Department of Labor Appears Set to Tip the Balance Back in Favor of Tip-Pooling

In December, the Trump Department of Labor issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking to roll back yet another Obama-era regulation. This time, the target is the Department of Labor’s 2011 rule restricting mandatory tip pooling. As many employers in the hospitality and food service industries know, the Fair Labor Standards Act permits employers to establish tip pools among employees that “customarily and regularly” receive tips, like waiters, bartenders, and other service-oriented staff members.  Tip pools have generally been restricted to staff members who participate in front-of-house positions that more directly serve customers. The FLSA requires that the means of distribution must be fair and reasonable and that the pool cannot distribute tips to the employer or an agent of the employer. Like each workplace, tip pools vary widely in how they are set up and executed. It should then come as no surprise that lawsuits have sprung up to challenge the validity of tip pools or the laws or regulations permitting them—often with inconsistent results. One such result was the 2010 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case Cumbie v. Woody Woo, Inc., in which the court held that so long as an employer paid the front-of-house staff over the minimum wage, front-of-house servers’ tips could be pooled and partially distributed among back-of-house staff. In…

Old school clock for punching in and out of work

Tick Tock: What’s the Unit of Measure for Minimum Wage Under the Fair Labor Standards Act

On November 15, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion of first impression in the Circuit regarding minimum wage determination under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The panel affirmed a lower court’s decision in favor of Xerox in an action brought by customer service representatives who worked at call centers run by Xerox. The Ninth Circuit followed suit with the Second, Fourth, Eighth and D.C. Circuits, holding that the relevant unit of time for determining minimum wage compliance under the FLSA is the workweek as a whole instead of each individual hour within the workweek. See the opinion here. Xerox had a complex payment plan where employees earned different rates depending on the task and time spent on that task. Tasks outside those Xerox features in the payment plan had no specific designated rate. Hours were tallied at the end of the workweek under both categories and if the resulting hourly wage equaled or exceeded minimum wage, no additional payment was given. If the ratio falls below minimum wage, subsidy pay is given to employees to bump the average hourly wage up to minimum wage. The subsidy would ensure the appropriate hourly minimum wage for each workweek. The plaintiffs-appellants in the matter argued that the FLSA standard for measuring compliance is…