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Storm’s a brewing: Beer maker sued over tip pooling

Who doesn’t love a bottle of suds? For about 100 current and former employees at Surly Brewing Company, some effervescence is in order after a judge ruled that the company’s tip-pooling policy violated state and federal labor laws.

Tip pooling is the practice of combining tips and then splitting them evenly. While it is customary for bartenders to pool their tips, it is uncommon for servers to do so. Tip-pooling is lawful if all parties agree.

Surly Brewing’s policy, however, required both servers and bartenders to contribute to the pool, which not only was shared among them but also among the bussers and hosts. Employee James Conlon called foul and a judge agreed, certifying the case as a class-action suit. A jury will now decide the amount of damages to be awarded.

Labor law violations are, unfortunately, not uncommon. But, too often, employees assume that their employer’s actions are permitted. Knowing when companies are outside the law is essential for fair wages. In this case, the class consists of all servers and bartenders employed at Surly Brewing Beer Hall since it opened.

While Surly Brewing Beer Hall is located in Minnesota, labor and wage violations occur just as frequently in Tennessee. The ruling should serve as a cautionary tale: Might does not make right, and eventually unlawful business practices will be brought to light.