Waitresses and waiters may not receive the federally mandated minimum hourly wage, as other hourly wage workers do, but they are privy to benefits such as health insurance if other workers within the same company are eligible. In fact, the federal government requires restaurants to extend benefits to waitstaff or run the risk of violating fair labor laws.
Because of the difference in how tipped employees, such as waitstaff, are paid compared with other employees, it is reasonable to think that they aren't eligible for the same benefits. The fact is, waitresses and waiters fall in a unique work category. Instead of receiving an hourly minimum wage, they receive an amount that is about $5 per hour less than minimum wage. That's because they receive tips, and the tip money is supposed to make up the difference between their base salary and the minimum wage.
If a restaurant offers benefits, it cannot discriminate by choosing who can receive benefits and who cannot. For that reason, waitresses and waiters cannot be denied benefits, even though they are paid differently. Most restaurants and other eating establishments that hire waitstaffs are aware of this. However, if you work as a member of the waitstaff at an establishment where you've been passed over for benefits, you should contact your local labor department.
In addition to enforcing the laws regarding how tipped employees are paid, the U.S. Department of Labor ensures that certain benefits are extended to all workers.
The most common employee benefits offered are health care plans. The federal labor department defines the plans as employee welfare benefit plans established or maintained by an employer or by an employee organization such as a union, or both, to provide medical care for participants or their dependents directly or through insurance, reimbursement or otherwise. These plans are typically private and are covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). It is ERISA that makes it unlawful for waitresses or waiters to not be extended the opportunity to sign up for a company's health plan.
Employee Benefits Security Administration
The U.S. Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is responsible for administering and enforcing ERISA. Part of its responsibilities include giving employers information about health plans, compliance assistance and health-care service providers.
Other benefits, such as those for life insurance, long-term-care insurance, medical insurance accounts, pensions and wellness benefits are not governed by the federal government. Instead, they are left up to agreements between an employer and its employees, including the waitstaff. The National Restaurant Association has led the way in educating restaurants about the positive effects they can experience from having a waitstaff with several benefit options available to them.