Employer can’t fire worker for refusing to share tips, Minnesota court rules

A server at a restaurant who was fired after refusing to share more of his tips with other workers could sue the restaurant for wrongful discharge, the Minnesota Court of Appeals recently decided.

Todd Burt, the server in question, worked at a restaurant where wait staff had to split tips with the people who bussed tables. When Burt refused to share his tips, his employer warned that “there would be consequences” if he didn’t do so. He still refused and was fired.

After his employer terminated him, he filed suit. Specifically, Burt claimed firing him was illegal under Minnesota’s wage and tip law, which prohibits mandatory tip pooling or tip sharing. His resulting unemployment caused him lost wages, he alleged.

A trial judge dismissed the case, ruling that the state law didn’t recognize his claim. The judge found that Minnesota’s wage and tip law didn’t expressly authorize wrongful discharge claims.

But the Court of Appeals reversed the decision. Acccording to the higher court, the state law “implied” that workers could bring claims like Burt’s.

While this ruling only applies in Minnesota, it’s still important for employers to be aware of it elsewhere. That’s because the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) bars employers from wrongfully discharging employees for exercising rights guaranteed by FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime provisions. Additionally, other states may have laws of their own that operate just like the law in Minnesota, and some may even be stricter. Talk to an employment lawyer in your area to learn more about the law where you live.