A Tip for Harvard

Harvard-affiliated institutions should never cut corners on labor law

Last week, members of the Harvard Faculty Club wait staff filed a complaint in Middlesex County Superior Court alleging that Harvard illegally withheld the proceeds of service charges from the staff. If true, the Faculty Club would have violated Massachusetts’ “Tip Law,” which states that, “under no circumstances may management employees or owners receive any portion of their employees’ tips” or “service charge.”  When asked about the allegations, Harvard Director of News and Media Relations Kevin Galvin responded that Faculty Club employees receive wages that surpass industry standards, in addition to benefits including health care, access to child care, paid vacation, and tuition assistance. If the allegations are true, it is wrong of the Harvard Faculty Club to give the appearance that customers are contributing to the employees in the form of a service charge when in reality the employer is withholding it.

The fact of the matter is that any patron glancing at an 18-22 percent surcharge on a restaurant bill will be under the impression that the money is going to the wait staff. This is doubly so considering that, presumably, it is uncommon to leave a tip on the table at the Faculty Club along with a service charge. Indeed, if the allegations are true then the Faculty Club’s failure to remit the surcharge to the wait staff are doubly dishonest, deceiving not only the workers, but the patrons as well.

Harvard works to make both its faculty and students act in accordance with the law, and their diligence should not be weakened when it comes to laws protecting labor. Cutting corners on worker protections has the distinction of being not only harmful to the parties involved, but also reputationally damaging to the University.

Only days before the Faculty Club wait staff filed their suit, the Harvard Club of Boston had to settle for $4 million for similar accusations. While the Harvard Club of Boston and Harvard University are not formally affiliated, it is seriously unfortunate that two organizations bearing the Harvard name have been accused of breaking state labor law in the same year. In an era that is marked by high levels of income inequality, it is especially inappropriate for institutions that are very wealthy to scrape up a few extra dollars by not giving the wait staff money that is, by all appearances, intended as compensation for their service. It was likely to avoid such abuses that the General Court of Massachusetts passed the “Tip Law” in the first place.