A Florida sushi restaurant has divided up hundreds of thousands of dollars among its staff after it was caught illegally forcing servers to split their tips in a way that violated federal law.
Officials announced in April that they'd recovered more than $262,322 from the owners of Ginza Japanese Restaurant in Fort Myers, where the owners were found to have been forcing servers to "tip sushi chefs, owners and managers based on the servers' total sales," according to the U.S. Department Of Labor.
Officials say the owners couldn't account for $22,000 in tips that were supposed to be paid to its 75 servers and that management failed to pay their workers a regular rate with proper overtime. They've since recovered $262,322 in "hard-earned tips," wages and damages for the servers affected.
“Tips are the property of the employees who earn them. No employer has the right to keep any tips unless they are given directly to the manager who directly serves a customer,” Nicolas Ratmiroff, the DOL's Wage and Hour Division District director in Tampa, said in the news release.
“This case shows that when an employer handles tip pools improperly, they may no longer apply a tip credit, which can lead to an employer owing employees significant back wages and damages.”
Restaurant manager Joshua Salinas recently told the Fort Myers News-Press that things have been "all cleared up" in the wake of the incident.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers can claim tip credits, which is paying an employee less than the standard minimum wage, in exchange for making sure each employee's earnings make up for the lesser amount in tips.
"Employers claiming a tip credit must be able to show in each workweek that tipped employees receive at least the full federal minimum wage when direct (or cash) wages and the tip credit amount are combined," the U.S. Department of Labor's website states.
Currently, Florida's minimum wage is $11 per hour.
Since Ginza instated a tipping pool for total sales and could not account for a large chunk of money they withheld, the employer could not claim tip credits, forcing them to payout much more than $22,000.
The punishment comes at a time when inflation and "tip creep" has put even more pressure on the customer-server relationship and the expectation to tip 18%.
Some restaurants have even added extra percent-based charges to their bills, sparking major anger from customers who say that owners should simply pay a living wage.