The minimum wage requirements for tipped workers in California

It is important for tipped workers in California to understand their minimum wage rights to ensure they are taken advantage of by their employers.

Due to the nature of their work, some employees in California and elsewhere receive gratuities from satisfied customers. Often viewed as an added benefit of service industry professions, tipped worker are still entitled to receive an hourly wage. Understanding the wage requirements for tipped workers may be essential for helping them ensure they are not taken advantage of by their employers.

Minimum wage requirements

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employers in the state of California are required to pay tipped workers the state’s minimum wage. For employers with less than 25 employees, the minimum hourly wage is $11 while it increases to $12 per hour for those who employ 26 workers or more. Employers are not permitted to use workers’ tips as credit toward their hourly wages, nor are they allowed to deduct money from employees’ wages because of the tips they earn.

Defining tips

Due to social expectations or as thanks for superior service, customers may leave money for workers on top of their payments for the services or goods they received or purchased. Whether left in cash or via credit card, the full amount of tips or gratuities left belong to workers and cannot be taken by employers.

Some businesses may charge a mandatory service charge for services rendered. For example, a golf course may add a 10 percent charge to the cost of a wedding service and reception held on its grounds. These amounts are considered part of what is owed by patrons or customers to an establishment or business. As such, employers may distribute all or part of them to workers at their discretion and in a manner they see fit.

Sharing tips

While workers such as servers, delivery drivers or bartenders may be whom customers deal with directly, there are often numerous employees involved in providing their services. Under California law, employers are permitted to require workers to pool their tips, provided they give direct service or are in the chain of service that contributes to customers’ experiences. The tips may then be divided and split between those working during a specific shift. Pooled tips cannot, however, be used to compensate managers, supervisors or owner, even if they provided direct service to customers during the specified time.

Protecting workers’ earnings

Unfortunately, employers in California and elsewhere may sometimes seek to benefit from the tips earned by their workers. Should employers deduct money from tipped workers’ wages or pay them less than the state’s minimum wage, employees may choose to file a formal claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement or to take legal action against their employers. Therefore, tipped workers whose earnings have been illegally taken may benefit from seeking legal counsel to learn more about their rights and options.

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