Blazejewski bill takes aim at tip theft

2/27/2012

STATE HOUSE – If you really appreciate the outstanding service you receive from a waiter or waitress, chances are that you'll leave them a nice tip.

But whether they'll actually personally benefit much from that extra reward depends on the establishment, since some require servers to hand their tips over to their employers.

Under legislation submitted by Rep. Christopher Blazejewski, restaurant owners and managers will no longer be allowed to demand that servers turn in all or part of their tips, and would be prohibited them from requiring participation in tip pools that are split between anyone other than service employees like servers, bartenders and those who bus tables.

The legislation is aimed at helping the many Rhode Islanders working in the service industry, and requiring restaurants to distribute patrons' money as those customers intend.

"When customers leave good tips for good service, they intend to reward the people who provided that service. The money should go to the servers, not their employer, especially where many workers earn less than minimum wage. Besides being unfair to service workers, it's also dishonest to consumers, who assume that tip is going to their waiter or waitress," said Representative Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence, East Providence). "The legislation would prohibit this fraud on the consumer and theft from the waitstaff."

Representative Blazejewski introduced the bill after hearing about the problem of tip theft from a number of constituents who work in the service industry. The legislation (2012-H 7566) is modeled after similar laws in Massachusetts, California, and New York.

Under the bill, no employer may demand, request or accept from any waitstaff employee or bartender any payment or deduction from a tip or service charge given by a patron, and all tips given by credit card must be paid in full to the employee. The bill allows tip pools among waitstaff, but only when no part of the pool is distributed to anyone other than waitstaff, and when records are kept for bookkeeping and tax purposes. Also, in cases where the restaurant charges a standard gratuity or service charge, that fee is to be remitted to the waitstaff on the same business day.

Violations of the statute would be misdemeanors punishable by fines of up to $1,000 and up to 60 days in prison, as well as restitution with an interest rate of 12 percent. The bill also allows civil action by aggrieved employees, who have up to three years to file for lost wages, benefits and for litigation and attorneys' fees.

"The service industry can be exhausting and demanding, often with long hours and low wages. For many employees, tips are the only way to make a decent living, and working harder to provide outstanding service is their main opportunity for better earnings. Consumers expect that tips reward the servers' efforts, and the employer should not be permitted to betray this reasonable consumer expectation." said Representative Blazejewski.

The legislation has been transmitted to the House Labor Committee and is cosponsored by Rep. Cale P. Keable (D-Dist. 47, Burrillville, Glocester), Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick).

For more information, contact:

Meredyth R. Waterman, Publicist

State House Room 20

Providence, RI 02903

(401) 222-2457