Working as a tipped employee in New York can be a great way to make a living. Although your hourly wage may be much lower than even minimum wage employees, when you factor in the gratuity that restaurant patrons leave for you, your hourly wage can be substantially higher. In fact, at some of the nicest restaurants, you could command a very livable professional wage as a member of the wait or bar staff.
Unfortunately, although your manager or employer profits directly off of your hard work because you keep customers coming back to the business, they may still begrudge you the tips that generous customers leave behind. There are several ways in which managers or companies can illegally try to deprive their workers of their hard-earned tips and gratuities.
Keeping a percentage of credit card tips
Quite a few customers who go to restaurants will wind up leaving the gratuity, along with the rest of the check, on a credit card. Credit card tips can sometimes be the most generous tips, but they are also ones that your employer will have to handle before you have access to them.
Some employers may illegally and inappropriately charge their staff members either an individual processing fee or a percentage of the total tip if the tip comes off of a credit card. The most unscrupulous may even charge both costs.
Forcing people to pool tips is also common
Even if you receive a tip in cash, your employer may expect you to place it in a communal fund to be shared with other waitstaff or even members of the dishwashing team or host team. While on the surface that practice can seem fair and democratic, it can leave the hardest workers getting punished and the worst workers receiving an unfair percentage of the tips. Even worse, some bosses will cut themselves into the tip pool despite providing no service to customers and receiving a salary.
Some people pick the tips up themselves
There are some managers and owners who are so unscrupulous that they will literally claim the right to retain any tips that they clear off a table. Some people will go so far as to intentionally wait around when people are obviously about to leave so that they can be the first ones to the table to pocket some or all of the tip.
New York law is very clear that your employer has no right to demand any portion of your tips or gratuities. If you and your co-workers have been dealing with an employer who does not respect your right to retain your own tips, it may be time to take action to protect yourself and your coworkers. Talking with an attorney who understands New York wage laws is a good way to discover whether you have a viable case.