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Tip Credit Regulations

Question:

What can you tell me about the tip credit regulation issued by the Department of Labor in 2011?

Answer:

The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor states that, effective May 5, 2011, a tip is the sole property of the tipped employee regardless of whether the employer takes a tip credit.  The difference between the hourly rate paid by the employer and the standard federal minimum wage is what we call a tip credit.  Further, the employer is prohibited from using an employee’s tips, whether or not it has taken a tip credit, except as a credit against its minimum wage obligations to the employee, or in furtherance of a valid tip pool. This amendment results in major changes to the existing tip-credit-notice regulations, specifically in regards to the ownership of employee tips, pooling tip arrangements, and required communications to employees.  The tip credit provision was originally created through the 1966 amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act, and specifically permitted employers to credit a portion of their employees’ tips against their minimum wage obligations.  Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are allowed to pay their servers below minimum wage as long as their tipped employees receive tips that amount to at least $30 a month.

The sudden change to tip credit requirements caught the restaurant industry by surprise. The major industry trade groups requested a 90 day delay for implementing the new rules, but the DOL did not acquiesce to this appeal.  They felt that the amendment came at an inopportune time due to the weak economy paired with rising commodity costs.  The National Restaurant Association, The Council of State Restaurants, and the National Federation of Independent Business sued the Department of Labor in June 2011 because the agency did not allow restaurants to comment before the provision went into effect.  The NRA also noted that the DOL only gave restaurants 30 days to communicate the changes to employees comply with the new regulations.  The DOL counters that there was plenty of forewarning through the 2008 release of original regulations, and the agency felt that the amendment needed to be put in place as soon as possible due to the sheer number of alleged violations and lawsuits.

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