Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) seeking to repeal a 2011 rule that significantly impacted the compensation of hospitality workers. Specifically, the NPRM proposes to allow hospitality employers to control the distribution of the tips they pool assuming their employees are paid the full minimum wage. By way of background, the FLSA requires employers to pay employees a minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour) plus overtime for all hours worked over 40 in a single workweek. Employees who “customarily and regularly receive tips” must still receive the minimum wage, but employers may elect to take a “tip credit” by counting up to $5.12 per hour of those employees’ tips toward the minimum wage, meaning employers may pay a reduced wage of $2.13 to tipped employees. Historically, employers that take the tip credit have been prohibited from sharing money from a tip-pooling system to employees who do not traditionally receive direct tips (cooks, dish washers, etc.). In 2011, the DOL extended the tip-pooling prohibition to apply to employers even if they do not take the tip credit and pay their employees the full federal minimum wage.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers who use a tip credit to satisfy their minimum wage obligations for tipped employees must follow certain rules related to those tips. One of those rules relates to the use of tip pools – i.e., pooling of tips received by multiple tipped employees and then dividing the total among the pool participants based on a specified formula. Under Section 3(m) of the FLSA, employers who rely on the tip credit and who require their tipped employees to contribute their tips to a tip-pooling arrangement must ensure that the only employees who participate in the pool are those that “customarily and regularly” receive tips. This typically means that managers, hostesses, cooks, dishwashers, and other non-tipped employees cannot participate in the tip pool if the employer wants to rely on the FLSA’s tip credit.
Section 351 of California’s Labor Code prohibits employers from taking any gratuity patrons leave for their employees, and provides that such gratuity is “the sole property of the employee or employees to whom it was paid, given, or left for.” A number of Courts of Appeal have consistently held that this prohibition does not extend to employer-mandated tip pooling — where employees must pool and share their tips with other employees. Louie Hung Kwei Lu, a former card dealer with Hawaiian Gardens Casino, Inc., decided to test these rulings.