As we previously shared in this blog, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) issued an opinion letter in November 2018 changing the Department’s position regarding whether and when an employer with tipped employees, such as a restaurant, can pay an employee a tipped wage less than the federal minimum wage.

The issue was whether an employer must pay a tipped employee the full minimum wage for time spent performing what the industry calls “side work”: tasks such as clearing tables or filling salt and pepper shakers that do not immediately generate tips.

The Department concluded that, under federal law, there is no limit on the amount of time a tipped employee can spend on side work while still receiving a tipped wage so long as the employee also performs the normal tip-generating activities of the role at or around the same time. The Department indicated that the opinion letter supersedes the Department’s prior guidance on the topic, contained in section 30d00(f) of the WHD Field Operations Handbook (“FOH”), and that “[a] revised FOH statement will be forthcoming.”

On February 15, 2019, the Department issued two new guidance documents reflecting the Department’s updated enforcement position:

  • First, a revised FOH section 30d00(f) consistent with the November 2018 opinion letter now appears on WHD’s website.
  • Second, Acting WHD Administrator Keith Sonderling issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2019-2 explaining the reasons for the change in policy, including noting that the Department’s “prior interpretation created confusion for the public about whether” the law “requires certain, non-tipped duties to be excluded from the tip credit.” This bulletin instructs WHD’s staff to apply the revised FOH principles not only to work performed after the issuance of the opinion letter but also “in any open or new investigation concerning work performed prior to the issuance of WHD Opinion Letter FLSA2018-27 on November 8, 23018.” (Emphasis added.)

This new guidance finishes what the November 2018 opinion letter set in motion—removing the prior interpretation from the FOH, promulgating the current interpretation, and declaring that the current position applies both prospectively and retroactively.

Earlier today, the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion in cases involving the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) “80/20 Rule” regarding what is commonly referred to as “sidework” in the restaurant industry.  Agreeing with the arguments made by our new colleague Paul DeCamp, among others, the Ninth Circuit issued a decidedly employer-friendly decision.  In so doing, it disagreed with the Eighth Circuit, potentially setting the issue up for resolution by the United States Supreme Court.

As those in the restaurant industry are aware, restaurant workers and other tipped employees often perform a mix of activities in the course of carrying out their jobs.  Some tasks, such as taking a customers’ orders or delivering their food, may contribute directly to generating tips.  Other tasks, such as clearing tables, rolling silverware, and refilling salt and pepper shakers—activity generally known in the industry as “sidework”— arguably generate tips indirectly.

In 1988, the DOL issued internal agency guidance purporting to impose limits on an employer’s ability to pay employees at a tipped wage, which under federal law can be as low as $2.13 per hour, if employees spend more than 20% of their working time on sidework.  This guidance, commonly known as the “80/20 Rule,” has led to a wave of class and collective action litigation across the country, including a 2011 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit deferring to the Department’s guidance as a reasonable interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and its regulations.

Today, the Ninth Circuit issued a 2-1 decision in Marsh v. J. Alexander’s LLC, concluding that the Department’s attempt to put time limitations on how much sidework an employee can perform at a tipped wage is contrary to the FLSA and its regulations and thus unworthy of deference by the courts.

The Department adopted the 20% limitation as a purported clarification of the Department’s “dual jobs” regulation, which addresses employees who work in separate tipped and non-tipped jobs for the same employer.  The Ninth Circuit explained, however, that the 20% limitation on sidework was inconsistent with the statutory notion of an “occupation,” as well as the regulation’s focus on two distinct jobs.

Because the 80/20 Rule did not in reality stem from the statute or the regulations, the Court determined that it constitutes “an alternative regulatory approach with new substantive rules that regulate how employees spend their time” and thus amounts to a “‘new regulation’ masquerading as an interpretation.”

In reaching this conclusion, the Court disagreed with the Eighth Circuit’s analysis and conclusion, noting that “the Eighth Circuit failed to consider the regulatory scheme as a whole, and it therefore missed the threshold question whether it is reasonable to determine that an employee is engaged in a second ‘job’ by time-tracking an employee’s discrete tasks, categorizing them, and accounting for minutes spent in various activities.”

The plaintiffs in these cases may well seek rehearing en banc, and it remains to be seen what approach the Department will take regarding the 80/20 Rule in response to today’s decision. And the split between the circuits certainly suggests that this is an issue that may well be resolved by the Supreme Court.

By Kara Maciel

Our national hospitality practice frequently advises restaurant owners and operators on whether it is legal for employers to pass credit card swipe fees onto employees or even to guests, and the short answer is, yes, in most states.  But whether an employer wants to actually pass along this charge and risk alienating their staff or their customers is another question.

With respect to consumers, in the majority of states, passing credit card swipe fees along in a customer surcharge became lawful in 2013.  Only ten states prohibit it:  California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.  If a restaurant decides to add a surcharge to the bill to recoup the credit card swipe fee, it is important the that the fee not exceed the percentage charged by the credit card company, the fee is posted clearly on the guest check prior to paying the bill, and it cannot be used for debit card purchases.

With respect to employees, the credit card swipe fee may only be passed along to servers and applied to the tipped portion of the bill.  For example, if a bill is $100 plus a $20 tip, the swipe fee on the $100 (e.g., 3 percent or $3) must be paid by the restaurant.  However, when paying out the server, you can allocate $19.40 since you can charge the server 3 percent or 60 cents to recover the swipe fee on the gratuity.  As with guests, an employer may not charge the server more than credit card swipe fee, and the reduced amount in tips cannot cause the employee to earn less than the minimum wage.  And again, you must always check state and local law as some states prohibit deductions from credit card tips for processing fees, such as California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, among others.

But even if legal, is it practical or good business sense to pass along processing fees to employees and customers?  Is it industry practice in your market to pass along these fees, or do you risk angering an important stakeholder in your profit margin – your employees and customers?  Surcharges could be perceived as owners taking more money out of the pockets of employees and customers and companies could risk losing the business to another restaurant down the street.  Unless the practice becomes an industry standard, it is likely that adding a surcharge or deducting the swipe fee from tips could do more harm than good.

By Amy J. Traub

The New York State Department of Labor recently issued a proposed rule which would combine the current wage orders for the restaurant and hotel industries to form a single Minimum Wage Order for the Hospitality Industry.  If adopted, the Wage Order would affect requirements related to the minimum wage, tip credits and pooling, customer service charges, allowances, overtime calculations, and other common issues within the restaurant and hotel industries.  Additionally, the Wage Order would provide helpful guidance for traditionally ambiguous wage issues such as the handling of service charges and the definition of an employee uniform for purposes of a laundry allowance.  Highlights of the Wage Order include:

·         Minimum Wage (Effective January 1, 2011) 

o       Food service workers would need to receive at least $5.00 per hour and no more than $2.25 per hour in tip credits; however, the total of tips they receive plus their hourly wages would need to amount to $7.25 per hour

o       Service employees (at non-resort hotels) would need to receive at least $5.65 per hour and no more than $1.60 per hour in tip credits; however, the total of tips they receive plus their hourly wages would need to amount to $7.25 per hour

o       Service employees (resort hotel employees) would need to receive at least $4.90 per hour and no more than $2.35 per hour in tip credits; however their weekly average for tips would need to be at least $4.10 per hour 

 

·         Notifications to Employees and Customers 

o       Prior to beginning employment, employers now would need to notify employees that they are taking a tip credit from their wages

o       Employers would need to notify employees of any changes to their hourly rate of pay

o       Employers would need to notify customers of any charge that is neither for food/beverage nor a gratuity to a service employee; for example, a banquet or special function charge 

 

·         No More Set-Off of Wages Paid in Excess of Minimum Wage 

o       Employers would need to pay an additional hour at the rate of minimum wage for each hour the employee works beyond 10 hours per day, regardless of whether the rate of pay for the first 10 hours is above the minimum wage

 

·         No More Salary for Non-Exempt Employees 

o       Currently, a non-exempt employee can still be paid a salary so long as he/she is paid one and one-half times the regular rate of pay for hours worked beyond 40 hours during the week

o       If adopted, the Wage Order would require that all non-exempt workers (except commissioned salespersons) are paid on an hourly basis 

 

·         Tip Pooling 

o       Employers could require food service workers to join a tip pool

o       This would not apply to employees who do not provide direct food service to customers (however, a host/hostess who seats guests would be considered a direct food service employee and therefore eligible to participate in a tip pool) 

 

·         Increased Guidance 

o       Employers would be able to retain service charges if, and only if, they clearly explain to customers that such charges are not distributed to service employees

o       The Wage Order would exclude from the definition of “uniform” any clothing that may be worn as part of an employee’s wardrobe outside of work

o       Employers would not need to reimburse employees for the laundry expenses of any uniform clothing that can be washed with the employee’s non-uniform clothing; for example, a uniform that does not require dry cleaning

The new Wage Order signifies the New York State Department of Labor’s attempt to simplify the wage and hour rules for the restaurant and hotel industries while stepping up its enforcement of overtime and deduction violations, particularly with respect to non-exempt employees who are currently paid a salary as opposed to an hourly wage.   Of course, these highlighted changes are only a portion of the changes that would come into effect in the event the Wage Order is adopted in its entirety.