(The photos accompanying this article are meant for illustrative purposes only. The restaurant they were taken in–Soupcon–does not employ tip theft practices. We apologize for any confusion or miscommunication the use of these photos have caused.)
Unless you’ve worked in the serving industry yourself, you’ve probably never even considered the possibility that the tip you leave your server might be being skimmed off by their employer, or even subtracted from their wages.
In actual fact, tip theft is a widespread and increasingly common practice throughout the hospitality sector.
This is the case despite the fact that most servers in Ontario earn an industry-specific rate below the minimum wage of $8.90/hour because it’s assumed that they’ll make up the difference through tips.
Though illegal in other provinces and states like New York, there is currently no legislation in Ontario addressing this practice.
Affected employees have no recourse or protection over their tips under the Ontario Employment Standards Act because it currently only regulates wages, not tips or other gratuities.
For the third time, Michael Prue, MPP of Beaches-East York and Ontario NDP Finance Critic, is bringing forward an independent member’s bill that would change this.
Refreshing in its simplicity, Bill 49—The Protecting Employees’ Tips Act—would add just a single line to the Employment Standards Act: “An employer shall not take any portion of an employee’s tips or other gratuities.”
The proposed law would not take any position on tip sharing between servers and other support staff, a practice that is common, but less controversial.
Prue first brought forward identical legislation to ban tip theft in 2010, and then again in 2012, when it gained vocal support from then-Premier Dalton McGuinty, but died on the legislative floor soon after when McGuinty prorogued the Legislature and announced his resignation.
Currently, the bill has passed its Second Reading and is scheduled for public hearings before the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly later this month, after which Prue is hopeful the bill will be passed in its Third and final Reading, and be enacted as law before an expected spring election is called.
When asked about the bill in April, Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi said he was “pleased” to see Prue’s bill before the Legislature again, but cautioned that the bill in its current form would not protect all workers in all situations.
Randy Hillier, who was, at the time, the Progressive Conservative’s Labour Critic, also expressed support for the bill in principle, but added that it needed fine-tuning.
Prue, on his part, has said he is happy to entertain any “touch-ups” or minor revisions proposed.
Service workers are among the most vulnerable and most precariously employed workers in the economy, with few job protections and a constant pool of desperate job seekers who are willing to take their place, no matter how unfair the working conditions.
Amanda Barchard says she was fired from the Cobourg restaurant where she worked as a server because she spoke out against her employer’s practice of docking 4 percent of her total food sales off her salary, in effect stealing a large percentage of the tips she was assumed to be getting, whether or not she received any tips at all. Barchard appeared with Prue in April to tell her story and expressed support for the bill.
Prue was recently in Peterborough meeting with constituents and promoting his bill. He fielded questions from local media at the Ashburnham Ale House, whose owner does not practice any form of tip theft.