Mass torts to decide if boss unfairly required tip sharing

Gathering employees together to complain about work conditions is a common and often successful tactic in Tennessee and across the country. In the same way, mass torts or class action lawsuits bring people with common complaints together in the hope that more voices will improve the chances of a successful grievance, especially when those individuals filing the suit feel powerless against a larger entity. A recent class action lawsuit in another state pits employees against their boss, but the employer denies the accusations made against him.

The workers drove delivery for a college campus eatery. In addition to their sub-minimum hourly pay, the drivers accepted tips from customers. However, in their complaint, the drivers say the restaurant owner made them contribute 8 percent of their tips to the kitchen workers so he would not have to pay the kitchen employees a fair minimum wage. The owner kept a jar in the kitchen where the drivers could drop a portion of their tips.

While the restaurant owner admits to having a jar in the kitchen, he claims that tip sharing was voluntary and that he paid his kitchen workers well above the minimum wage for his state. He also accused the driver leading the lawsuit of fraud. He protests that the driver also worked as a manager and would sometimes, when working as a driver, sign in as a manager to earn the higher wage.

The courts hearing such mass torts may need to determine if sharing tips dropped the drivers' wages below the federal minimum and if the drivers felt compelled to contribute to the tip pool with non-tipped employees. By law, non-tipped employees cannot be included in tip sharing. Since wage and tip laws vary from state to state, those in Tennessee who feel their employers may be unfairly using their tips to subsidize the wages of other workers may wish to consult an attorney for advice.

Source: centredaily.com, "State College restaurant responds to class-action lawsuit", Jeremy Hartley, July 24, 2017

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