Originally published on February 17th, 2013 in the Boston Globe.
When customers drop change in a coffee shop’s tip jar, they expect the money will go to the employees who made their latte or served their doughnut. But recent court decisions have led to some of those employees being unfairly deprived — a problem the Legislature should fix by passing a proposed adjustment to the state law governing gratuities.
Right now, the law says that managers can’t take a cut of the tip jar. That’s a sensible rule to protect employees. The problem is that the law doesn’t spell out exactly who counts as a manager, and courts have interpreted the category broadly, ruling recently that shift supervisors at Starbucks could not share in tips.
Now Dunkin’ Donuts franchisees, who face a similar problem, are calling for revising the state law to narrow the definition of manager. They argue that shift supervisors — who usually perform the same tasks as other workers but have additional responsibilities like scheduling breaks — shouldn’t be considered managers, since they can’t hire or fire employees.
In the Starbucks suit, the lawyer suing the chain claimed that allowing supervisors into the tip pool diluted the earnings of other workers. That’s clearly true. But the purpose of the law shouldn’t be to boost the earnings of a particular class of server. It should be to ensure management isn’t skimming it all for themselves, as the Harvard Club of Boston was caught doing recently.
More importantly, the law governing tips needs to protect the interests of the customers who give them. When a satisfied customer tries to reward service with a tip, and the employee who served them gets nothing, it’s not just unfair to the employee — it’s a deceptive practice. Whether it’s at the Harvard Club or Dunkin’ Donuts, when customers think they’re tipping their server, they should be.