News & Commentary

October 17, 2022

Fred Wang

Fred Wang is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s News & Commentary, the debate over the tipped subminimum wage heats up, while the Supreme Court hears a case on overtime for highly paid workers.

The debate over wage rules for tipped workers is “heating up,” the New York Times says, as states and municipalities move to rework their tipped-worker wage laws. Here’s the controversy in a nutshell: In most states, an employee is allowed to pay a “subminimum” wage — in some places, as low as $2.13 an hour — to a worker who receives tips, so long as that worker’s total earnings in a pay period equals or exceeds the minimum wage. Critics have long argued that the subminimum-wage model is exploitative — and that it disproportionately harms women workers and workers of color. Part of the issue is that employees are rarely made whole during below-minimum pay periods. Another problem is that managers can use lucrative shifts to keep employees in line. Many businesses, however, have insisted that the system better suits the skills and needs of workers who choose tipped restaurant jobs.

In other employee-compensation news, the Supreme Court last Wednesday heard oral arguments in Helix Energy Solutions Group v. Hewitt — a dispute over whether someone making over $200,000 a year, but is paid by the day, hour, or shift, is entitled to overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The technical question is whether Hewitt — an employee at Helix Energy who earned more than $200,000 per year on a daily rate of at least $963 — earned a “salary” (and was therefore exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements). As Prof. Charlotte Garden explains in SCOTUSblog, the case has important implications for classes of workers — say, nurses — who earn six figures, but on a by-shift or by-hour basis. For more on the parties’ arguments and justices’ questions, check out Prof. Garden’s SCOTUSblog recap!

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