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Help! My boss is stealing my tips!

If you are a New York City waiter or waitress, you work hard for your money. You depend on your tips to get by and meet your financial obligations.

But if your manager or boss is pocketing some of your hard-earned tip money, it's a real problem that needs to be addressed.

How is the wage theft occurring?

Determining how your money is disappearing is important when you seek to correct the problem. The approach you might take if a co-worker is swiping tip dollars off your customers' tables will be quite different from the way that you will manage wage theft by a boss.

Bosses have a plethora of tactics that they can use to separate you from your hard-earned money. They can subtract a percentage of each tip that's left on customers' credit cards. They can blatantly take money out of tip pools before the wait staff's share is broken down.

A frequent method is to use servers' tips to supplement the paltry salaries of non-tipped employees like busboys, cooks and dishwashers. Instead of paying their employees a living wage from their profits, they expect the wait staff to share tips with them.

Creative deceptions abound

It's amazing how creative shady bosses and restaurant owners can be when devising ways to rip off their wait staff. Some go as far as to create shadow jobs for "employees" who are always on the payroll without ever showing up to do any work. Some of these people may be relatives or friends of the restaurant manager or owner, while others may not exist other than on paper.

How you can get your money back

Your first move is to confront your manager or the restaurant owner. It's still possible that the discrepancies could be attributed to an honest mistake or bookkeeping error. Remain calm and explain that you have noticed that your tips do not reflect the amounts that you should actually be receiving.

This approach does one of two things. If it truly is an error, it gives the manager or owner the opportunity to make things right with you. On the other hand, if your supervisor has been engaged in some deceptive wage theft practices, it puts them on notice that you are aware while still giving them an out. They may decide that it's easier to settle up with you than to potentially have to defend their actions in court or to an agency.

Keep detailed records

If you intend to seek reparation for the wage theft you experienced, you need to have accurate records reflecting the actual tips that your customers left you compared to the amounts that you eventually received.

Strength in numbers

If your concerns about wage theft are not alleviated, you will need to file a complaint with the Wages and Hour Division of the federal Department of Labor (DOL).

Poll your co-workers to find out whether they are also experiencing wage theft and if they will agree to back your efforts to reclaim your tips lost to wage theft. A manager or boss may be more motivated to address the problem if a group of employees seek resolution.

Even if your efforts don't bring about the desired results, you still have the option of filing a lawsuit against your employer for theft of wages.

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The Law Offices of Jeffrey E. Goldman
260 Madison Ave.
15th Floor
New York, NY 10016

Phone: 212-983-8999
Fax: 646-693-2289
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