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Exploited Chores

August 2, 2012

I work as a server at an independently owned fine-dining Italian restaurant that’s popular in my town. As servers, we all have weekly side chore assignments that we’re responsible for. The chores range from cleaning out the walk-in freezer or mopping the front of the house to scrubbing the bathrooms. These are supposed to be “light duty” tasks that all the servers share. The problem is that we are tipped employees and earn the minimum state wage for tipped workers of $3.35 per hour, but when we’re fulfilling our side chores—often for over an hour before or after our floor shift—we’re not making any tips. Is this fair?

— Tipless, Missouri

Answer:

That’s pretty crummy. You know, if you’re doing a lot of those tasks and getting paid the minimum state wage for tipped workers, your employer could be in the wrong. It depends on either state or federal law. When state and federal law differ, the employer must follow the law that is more favorable to the employees. 

Federal law provides that if a tipped employee spends a substantial amount of their time engaged in side work (related to waitressing, for example, but not work that produces tips) the employer must pay the employee full minimum wage for time spent on non-tip-producing work. Substantial is defined as 20% of their time in a work week. You can find more information from the Department of Labor on this subject here.

When minimum wage is hardly enough to live on as is, paying sub-minimum wage should be a crime! Here is a way you can take action to help pass legislation that raises the tipped minimum wage as well as some really good points to make about raising the minimum wage in general.

Here are some more great resources on wages and earning a living wage.