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Ethical questions

March 28, 2022

Does a service charge suffice for a tip? Should parents be able to overrule children who are smarter than they are? You can answer these questions for yourselves.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

Here’s a trick question: if you eat at a restaurant and you see a “service charge” on your bill, should you leave a tip?

Obviously, the answer is you don’t have to leave a tip if you don’t want to whether there’s a service charge or not.

Ok, but should you feel guilty for not paying a tip when there’s a service charge or should you feel virtuous for paying the service charge?

What am I, your conscience? I don’t know. It’s up to you.

I bring this up because the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has ruled that a service charge is not a tip and your friendly waiter may not see a penny of it.

The ruling was in a dispute brought to court by a group of employees of an “upscale steakhouse” in Miami who claimed that what should been their tip money was instead being used to pay federally-required wages for the entire restaurant staff.

Here’s the weird part: the restaurant’s menu says “For your convenience an 18% service charge will be added to your final bill and will be distributed to the entire team.”

For your convenience? How exactly is that convenient? Is the convenience the implied notion that you don’t have to figure out a tip amount or feel guilty for not leaving a tip because you thought you left a tip?

Maybe the restaurant patrons should be the ones suing over this. It seems pretty misleading.

The employee plaintiffs, however, are out of luck (unless they want to go to the Supreme Court). The 11th Circuit panel said that since paying the service charges wasn’t voluntary, they weren’t tips. Waiters in Florida will have to be a little more direct about asking for real tips.

Before you get too outraged by any of this – assuming you care – you don’t need to feel sorry for the plaintiffs. It seems that although Florida’s minimum wage ranged from $8.10 to $8.46 an hour during the time covered by the lawsuit, the plaintiffs were getting between $23.68 and $51.58 an hour.

These are the kind of employees that can hire lawyers and litigate for years.

Please leave tips for waiters in low-end restaurants.

Secret shots. Here’s another ethical question for you: should you secretly give a child a potentially life-saving (or society-saving) vaccination even though the kid’s parents object? Does public health trump parental rights?

I don’t have answers but it’s something to think about and a federal judge in Washington, D.C. recently had to rule on the question because parents challenged a D.C. law that said kids aged 11 or older could consent to vaccines without telling their parents. The law was passed in 2020 – you can easily imagine why.

As usual, kids get no respect – the judge issued a preliminary injunction against the D.C. law. Kids who are smarter than their parents and don’t want to get sick should file their own suit.

I need to inject my usual dose of cynicism now. The ruling noted that the 13-year-old son of one of the plaintiffs drew two pictures to explain his feeling that he was being pressured into taking the Covid vaccination. Here’s one of them:

So do you think he drew that because of “peer pressure” or parent pressure?

Just saying….

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