Boss Is Reaping The Benefits Of My Hard Work!

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a boss taking a  cut of tips:

My line of work focuses on getting paid through tips. My boss takes a percentage of tips from each worker which is unfair because we are independent contractors and our boss does not help us in any part of our work. Our boss tells us that the reasoning behind getting a percentage of everyone’s tips is because he assigns us work. This seems to be troubling because I deserve to be awarded all of my tips instead of my boss taking credit and awarding himself my rightful tip money.

How should I approach this situation? I do not want to lose the great relationship I have with my boss, but at the same time it is unfair for me to lose a percentage of my tip money. Overtime the tip money that my boss takes from me and all the other workers can build up to be a huge pay day. What should is the right thing to do?

Signed–Caddy Hack

Dear Caddy Hack:

I assume you have worked at this golf course as a caddy long enough to think of golf as a business and to understand that this person who makes assignments is in position of authority. The issue for you is that he takes a percent of your and other caddies’ tips. He has informed you that he is entitled to that because it is his job to assigns caddies’ jobs. Other than this unhappy fact, you say you and your boss have a great relationship.  Should and can you get all of your tips? Is there a way to do that without harming that good boss/bossed relationship?

My quick answer is probably not. Asking a boss to give up money will not be considered reasonable, right vs wrong, nor will it be seen as motivated by goodwill. So if you are to coerce him/her not to require a percent of your tips, the odds are that some measure of that good relationship will change to not good.

That said, is there a way to get all your tips? Or a larger percent of them? And how might you approach this?

  1. Get the facts. How much is the caddy master making off you caddies’ tips? Does she/he have other pay–per hour or salary? What is the practice at surrounding golf courses? Learn if your golf course is privately owned and therefore profit-focused or if it is a community-funded and committed to the young and particularly to golfers who use caddies. Often where carts are a tradition, caddies are used by only a few and for walking tournaments.                       
  2. Informally discuss the tip-matter with other caddies to learn how dissatisfied they are with the current tip arrangement. This knowledge will signal if the current percentage might be lessened by cooperative pressure.
  3. Decide if you want to discuss this matter with those for whom you caddy. It probably isn’t a topic or tactic you want to use although if you are trying to persuade you might suggest it to those who could change the practice (the caddy master and/or course manager).
  4. In light of what you learn in the above steps, you will know if a direct appeal to your caddy boss is one you want to make and/or if you want to take the matter up with the manager of the your course. If you go to your course manager, it might be best to approach it as a request that the matter be investigated. You might decide tips are not a matter you should pursue.               
  5. If you decide to petition for a change, you can write up a clear one page request–stating what you think is fair and why.

Now with these options in mind to answer your specific question, I suggest that you might think about major issues raised by this sport business in which you see yourself as an independent contractor. While you caddy, you are part of a system    of business sports. What are its pros and cons? I have played golf as much as three times a week and that has prompted me to hammer out a manuscript I titled Going for the Green in which I compared the lessons in golf to the world of work. It took a couple of years before I came to think it was a waste of my time. I’ll briefly share several lessons I learned:

Honesty. Keeping your own score honestly is a challenge. You as a caddy undoubtedly have seen some players cheat. It is a game that has a code of honor.

Etiquette and sportsmanship. The rules of golf are based on politeness, good manners, and consideration of others. It is a sport that can be played solo. Most other sports are very competitive. Some others injury bodies and have been guilty of drug use.

Community charities. No other professional sport does as much as golf to raise money for charity.

Youth involvement. The First T provides training for young people and enables those, who cannot afford to pay, opportunities to learn the game–teaching values such as integrity, respect, and perseverance.

Golf business. Golf is a business both for amateurs and professionals. Course design and building cost big bucks. Some courses are built by cheap labor, immigrants, and often are maintained by those who cannot afford to pay to play. Course maintenance is high cost. Golf equipment is expensive. Consequently to play is far from free. It is not a sport for the poor. Poor youth can only learn to play if their school or community clubs subsidize them. Senior citizens are given discounts but still not many can afford to play. Yet professional players who win are paid lavish prizes. Professional soccer, hockey, baseball, basketball and football have player unions, but golf does not, even for maintenance crews.  Golf as a business raises a number of value issues.

Land use. Poor countries need land to raise food. They can’t afford course building and maintenance. Courses require much water. I have played in desserts where it require carrying astroturf on to place a ball before striking it and where greens were not green. Each hole was made in sand was swept after a ball is hit onto it. The rich in those dessert lands pump water that only they can have so their courses can be green. Even in our land near the Great Lakes, courses require pesticides and chemical fertilizer that bleed off into the water.  

Personal value. Golf fosters exercise in the open air. It is a sport designed for walking. It is a sport that can build comradery.  It is a sport that requires an unusual amount of time. It promotes good sportsmanship.  It is a sport that challenges one’s use of money and time. It is a sport that challenges community values.

Caddying has prompted you to think about your role in the business of sports. Probably caddying has made you wonder if carrying players’ clubs is best of their health–shouldn’t they be walking and carrying their own clubs? You have asked about caddies pay. Perhaps you also wonder if ground keepers are paid fairly? In light of environmental knowledge, you are right to ask if course pesticides and chemicals use endanger employee’s health? And if land use for golf good for the environment as compared to other needs and of community resources?

Do any of these thoughts make sense? Have they provoked reaction you will send us? Submitting a question to Ask the Workplace Doctors is meant to cause you to reflect about what has caused you to submit it and to think through options for solving it. Unexpectedly, you have been challenged to see the recreational value of golf also as a business and to learn what are the economic and ethical issues that surround it. In short a byproduct of submitting your question is to think big. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. –William Gorden


Quite often Dr. Gorden and I add to the responses of the other, as a way to share differing perspectives and information—and I will do so in this case, because I have recently done some research about tips and wages. However, let me be quick to say that I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. I’ve only done the same research you or others could do and also talked to a few people about the subject of tips, when they comprise a large part of compensation.

  1. You (and your coworkers) should research this matter with your state’s Department of Labor. Ohio’s DOL website suggests that questions not covered on the site be sent Or, call (614) 644-2239.

Be prepared to explain your work, salary and formal and informal tip arrangement in detail. They can also advise you about whether or not your employer comes under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and whether state or federal law covers the type of employer for whom you work.  (I would expect it does.)

  1. Also, review the federal Department of Labor regulations.  This is a link to the “Tips Fact Sheet”:

The section on Tips Compliance says this:

              Tipped employees are those who customarily and regularly receive more than $30 per month in tips. Tips are the property of the employee. The employer is prohibited from using an employee’s tips for any reason other than as a credit against its minimum wage obligation to the employee (“tip credit”) or in furtherance of a valid tip pool. Only tips actually received by the employee may be counted in determining whether the employee is a tipped employee and in applying the tip credit.

The material goes on to note that an employer (not a supervisor) can keep part of the tips to apply to minimum wage requirements and it describes a valid tip pool. If your supervisor keeps part of the tip as part of a valid tip pool, the arrangement should be in writing and part of your wage description in your hiring information. Further, it is not up to one of the members of the pool to allocate the  money, it should be done by the actual employer or a higher level manager.

In other words: Your supervisor/boss, whether or not he is your actual employer (the owner or Executive Director of the course) or the caddie supervisor or caddie master, most likely comes under federal and state regulations that prohibit him from keeping any of your tips solely as a reward for assigning you to a group of golfers.

His job is to assign golfers to caddies, so he is not doing you a favor, he is doing what he is paid to do (and he makes more than you do.) The reality is that in a golf course with a caddie master, the CM is often tipped a bit up-front by players anyway, like tipping a maître-de with the hopes of getting a better table than otherwise. Yes, it is true that the caddie master can increase or reduce your tips, according to what he knows about the generosity of various groups as he assigns them. But, at a course that has a CM and caddies, there are tipping norms that usually even out the amounts received, in spite of occasional variables.

  1. If you find he is doing something illegal, I don’t see any way to handle it other than to report it to either state or federal labor compliance staff. I expect that you wouldn’t want to do that—but if he is violating one law he may be violating others. Besides, it’s not a fair situation and shouldn’t continue.

I wonder if the Director of the club or the managers of course operations, are aware of his practice of keeping a portion of your tips? They are placed in a liability situation if that is happening. It may be they would consider that to be appropriate, but maybe not. You may have no way of finding that out, but if you know someone higher-up well enough to discuss it, it would be interesting to know.

Or, they may view his practice as implementing a valid tipping pool. If that is the case, it should be documented and a formal percentage established.

  1. If you find out that for some reason this matter doesn’t come under state or federal wage regulations and no one else in authority cares about it, then you can refer to Dr. Gorden’s advice and make your decision about what to do. Here are some other things to consider:

*If you had known about this policy before being hired, would you have taken the job? If you would have anyway, perhaps it’s just an irritant but not worth doing something about.

*If your supervisor increases the amount he is keeping, would you still stay or would that be reason enough to quit? (What amount would be the “tipping point” that would make you say it was too much?)

*Overall, is your work situation so good that even though you might be able to find a job where all tips would go to you, you would rather stay where you are?

*As Dr. Gorden suggests, perhaps talking to other caddies, especially those at other clubs, would be a way to find out what is the norm in your area.

*Given your experience, are there other places you could work, where the tipping situation would be handled more fairly? If you decide to find another caddie position, you would probably need to do it quietly and come up with a plausible reason, since I’ve been told that Caddie Masters have their own network and can encourage or squelch job moves.

*If you prefer to not have an awkward situation, you may have to just tolerate the situation (especially if it’s not an illegal one). I wouldn’t want you to jeopardize a source of income, if you don’t have a better option.  However, I agree with you that it doesn’t seem reasonable or fair, no matter how nice the boss is.

Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how it works out.–Tina Lewis Rowe