, the argument was not without merit as the law has always made clear that tips are the property of the employees to whom customers given them. However, the law also provided that tip pools may be imposed by employers. The FLSA further allowed that employers may claim a tip credit against the federal minimum wage.
In the latest of a series of twists and turns regarding the legality of certain tip pools in Western states, on February 23, 2016, a divided three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals validated regulations by the Department of Labor (“DOL”) that significantly limit employers’ ability to have tip pools that include more than “customarily and regularly tipped” employees. This development means that employers operating in states or territories in the Ninth Circuit (covering Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, California, Arizona, Hawaii, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands) cannot include in their tip pools “back of the house” employees (such as cooks or dishwashers) or other employees who are not customarily tipped. We examine the impact of and history behind this decision below.
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.