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The tip jar prompts turf wars

Keep your hands out of the cookie jar, boss. That's the message disgruntled Starbucks Corp. employees sent when they sued in California, claiming shift supervisors had been partaking in a shared tip pool meant for nonmanagerial employees. The coffee company was ordered to pay $100-million to make up for lost tips to angry baristas. Now a barista lawsuit has popped up in New York as well. To help navigate gratuities, employment lawyer Michael Cohen offers advice on who is entitled to what:

Control who gets tips: Don't let employees who are generally not tipped, such as dishwashers or managers, share in a tipping pool where customarily tipped employees such as waitstaff deposit their tips to be evenly distributed later. Supervisors who insist on helping themselves to pooled tips should be punished for theft, Cohen said.

But tip who you want: As a consumer, however, if you'd like to tip the bellhop at your hotel, the maid service and the supervisor at the front desk, you can.

Be careful when scheduling: Don't frequently assign staff whose salary is under minimum wage and who are dependent on tips to tasks that wouldn't generate gratuities. A busboy should not, for example, spend hours cleaning the bathroom.

Watch out for new fees: AMR Corp.'s American Airlines instituted a $2 fee for curbside check-in, and the airline's skycaps at Boston's Logan International Airport sued, saying customers paying the fee were tipping them less. After losing the case, American agreed to up the wages of the skycaps and outlawed tipping skycaps at Logan. Skycaps are still unhappy, and the airline's contractor pays more.

What's next? The class-action lawsuits have so scared companies that they may outlaw shared tipping pools, Cohen said, or even tipping outright.

"These employees may end up making less money," he said.

The tip jar prompts turf wars 06/09/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 28, 2011 1:33pm]

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