Essential Pittsburgh
5:55 pm
Fri July 12, 2013

Are Gratuities Becoming Gratuitous?

Are you noticing more tip jars on the counters of businesses you frequent?
Are you noticing more tip jars on the counters of businesses you frequent?
Credit David Dugdale / Flickr

A recent article in the online magazine Slate called Tipping is an Abomination calls for the end of this practice. It’s a custom that originated in Europe. It transferred across the ocean when wealthy Americans returned from the continent. At first is it was slow to catch on but now it seems tip jars are as ubiquitous as cell phones.

However, the employees who share in the pooling of tips has figured in court cases involving Starbucks in New York state and Massachusetts. Could we see more states tackling cases on this issue and what are the laws here in the commonwealth?

We took  a look at the legal, economic and social aspects of the custom of gratuities.  Our guests  were Ben Bratman, Associate Professor of Legal Writing - Pitt Law who specializes in and teaches employment law and Antony Davies, Associate Professor of Economics at Duquesne University.

When asked if we're going overboard with tipping Davies answers in the affirmative and offered some historical perspective, "Economically tipping evolved as a means of providing an incentive for workers when a manager couldn't observe their job performance."  

"The laws for tipping in Pennsylvania mirror the federal laws which allow for the pooling of tips," says Bratman. When asked if we could see more lawsuits like the aforementioned cases in New York and Massachusetts, Bratman states, " I wouldn't doubt it because of the varying state laws regarding the pooling of tips."