“My boss kept my tips.” Wow. Ernest Hemingway needed six words to tell a complete dramatic story. But we just told a complete horror story in only five words! That means we’re 120% more powerful and effective than a Pulitzer Prize- and Nobel Prize-winning writer. Although anyone who had to read Hills Like White Elephants in high school already knew that.
“I can’t argue with the math. These girls completely cucked me.”– Ernest Hemingway on Bitches Get Riches
But you know who can (and will) argue with math? Bosses who steal tips from their employees!
Today’s letter writer is a tipped employee. When customers leave tips intended for them, only a fraction are actually getting passed along. Instead, their boss is keeping most of that money for herself. She claims it’s fair, because they were told it was the policy upfront. She also claims it’s legal, because the employees are paid above minimum wage. Is she right?
Bad employers gain cover to steal from their employees when the employees don’t understand their own rights. You’ll finish today’s episode with knowledge of the one—ONE!—crystal-clear situation where an employer can take their employee’s tips.
Don’t work in a tipped capacity? Listen anyway, and share it with someone who needs it. Just as it’s the employee’s right to be tipped, it’s your right as a customer to know your tip money is reaching them. We’re all stuck in this system together. And it’s only by mutual support that we can make it better for everyone.
Today’s question was pulled from Reddit’s r/antiwork. A user asks…
I just got hired at this really small literal mom and pop cafe in the town I just moved to. When I was hired, the owner told me I would get “$14 an hour plus cash tips.” Maybe I’m just fuckin’ stupid, but I didn’t realize that that meant literally only the cash tips. I would not get paid any of the tips that people leave when they pay with a credit card. I asked her about credit card tips today and that’s when she told me, very coldly, “Like I told you yesterday and the day you were hired, you get cash tips. We keep credit card tips.”
Most of our payments are done with cards so I am missing out on a LOT of tips. I have never worked somewhere that I did not receive tip outs from credit card tips. Is this even allowed?– An anonymous Redditor
We sought this question out because we’ve been itching to talk more about wage theft. It’s the costliest crime in America. And it is also one of the clearest examples of the ways our justice system protects the acquired capital of the wealthy at the expense of poor and working people.
The combined cost of all burglaries and thefts in America is only $14 billion dollars. These crimes justify additional police and security. They’re covered extensively in the media, and are prosecuted in criminal courts.
But wage theft is estimated to be a $50 billion crime. It’s committed every day against ordinary working people who are already living on the brink of total depravation. Instead of being stopped, it’s ignored and even normalized. If you want these thieves punished, in most cases, you’d have to drag them to civil court on your own dime. Employers who steal their employees’ wages are exceedingly unlikely to ever pay a meaningful fine, much less serve jail time for their crimes.
I doubt it will surprise our readers to hear this: the people most likely to be victims of wage theft are women, immigrants, and people of color.
It’s appalling. But not without hope.
More and more states are changing the laws to recognize wage theft as the crime it is. And there are steps this letter writer can take, today, to bring this situation into the light, claw back those lost wages (for themself and their coworkers), and punish their boss for taking advantage of their workers.
Video and audio-only options below!
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Episode transcript (click to reveal)
This episode, like all of our episodes, brought to you by our beloved Patron donors. This week, we would like to thank Melhubbs, Chelsey, and Taylor. And an extra special thanks this week go to Sydney. Sydney is our nation’s first and last Secretary of Dank Memes. [salutes]
The year is probably 2010 or 2011. So we hopped in her like 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee and we went speeding to—which RIP, by the way, that car is long dead.We went speeding to theclerb. And we sped through a red light. And here in our city, the red light camera takes a picture of you and your license plate.
[laughing] I’m laughing because I see it already. Okay.
I know. Couple weeks after Halloween, we get this bill in the mail, she was my roommate at the time, and it’s—not only is it a speeding ticket, but it’s a picture of us in the front seat of the car, and like the speeding camera had like a bright flashing light on our faces so just like, the most unflattering light—
So you look so haggard and you’re both kind of like a little bit like—
We’re like slouching—
You’re a little slack-jawed, like you’re both kind of like—
Kitty & Piggy 1:23
[both demonstrate; Piggy groans]
She was Kesha, I cannot remember who I was. I might have been like, Christina Aguilera or something. Look up like who else was like in the charts in 2011? Covered in just like unflattering makeup and our hair teased out to here and it’s a ridiculous photo.
It’s so legendary.
What do you do with that picture, like not put it on the internet? So we immediately put it on the internet. So every year, the internet reminds us that this photo happened. And every year we share it again on social media.
Every year when it comes up, it puts a big glowing smile on my face. And I’m just like, it’s that time of year again.
There it is.
Such a special memory.
It’s an artifact. It is an artifact.
Mazel tov. Much joy to you and Katie during her visit.
Thank you, thank you. I will remind her tonight, not that she needs a reminder, because that image lives rent-free in her brain as it does in mine.
Don’t recreate it.
Oh, we should.
Keep to a modest 25 miles an hour no matter where you’re going and this won’t happen again.
Exactly. Exaaactly. I was saying we should recreate it, not that we advocate breaking the law on the Bitches Get Riches podcast.
And we also don’t have like an appropriately clunker-ish car with which to take this photo again.
Yeah, you really need like the Jeep, or like a wood-paneled station wagon would also be totally acceptable.
Yeah, like a ‘97 Celica or something.
Yeah, something—a Pinto.
[gasp] A Pinto! Yes.
Guys, if we get enough Patreon donors, we’ll buy a Pinto—
And we will recreate this photo.
—and commit crimes in it.
Theme Song 2:58
If you need some dough
You don’t know where to go
In this patriarchal capitalist hellscape
Well here’s the ‘sitch
We’re gonna help you, sis
Because bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
And so can you
Listen, I’m Kitty.
And I am Piggy.
And we are the bitches in Bitches Get Riches.
We’re from the future.
And we’re here to tell you to start befriending crows now, because when they’re running the planet you want to be on their good side.
It’s true. And our time on this planet is limited.
So let’s get started.
So I know we already did a Reddit question this season, but we couldn’t help ourselves.
But how could I resist?
So this is another one from Reddit, r/antiwork: So I just got hired at this really small literal mom and pop café in the town I just moved to. When I was hired, the one owner told me I would get “$14 an hour plus cash tips.” Maybe I’m just fuckin’ stupid, but I didn’t realize that that meant literally only the cash tips and I would not get paid any of the tips that people leave when they pay with a credit card. I asked the owner about credit card tips today and that’s when she told me, very coldly, “Like I told you yesterday and the day you were hired, you get cash tips. We keep credit card tips.”
[moves closer and closer to the camera as Piggy continues speaking, grimacing more and more until her face fills her portion of the screen]
Most of our payments are done with cards so I am missing out on a LOT of tips. I have never worked somewhere that I did not receive tip outs from credit card tips.
[moves back to her usual spot as Piggy finishes speaking, still grimacing and now wagging her finger disapprovingly]
Is this even allowed?
No, it’s not!
I was working—
You in danger, girl! This shit’s illegal!
—so hard to contain myself. No! This is not legal. Okay, okay, wait, wait. Important caveat!
We need to back up.
Important caveat. So, and this is the world’s most irrelevant episode to our overseas viewers who struggle to understand how the fuck our tipping culture works. Welcome, we don’t get it either.
Yeah, just go back to listening to My Favorite Murder.
Rules about tipping vary greatly at the federal level, at the state level, and sometimes at the city or county level. Obviously neither one of us are like, lawyers.
Yeah, not legal professionals in any way.
We’re not scholars of the fine art of tipping legality.
No, we’re scholars of the fine fart of internet opinions, that’s what we are. We did research this, we did take 5 minutes to make sure—
We took a whole 5 minutes. Our understanding is that in situations where federal, state, and local law may be in disagreement with each other, the one that takes precedent is the one that pays you, as the tipped employee, the most. So it is really, really important for anyone listening to this who is wondering kind of how tipped wages work and whether it’s possible for an employer to ever like withhold wages, we’re going to be speaking in generalities and try to talk mostly around federal law, butstate law can be really different. In doing research for this, I initially was really impressed with the number of protections for a tipped employee. And I was like, wow, they have way more protections than I ever realized. Then I looked up and realized I was on a California specific site. And I was like, oh okay.
Oh, right. Land of labor rights, California.
So it’s really, really different. So, always double-check with your city and your state’s regulations because they may be more favorable to you. Important caveat over, go.
Yes, exactly. First off, the employer told them flat out 14 an hour plus cash tips. Fine, okay, interesting. They agreed to that. And they made an assumption that they would also be including, you know, credit card tips. And I feel like that’s a correct assumption and a reasonable assumption because nowhere in federal norstate labor laws is a distinction made between cash tips versus card tips.
Absolutely. The easiest part of this question to answer is the “amI fuckin’ stupid?” and answer is no, you’re not fucking stupid.
No. You’re not fucking stupid, honey. Your boss is a dick. You know what, that was a gendered pejorative. That was a gendered pejorative. Your boss is an asshole. Which I can say fairly because everyone has one but not everyone is one.
Which everyone has. Exactly. Thank you.
Your inclusivity is noted and appreciated.
Absolutely. No, I think they deliberately took advantage of this employee and probably all the other employees as well by telling them something that sounded good. $14 an hour plus tips in most places would be quite good because the federal minimum wage for a tipped worker is I believe $2.13? It’s like between 2 and 3 dollars. It’s garbage, it’s nothing.
Ooh, $2.14 is for—
Oh, I’m sorry.
For tipped employees it’s $2.14, for the federal minimum wage in general is $7.25.
Here are some situations where your employer can take your tips. Number one is if your workplace participates in a tip pooling system where people who are not working in a tipped capacity, such as maybe like dishwashers, busboys, hosts.
Yeah, where everybody pools their tips together and then they’re divided equally. That’s totally fine according to federal regulations.
Let’s continue with the list of reasons that your employer can legally take your tips. Sike! That’s the end of the list.
Tips belong to the person being tipped.
They are your property.
And this is very much to protect both the tipped employee and the consumer. When I get a receipt and there’s a line at the bottom for tips and I write in 20 bucks, I think I’m giving that money to the server or the barista or whoever helped me. It is unfair for that money to then be funneled into the pockets of the business owner.
And I personally don’t like paying assholes, so I would not be super happy with this.
Totally. And Gordon Ramsay agrees, I’ve seen it come up many times on Kitchen Nightmares.
Oh well if Gordon Ramsay agrees, like Bitches out, we are done.
It is presumed that the owner of the company has the power, right? They have the ability to—
Set the wages.
—hire and fire people, set wages, set the prices on the menu if you’re working in a restaurant, source the ingredients, you know, to be either really cheap and really affordable or really expensive and premium. So they have the control. They don’t need tips, they don’t deserve tips, the tips belong to the tipped employee. So that is your property. And when we talk about wage theft, I think sometimes—
Which is—it is the largest form of theft in the United States. More dollars are stolen in wage theft any other year than through any other means.
Billions of dollars are siphoned away from folks like this redditor, who are either unclear about what their rights are or in a position where it’s not safe for them to push back because if they piss off their boss—
A vulnerable position.
Their boss gives them shitty low-paying schedules, and then they can’t make rent that week. And those people are the ones who need the protection, not the business owners who are committing the theft. So if you work in a tipped capacity, if your employer takes any portion of your tips and it’s not for an explicit tip-pooling system, then they are stealing money that is legally yours.
So there is one particular instance that comes to mind when a restaurant manager or owner could accept tips, and that is if, and only if, they specifically individually performed an action in their capacity as a restaurant manager or owner, and then were given a tip in recognition of that. Let’s say you and I are dining out and someone comes by and accidentally spills a glass of wine all over my lovely off-white shirt. So if a restaurant manager then comes over and says, I’m so sorry about this, I am going to get you a—there’s a dry cleaner right down here, I will cover the bill for that. If you’d like me to grab you one of our unworn uniform shirts that you can just have to go in the bathroom and change, like if they had done a service that is not really in the scope of what a server does, but had stepped in to provide you with considerable tippable service in their capacity as a restaurant manager in a way that had nothing to do with the core job responsibilities of the server, then you can tip them and they can keep that tip. But there, they would not, would not be okay with just taking your tip! They can’t take your tips!
They can’t take your tips!
That tips is your money.
They can’t take your tips! And there is no—the law does not make a distinction between cash tips and credit card tips. So, even though this restaurant owner was just like, you’ll be paid $14 an hour plus cash tips, you cannot agree to that form of compensation because it is illegal.
Yeah, you’re not like locked into it because well—
I agreed to it!
Like Ariel, I signed Ursula’s contract therefore, like no!
No, it is not a legally binding agreement.
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Kitty & Piggy 15:02
End of Sponsored Content 15:05
There’s so much about being paid as a tipped employee that is very specific to your municipality, your state, even your industry. So finding resources and not just taking whatever your boss says, like don’t believe your boss, please.
One that we researched in the whole 5 minutes that we took to prepare for this episode is the Fair Labor Standards Act which you can find on the interwebs, and it’s a very long dense document but you know, everyone knows how to control F.
There’s helpful bullet pointed versions of it that you can find easily by Googling it.
Exactly. But if bullet pointed legalese is still not your jam, then I highly recommend anyone who works a tipped job should check out our girl Barbara over at Tipped Finance. She is a former stripper, a former cocktail waitress, she has worked dozens of tipped jobs. And now she has made it her crusade to provide advice and information on this stuff for other people who worked in tipped capacities. And like, she hears that people are getting their tips stolen by their bosses and she’s like, [gasp] my people need me! So, like, highly recommend this reader check out Barbara.
I think it’s significant that our redditor pal, who I believe is my personal pal even though they did not directly address this question to us, I feel a sense of kinship.
Oh, totally. We’re tight.
They mentioned that this company is a mom-and-pop, a literal mom-and-pop. And I think you and I both worked for literal mom-and-pop’s.
And there is a tendency when you’re working at a very small, very intimate company like that to want to give people the benefit of the doubt. To be like, well, maybe they don’t understand that they’re breaking the law or maybe, you know, maybe they do but like, I don’t think that they could afford to pay me if they’d—like it’s easy to make excuses for people. But here’s the thing. If your business is not profitable enough that you can pay people a living wage, you deserve to go out of business, and it’s okay. Businesses can die, people only get the one chance.
That’s very well said, and I think it also gives the question asker an avenue towards addressing this in a very congenial, diplomatic way. Because it’s a mom-and-pop shop. Maybe they don’t have the legal resources to know about the Fair Labor Standards Act. Maybe they just, you know, they’re operating on a shoestring budget and they just can’t review these legal things. So, you know, one method of addressing this is by going back and being like, hey, I know we’ve talked about this for the last two days, but I just wanted you to know it’s illegal for you to withhold my credit card tips. And I assume you didn’t know that. Like I know it’s a small business, but I just want to let you know, just so you don’t get into any legal trouble. And that’s how I would recommend addressing it the first time. If the problem persists, the next time it is hey, I know I told you this and I assume that you could verify it on your own, but it’s still persisting and you are going to have to hear from my lawyer now on behalf of me and the other employees whose tips you’re illegally stealing. And if that gets you fired, you’re open for a lawsuit there too. And I know what you’re going to say, because this is where I’m going with this, which is again, the business owner is in the position of power because somebody who’s making $14 an hour plus maybe an occasional cash tip, probably can’t afford a lawyer. So I bet the business owner, even if they do understand that this is illegal, I bet they think, what are you going to do about it?
[sing-song] They know. They know! They knowyou can’t afford a lawyer and they think that they can intimidate you. The question asker mentioned that this person told them this very coldly, so that to me is not a sign of someone who is confused. That’s a sign of someone who is attempting to intimidate you. And guess what? There are consequences!
[jazz hands, sing-song] Consequences!
If—so, here’s my perspective. I understand wanting to give people some leeway, but I really think the tide has turned on wage theft. We’re done being fucking polite about this shit. If your employer is pulling these shenanigans on you, it means that they’ve probably been doing it to others for years and have deprived them of thousands of dollars depending on how long they’ve been working at that company. So!
You owe it to your co-workers.
There’s something you can do. There is a free, fairly easy reporting system that you can go to. And that’s to open a complaint for wage theft with the Department of Labor. Depending on what state you’re in, there may also be an easier, probably a faster response statewide commission that you can contact to do the same thing. So I would go to Google, type in the name of your state, and then type in “report wage theft.” And what that does is it then opens a ticket with either state or federal entity that will then come in and investigate that. And basically, what that does is whether you want to work at this place long time or not, whether you feel confident enough to directly have a conflict with your employer about it, whether this is somewhere that you worked at in the past, you can stick up for your fellow worker and show solidarity with them by opening a complaint. Because it’s unfortunately pretty likely that if you go to your employer and you say, sir or ma’am, did you knowthat what you’re doing is illegal? They’re probably going to say oh no, it’s perfectly fine because the credit card servicing fee blah blah blah blah blah and you just wouldn’t understand and also, now we’re going to start giving you the shittiest shifts. That I think is a pretty likely scenario, unfortunately. So a great way to protect yourself is those complaints are anonymous. They don’t know who it came from and they’re much more likely to generate meaningful action than just like talking to your boss, who is breaking the law and probably quite aware that they’re breaking the law. And probably feeling, honestly, entitled to your money, which is something that makes me want to puke all the way.
Yes. I mean I’m sure that this owner in particular is just like, well, I’m paying you $14 an hour. That’s almost twice the minimum wage, like you should be happy with that. It’s like, it’s not the point. The point is you are stealing wages and you are lying to customers. So I think I have a new retirement plan, which yeah.
So you know how it is my ultimate dream job to be a freelance firer of bad bosses?
Yes. I think in retirement what I want to do is I want to go around town and I want to apply for and obtain service industry jobs in which I am tipped, and I want to keep them just long enough to determine if wage theft is happening. And if wagetheft is happening, I just want to file like Department of Labor complaint after Department of Labor complaint and just clean house. Just clean house. ‘Cause I won’t need the money.
I love it. I love it, I love that for you.
It just sounds so fun.
This really is one of those areas where like, worker solidarity is so important. There is a reason that wage theft is so profitable and it’s because union participation is down so far. It’s because we have intentionally constructed a culture of illegal enforced secrecy around paychecks and workplace policies, and people feel like they don’t have the power or maybe even that they don’t have the right. Like, well, you know, I just got here at this job and how could I be the one to immediately start causing trouble when I guess the system works for everyone else, and I guess that they did tell me that this is the system from the start, right? So I can’t possibly—no! Especially if this job is not rare or special to you, I would say you have a moral obligation to follow through and do something. You don’t have to, like, get involved in a legal battle with them that will go on for the next 7 years. But like, open a complaint. Talk to your co-workers. Talk to your co-workers!
Oh my god.
Talk all the way to your fucking co-workers.
Talk to your coworkers. Silence is violence.
Because once everyone understands that this is illegal, they’re going to start getting pissed and 1 pissed off person is easier to deal with than 7.
Yeah, and there’s a reason employers fear collective action and why companies like Amazon and Walmart spend inordinate resources to shit talk unions and collective bargaining and that kind of tactic, because they know it works!
[mocking baby voice] It’s ‘cause they scared. Ooh, it’s so scawwy! Oooh, the unions have got me so scawed! Oh my goodness!
[mocking baby voice] They’re scawed. They’re so scawed of the unions. [normal voice] Yeah, ‘cause it fucking works! Like, they wouldn’t be trying to shut it down if it didn’t work.
It’s the same thing with voting, right? Like if voting didn’t work, they wouldn’t be trying to disenfranchise voters so much. So.
[snapping] Snap, snap, snap.
Are you good with that?
I am good with that.
Listeners, if you want us to answer your question, go to BitchesGetRiches.com and click “Ask the Bitches.” After all, this podcast is listener-supported. We are committed to never ever putting our best content behind a paywall. Only our worst content. So if you like what we do and you want us to keep doing it, you can support the podcast by joining our Patreon at patreon.com/bitchesgetriches. And if you need even more Bitches in your life, and who could blame you, you can read our articles or follow us on social media at BitchesGetRiches.com.
Alright, is there anything else they should know?
Yeah. I have a hot take on pandas. Specifically panda conservation.
Let me get my popcorn. [mimes picking up a bowl of popcorn and eating from it].
Pandas should be allowed to go extinct.
Please like, put this in a pull quote attributed, Kitty comma bitchesgetriches.com with my email address and my full physical address underneath it. We spend millions and millions of dollars every year on panda conservation trying to save this one species that seems absolutely determined to go extinct. Mainly because they eat one thing, they barely move, and pandas don’t fuck. Like that’s the main thing. How can we save animals that don’t want to fuck?
Pandas don’t fuck. Good to know.
Kitty & Piggy 27:00
Bitches out. [laughter]
No one needs pandas.
Spend according to your values. My values include pandas.
Kitty & Piggy 27:07