TikToker Maia Dobbs (@maiadobbs) has previously spoken out against an employer she alleges stole tips from its workers, stating that the business gave hourly rates to its staff yet would still ask customers for gratuities, which the company then doled out as they saw fit.
She’s posted an update about the scenario in a new TikTok that’s garnered over 375,000 likes.
“I recently rage quit my waitressing job for stealing my tips, and in trying to report them, I may have uncovered a bigger problem,” Dobbs begins.
Dobbs explains that after several failed attempts at reaching the Connecticut Department of Labor, she received a strange call from a blocked number.
“I received a phone call from a blocked number saying that they were the Connecticut Department of Labor and that they were gonna send me a check for my stolen wages, but they needed to verify my address,” Dobbs says. “They said they also wanted to let me know that it’s totally legal for employers to keep employees’ tips because it’s considered property of the employer.”
Dobbs says she thought to herself, “That sounds funny. This whole thing sounds really funny,” before adding, “I’ve been talking to someone at the Federal Department of Labor … and she said, ‘That doesn’t sound right at all. I don’t know that that was actually the Connecticut Department of Labor that called you and said all that stuff.'”
After speaking with the federal employee, Dobbs decided to notify the police that she had received the strange call.
“So, naturally, I was disturbed, and I went to the police because I’m like, ‘somebody’s pretending to be the Department of Labor and getting personal information about me, but they also had personal information about me.'”
Dobbs says the police officer she spoke to attempted to contact the Connecticut Department of Labor and also failed to “get through to anybody” but assured her he would keep trying.
She continued to say she received a call the next day, “and it showed up in my Caller ID as the Connecticut Department of Labor.” The person on the phone told her again that it’s “totally legal” for an employer to withhold tips as long as their employees make minimum wage.
“And I just felt like that wasn’t right, so I said, ‘What law says that?’ And then they said, ‘Well, there is no law. What are you talking about?’ And I’m like, ‘Well then, why is that true?’ Then they told me that it was according to Public Act 19-4,” she recounts.
Dobbs then presents a physical copy of Public Act 19-4 and says, “I’ve read this a few times, and I cannot find where it says that an employer can keep our tips. And I’m not a lawyer; I’m a waitress, so maybe there’s a chance that I didn’t understand the legal jargon, but I did read this other law.”
The “other law” she refers to is the Fair Labor Standards Act from the U.S. Department of Labor. She also has a physical copy of this law and begins to read from one of the sheets of paper in her hand.
“[It’s] a Federal law, which supersedes Connecticut Law, and according to title 29 in subtitle b, chapter 5, sub-chapter a, part 531, subpart d, c, section 3: any employer may not keep tips received by its employees for any purpose including allowing managers and supervisors to keep any portion of an employee’s tips regardless of whether the employee takes a tip credit under section 3m2a.”
Dobbs then holds the pages up to the camera to show viewers the law she’s referring to.
“It says it right here; this one right here,” she says. “Even if I misunderstood Public Act number 19-4, or can’t read it properly, or I’m missing something, even if that’s true, the Fair Labor Standards Act is a Federal law and supersedes state law.”
She says she called the U.S. Department of Labor to confirm this and concludes her video by asserting, “something’s going on with the Connecticut Department of Labor.”
Commenters also thought there was something fishy about Dobbs’ purported phone calls with the Connecticut Department of Labor.
“Definitely speak to attorney- I see Connecticut allows a tip credit but that isn’t keeping tips and documentation is required,” one viewer wrote.
“Get a lawyer. Talk to your fellow servers. Get them together and get that money,” a second advised.
Another thought Connecticut’s Attorney General (as of this writing, William Tong) should be made aware of this situation: “Contact your states attorney general with the information that you have. Hopefully also, including whoever you spoke with at the department of labor.”
One viewer even said they had a similar experience with a previous employer.
“My employer did this in IL back in 2013 and they were audited and I got a check in the mail like 6 years later,” they wrote.
According to the United States Department of Labor, businesses cannot withhold tips from employees, even if they come from tip pools, and there are clear distinctions between tipped and non-tipped workers. Different states have different minimum wages for tipped workers, but there are general laws that protect these tip amounts, and businesses that employ workers who receive gratuities must keep punctilious records, even with tip pools, as to the particular tip amounts accrued by each employee.
The Daily Dot contacted Dobbs via TikTok comment and the Connecticut Department of Labor via press email for further information.
Update 1:48pm CT June 6: In an email to the Daily Dot, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Labor stated that the Wage and Workplace Standards division completed an investigation on Dobbs’ former employer last week—though it was regarding minimum wage violations, not gratuities.
“The Wage and Workplace investigators found employer violations and recovered $12,486,07 in back wages owed to seven employees,” they stated. “One of those employees was Ms. Dobbs, who was contacted by the investigator in order to disburse the check. During the course of that conversation, the investigator relayed the above information that the employer was within the law to pay minimum wage to waitstaff and keep any gratuities.”
The spokesperson claimed this was communicated to Dobbs over the phone, in addition to clarification about Connecticut state law. They confirmed to the Daily Dot that Dobbs’ former employer made no violations regarding their tips.
“In Connecticut, restaurants may pay waitstaff and bartenders the state minimum wage and maintain control over gratuities,” the spokesperson stated. “There is no state statute that prohibits this activity.”
They added that Connecticut state law requires waitstaff and bartenders to earn a minimum wage of $15 per hour, meaning that if an employer decides to pay its workers a lower ‘tipped’ wage, it must reach a minimum of $15 per hour with the addition of tips. If the tips don’t make up that wage, the employer is required to make up the difference.
However, if the employer chooses to simply pay its employees the $15 per hour wage, it is not required to pass tips along to its workers. “Restaurants may decide to pay waitstaff or bartenders the minimum wage; in this case, there is no law that requires gratuities to go to the employees,” the spokesperson explained.
Still, the Connecticut Department of Labor spokesperson noted that federal labor laws differ from the state’s laws.
“Federal law is different on this issue,” they wrote. “However, federal law is enforced by the US Department of Labor. It’s incorrect to say that federal law ‘supersedes state law’ and therefore CTDOL should enforce federal law. For example, the federal minimum wage is $7.25/hr, but Connecticut sets minimum wage at $15/hr. State employers must pay the state minimum wage, they cannot pay a worker $7.25/hr and claim federal law takes precedence. In any case, there is no dual enforcement power—CTDOL enforces state law and USDOL enforces federal law.”