Ask The Salty Waitress: How Can I Report An Employer Who's Skimming Tips?

Hi Salty, There is a restaurant my friend worked at on Long Island. Servers receive a set $90 gratuity on parties. My friend worked a large party with a $6k tab. He noticed that the manager added an automatic $1,200 tip....but still only gave him the $90 tip after busting his ass for several hours. He was told not to ask so many questions and was fired when noting that the management was stealing from their servers. This extra goes right into the restaurant's pockets. I highly doubt they report the income.

Any ideas how he should go about reporting their shady business practices and to whom? I sent him some links to local news networks that have segments about such consumer/business affairs. I warned him about stories where businesses sued people for the reviews they've left on sites like Yelp, regardless of their truthfulness. What have you heard/done in the past?

Cheers, Friend of an idiot that works for greater idiots

Dear Friend Of An Idiot,

Wage theft isn't an issue to take to Yelp, or to the local news team, or even to the smartest advice-dishing waitress on the internet. I feel like I've said this before (if it even needs saying), but I'm no lawyer. I'm not going to speak to your friend's case specifically, but in general, skimmed tips or withheld payment could be a crime. It should be handled by people with legal experience.

That your friend was fired for asking a question about tips is a pretty big red flag, though. I'd tell him to do a few things, none of which involve bitching on Yelp. First, if there's a free legal clinic in his area—here's one that serves Nassau and Suffolk counties—he might give them a call to find out whether his complaint has merits.

Second, wage-theft violations can be reported to the federal Department Of Labor's Wage And Hour Division. The agency's website has a list of local offices to call, a toll-free help line, and a guide to the kind of information/details your friend will need before filing a complaint. Complaints are confidential, so an employee's name will not be released to the business in question. Plus, employers can't legally fire or retaliate against employees who complains to the WHD. The agency also investigates complaints regardless of a worker's immigration status.

Third, because New York State has its own minimum-wage laws, your friend might want to instead report this to New York State's Department Of Labor. The office even makes it easy to file a complaint with a handy-dandy form. In New York, an employee must first ask for the wages before they can file a complaint, and it sounds like your friend did.

I hope this helps, Friend Of An Idiot. In general, I tell all my fellow industry folks to know the phone number for their area's low-cost legal clinic and to go there with questions first. I am but an internet advice-dispensing waitress—the specifics of an individual case are a little above my pay grade.

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