Complete Payroll Solutions Logo

Managing Tipped Employees: Wages & Requirements Guide

by Chris Freitas on Dec 31, 2020 4:01:57 AM

If you’re a business owner and are thinking about hiring tipped employees for the first time, it can be challenging to get up to speed on all the rules and requirements regarding pay, recordkeeping, and reporting. Yet it’s critical to process payroll correctly for these workers or you could face penalties.

At Complete Payroll Solutions, we process payroll for thousands of businesses in the restaurant, hospitality, personal care, and other service industries. We understand the unique challenges tipped employees present when calculating wages and withholdings. Here, we’ll help you understand how to comply with requirements by explaining:

  • Tipped employees
  • Tip pooling
  • Tip credit
  • Payroll taxes
  • FICA tax credit
  • IRS reporting

After reading this article, you should have a good idea of the payroll complications you could face with tipped employees and how to avoid them.

Who is considered a tipped employee?

Tips are voluntary and discretionary payments customers make to employees. These payments can be in the form of cash or through electronic payment like a credit card.

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), workers are considered tipped employees when they customarily and regularly receive more than $30 per month in tips. Keep in mind that some payments you may think are “tips” are actually service charges, such as an automatic gratuity for a large dining party, and are considered non-tip wages.

When evaluating who is considered a tipped employee, it’s important to note that a worker’s exemption status doesn’t come into play in the determination. Rather, any employee who customarily and regularly receives more than $30 a month in tips is considered a tipped employee. 

What employees can take part in tip pooling?

A tip pooling arrangement is one where employees share tips. This most often happens with groups that provide customer-facing services and regularly receive tips, like wait staff, bartenders, counter personnel, and bussers. Pooled tips cannot be shared with “back-of-the-house” staff such as line cooks, chefs, or management if you claim a tip credit for any employee in the pool, which we’ll discuss next.

If you opt to have a tip pooling arrangement, you’ll need to inform your employees. As a best practice, you should put the policy in writing and have your employees review and authorize it, especially because written notice is a legal requirement in some states. In Utah, for instance, employers must alert new hires of their tip pooling practice in writing when offered the position.

You’ll also want to make sure your state allows you to require your employees to participate in a tip pool before you implement one. For example, New Hampshire employers can’t require tip pools but employees can agree to take part voluntarily.  

What is the tip credit and how does it affect minimum wage requirements?

The FLSA requires that employers pay workers a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour (or higher if state or local law mandates it). That means that an employee’s combined cash and tip rate must total at least that amount. If your tipped employees don’t make enough in tips, you’ll have to pay the difference so their pay totals the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour.

If your employees earn enough in tips to make up the difference, you’re only required to pay a cash wage of $2.13/hour; the other $5.12 is considered a federal tip credit that counts toward your minimum wage obligations. The tip credit can be applied to employees’ hours of tip-producing work as long as that time is 80% or more of the hours for which you’re taking a tip credit; work such as rolling silverware or setting tables must be 20% or less of their total work time (this is what’s known as the 80/20 rule).

Keep in mind that, in some states, the amount of the tip credit may differ from the federal requirements. For example, in New Hampshire, the maximum tip credit is 55% of the minimum wage, or $3.99. That means you could claim up to a $3.99 hourly credit against the employee’s minimum wage and pay $3.26 an hour although the total hourly rate is the same as the federal minimum wage at $7.25/hour.

In addition, seven states don’t allow you to take a tip credit on tipped employees at all. In these states, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Montana, and Minnesota, you’re required to pay tipped employees the full state minimum wage before tips.

Do employers have to pay taxes on tips?

All cash and non-cash tips are treated as a form of income and are subject to federal income taxes. Like wages, you as the employer must withhold income taxes and the employee’s share of FICA (Social Security and Medicare) taxes on their tips as well as pay your share of FICA taxes and FUTA.

In order to calculate these amounts correctly, employees must report all cash tips to you by the 10th of the month after tips are received unless the total is less than $20 in any month. Tips should be reported to you in a written statement, although no particular form is required. However, it must be signed by the employee and include:

  • The employee’s name, address, and social security number
  • Your name and address
  • Month or period covered
  • Total tips received during the month or period

What is the FICA tax credit?

If you’re in the food and beverage industry, you can receive a credit for part of the FICA taxes you pay on your employees’ tip income that is greater than the federal minimum wage level of $5.15/hour (the federal minimum wage rate in 2007 when the credit was enacted).

So, for example, if you pay an employee $5.00/hour and they receive tips that equal $5.00/hour, that totals $10/hour. If the employee worked 5 hours and they earned gross wages of $50.00 (including tips), you’d only be responsible for paying FICA taxes at a $5.15/hour rate and would receive a FICA tip credit for the difference:

$50 from 5 hours of gross pay subtracted by $25.75 for FICA taxes at $5.15 per hour times 5 hours is equal to $24.25 gross

The tip credit you can claim would then be equal to $1.86 ($24.25 x .0765). You could take this tax credit on your tax return as long as you complete and file Form 8846 with your return.

With the FICA tip credit recordkeeping, you can generate thousands of dollars a year in federal tax credits. In fact, on average, you could expect to generate a $500 credit for each part-time tipped employee and over $1,000 for a full-time one. The tax credit amount you’re eligible to receive is uncapped. 

What are my tip reporting responsibilities?

If you have tipped employees, the IRS requires you to meet certain reporting requirements, including:

  • You’ll need to report income tax and Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from their wages and your share of Social Security and Medicare taxes on Form 941 quarterly.
  • Most employers will also have to file Form 940 for FUTA taxes and deposit those taxes.
  • Tips that your employees report to you must be included in Box 1, Box 5, and Box 7 of the worker’s W-2 statement.
  • If you operate a large food or beverage establishment, you’ll also have to file Form 8027. A large employer is defined as one that:
    • Is located in the 50 states or the District of Columbia
    • Provides food and beverages for consumption on site
    • A customary practice is tipping of employees
    • Normally employed more than 10 employees on a typical day in the last year

This form is used to report your receipts from food and beverages and tips employees report to you. This form is also used to determine allocated tips. 

What are allocated tips?

Allocated tips are tips that you assign to an employee in addition to what they report. If you’re a large food and beverage establishment and the total tips reported by all employees equal less than 8% (or approved lower rate) of the gross receipts, you’ll have to allocate the difference among employees who receive tips. 

The IRS outlines 3 methods you can use to calculate allocated tips:

  • Hours-worked method
  • Gross receipts method
  • Good-faith agreement

Allocated tips must be shown separately in Box 8 on Form W-2.

How can I get payroll for tipped employees right?

Processing payroll for tipped employees can be complex. From calculating wages and tax withholdings to reporting requirements, it may be challenging to understand all the rules you need to follow to avoid violations of the FLSA or IRS penalties.  

If you’re ready to bring on tipped employees, but are worried about the risk of mismanaging their payroll and the impact that could have on your business, one way to avoid problems is to outsource payroll to a payroll provider. In addition to staying compliant, a provider like Complete Payroll Solutions can also help you save on taxes by tracking your tip credit each period and providing you with the proper year-end reporting to take advantage of the credits. 

To see if outsourcing payroll may be a good solution for your business, read our article on the pros and cons of outsourcing versus keeping payroll in-house


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

HR Cast