The New York State Court of Appeals will soon hand down a decision in a controversial case that has pitted Starbucks baristas against the company’s assistant managers and shift supervisors regarding tips. The court has been asked for a clear interpretation on the state’s definition of an “agent” of an employer, who would be forbidden from sharing in tips.
Baristas, who often work on the floor and interact the most with customers, engage in weekly tip-sharing. Shift supervisors, who perform some management duties along with serving customers, want a share of the tips, as do assistant managers who are currently barred from dipping into the tip jar.
“The baristas work more on the floor,” a Manhattan barista named Erica told CBS Radio in New York. “Yes, managers do interact with customers but it’s more the baristas who connect with the customers so they deserve the tips more.”
“We all should get them, we should equally share them,” another barista said.
The court’s decision could potentially affect many thousands of people who work in the hospitality industry.
Starbucks has explained that it excludes assistant managers from tip-sharing due to working full-time hours and commanding a higher salary than baristas. Assistant managers are also elegible for bonuses not offered to lower level employees. A federal judge did determine shift supervisors are technically not company agents and should collect tips.
Speaking to CBS News, Daniel Maimon Kirschenbaum of Joseph Herzfeld Hester & Kirschenbaum LLP commented on the case and what he sees as a larger move by Starbucks and other restaurants to deprive low-wage workers of the tips they earn:
“The restaurant association is trying to use this as an opportunity to get some kind of decision that will grant them amnesty for their bad behavior over the years … They like to break the law and they’re thinking this could be their chance to get a free ticket.”
Aside from what exactly defines a company agent, the court must also determine the legality of an employer banning an elegible employee from sharing in tips.
N.Y.’s top court to decide who can tap Starbucks’ tip jars