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Tip money with coffeeIn the latest of a series of twists and turns regarding the legality of certain tip pools in Western states, on February 23, 2016, a divided three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals validated regulations by the Department of Labor (“DOL”) that significantly limit employers’ ability to have tip pools that include more than “customarily and regularly tipped” employees. This development means that employers operating in states or territories in the Ninth Circuit (covering Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, California, Arizona, Hawaii, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands) cannot include in their tip pools “back of the house” employees (such as cooks or dishwashers) or other employees who are not customarily tipped. We examine the impact of and history behind this decision below.

A recent Field Assistance Bulletin issued by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on February 29, 2012, announced a substantial change of the DOL’s enforcement position regarding mandatory tip pooling with back-of-the-house employees. 

As we have discussed in this blog previously tip pooling is the practice by which the tips of regularly tipped employees are pooled together and then redistributed among employees, including, on occasion, employees who do not customarily receive tips.  Employees may voluntarily participate, or they can be required to participate by the employer.

In 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision, Cumbie v. Woody Woo, Inc. (596 F.3d 577 (9th Cir. 2010), which held that DOL limitations on an employer's use of the employee's tips did not apply when the employer does not take a tip credit.  In states like Oregon and Washington, where the employer must pay a tipped employee the full minimum wage and is prohibited by state law from taking a tip credit, the employer is permitted to impose a mandatory tip-pooling arrangement and insist that tipped employees share their tips with back-of-the-house employees, not just with employees who customarily receive tips.  The court's ruling was a significant win for employers in the Ninth Circuit; the employer was represented by Garvey Schubert Barer (my partner, Eric Lindenauer, gets full credit), amicus briefs were filed by Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association and others, and the DOL even submitted a brief and argued part of the case for the employee -- and lost.   

For those of you that routinely purchase split cases of wine, December 8 is an important date. On December 8, the Washington State Liquor Control Board will hold public hearings in Olympia on proposed regulatory changes that would authorize wine distributors to collect handling fees from hotels, restaurants and other retail licensees that order and receive split cases of wine.  As you may have already guessed, the newly proposed rule is the result of a request made by the Washington Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association.

Given the number of questions I've received recently from clients who've heard rumors about tip pooling becoming legal, I thought it time to update everyone. The short answer is (at least for now) that employers in Washington and Oregon may initiate mandatory tip pools under certain circumstances.

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Greg Duff, Editor
Greg Duff founded and chairs GSB’s national Hospitality, Travel & Tourism group. His practice largely focuses on operations-oriented matters faced by hospitality industry members, including sales and marketing, distribution and e-commerce, procurement and technology. Greg also serves as counsel and legal advisor to many of the hospitality industry’s associations and trade groups, including AH&LA, HFTP and HSMAI.

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