Popular Tip Basics October 5, 2023 6 min read

Tip Credits and Minimum Wage Regulations for Tipped Employees

Tip Credits and Minimum Wage Regulations for Tipped Employees

In the bustling world of the restaurant industry, understanding the intricacies of minimum wage regulations for tipped employees is a must for both employers and workers. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor, lays down the groundwork for how tipped employees are compensated and what employers need to do to comply with the law. Failure to navigate these regulations correctly can result in legal issues and significant financial penalties.

Minimum Wage for Tipped Employees: 

Let’s start by addressing the federal minimum wage for tipped employees, which is currently set at $2.13 per hour, known as the minimum direct wage. This rate is significantly lower than the standard federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. However, there’s a crucial caveat: if an employee’s tips combined with the minimum direct wage fall short of the regular minimum wage, the employer is obligated to bridge the gap.

Ensuring Minimum Wage: A Key Employer Responsibility

Employers have a critical responsibility to ensure that their tipped employees earn at least the full federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for each workweek. If, for any reason, the employee’s tips do not cover this amount, it becomes the employer’s responsibility to make up the difference.

State-Specific Regulations: Adding Complexity

To add complexity to the issue, some states have their own minimum wage laws for tipped employees that may surpass the federal minimum wage. Restaurant employers must stay informed about the minimum wage rates in the states where they operate and adhere to the higher federal or state requirements. To see your state’s minimum hourly wage, click here

Employee Classification Matters:

In addition to minimum wage compliance, correctly classifying employees is essential. Misclassifying employees as independent contractors or exempt from overtime pay can lead to legal complications. Non-exempt employees, including those receiving tip credits, are entitled to one and a half times their regular rate of pay for any hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek.

Who Qualifies as a Tipped Employee? 

According to the FLSA, a tipped employee is someone who regularly receives over $30 per month in tips as part of their job. This category includes servers, bartenders, and others in similar roles.

Understanding Tip Credit: 

Now, let’s dive into the concept of tip credit. Tip credit is a federal law that permits employers to pay employees who regularly receive tips, such as servers and bartenders, less than the federal minimum wage. The federal tip credit is $5.12 per hour, but some states may have their own maximum tip credit. It’s crucial to note that employers must ensure that tipped employees retain all of their tips. No portion of the tips can be taken by the employer, even if they pay the full federal minimum wage without utilizing a tip credit.

Tip Credit Explained: 

Employers can leverage a tip credit to meet their minimum wage and overtime obligations under the FLSA. Here’s how it works:

  1. The FLSA mandates that employers pay tipped employees a direct wage of at least $2.13 per hour. 
  2. Employers can then claim a tip credit for the difference between this direct wage and the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour. 
  3. The maximum tip credit an employer can claim is $5.12 per hour ($7.25 – $2.13).
  4. Only tips actually received by the employee are considered when applying the tip credit.

Calculating Tip Credit: Example

Calculating tip credit can be somewhat intricate, but precision is crucial. Let’s illustrate the process with an example: Imagine a server named Lauren works 30 hours in a week and earns $300 in tips. 

Step 1: Calculate the total earnings for the pay period: $2.13 (minimum direct wage) x 30 (hours worked) = $63.90, $300 (tips) + $63.90 = $363.90

Step 2: Calculate Lauren’s hourly wage: $363.90 (total earnings) ÷ 30 (hours worked) = $12.13

In this scenario, her hourly wage for that period amounts to $12.13, which exceeds the minimum wage.

However, if the following week she only earns $100 in tips, her hourly wage drops to $5.46, falling below the minimum wage. In such cases, the employer must make up the difference.

Notice to Tipped Employees: Essential Information 

Before taking a tip credit, employers must provide certain information to their tipped employees, which includes:

  • The direct (or cash) wage, must be a minimum of $2.13 per hour.
  • The additional tip credit claimed by the employer, not exceeding $5.12.
  • A reminder that the tip credit cannot exceed the actual tips received by the employee.
  • Clarification that all tips belong to the employee, except in valid tip pooling arrangements.
  • Notification that the tip credit only applies if employees are informed of these provisions. This information can be communicated orally or in writing, and failing to provide it prevents employers from taking the tip credit.

Consequences of Non-Compliance: Hefty Penalties 

Non-compliance with tip credit regulations can result in severe consequences. Violations may lead to back wages owed to employees, equal liquidated damages, and civil penalties of up to $1,100 per violation. A case from 2014 involving a restaurant group in New York City serves as a stark example, where they had to pay over $1 million in back wages and penalties due to FLSA violations.

Interaction with State Laws: Stricter Standards Apply

When state labor laws provide more protection to employees than federal regulations, employers must comply with the stricter state standards. Some states may require a higher cash wage or prohibit the use of a tip credit. Employers can check their state’s labor department for specific requirements.

No Tip-Keeping by Employers: 

Regardless of whether an employer claims a tip credit, the FLSA prohibits employers from retaining any portion of employees’ tips. This includes supervisors and managers. An employer cannot mandate employees to hand over their tips, even when they receive the full federal minimum wage with no tip credit.

Exceptions for Managers and Supervisors: 

Managers and supervisors are excluded from participating in tip pools, except for tips received directly from customers for services they exclusively provided. For instance, a restaurant manager can keep tips from the tables they serve but cannot partake in a tip pool with other employees.

Forms for Filing Federal Taxes: Ensuring Accurate Reporting

Finally, if a restaurant is taking advantage of tip credits, several forms are necessary when filing federal taxes, including Form 8027, Form 8846, and Form 941. These forms help ensure accurate reporting of employee wages, tips, and tax obligations.


Compliance with minimum wage regulations, particularly for tipped employees, is paramount for restaurant employers. Understanding tip credits, state-specific laws, employee classification, and recent updates to the FLSA is essential to avoid legal issues and financial penalties. Staying informed and following the guidelines provided by the Department of Labor can help restaurant owners and managers navigate these complex regulations successfully. By doing so, businesses can ensure fair treatment and proper compensation for workers while maintaining compliance with labor laws.

Don’t let tip credit compliance be a source of stress and uncertainty. Trust TipHaus to simplify the process and keep your restaurant on the right side of the law. Book your demo today, and let’s embark on a journey towards hassle-free tip credit management.

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