McDonald's Employees Can't Accept Tips — But That May Soon Change In Colorado

McDonald's workers in Colorado may be allowed to accept tips in the near future. In the past, tips have mostly been reserved for sit-down restaurant servers and waiters who receive less hourly. In fact, the Department of Labor has codified into law the fact that these hypothetical tips can be used to offset the minimum wage, so a restaurant server's actual salary may be no more than $2.13 an hour. 

Fast food employees, however, are usually paid at least minimum wage as they're not considered tipped workers. While some fast food chains like Starbucks and Five Guys allow employee tips, McDonald's isn't one of them. In fact, it has a policy forbidding employees from accepting tips, even unasked-for ones. 

In the state of Colorado, though, a new law may circumvent such a ban. According to a summary of proposed House Bill 23-1146, employers like McDonald's and Walmart would be "prohibit[ed] ... from taking adverse action against an employee who accepts a cash gratuity offered by a patron of the business." It doesn't mean that McDonald's will necessarily encourage tipping or modify its payment interface to prompt for gratuities, but if you do feel like slipping a few bucks to your counter server, at least they won't be fired if they don't turn down the cash.

Will the employees actually get the tips, though?

The bill's sponsor, Representative Alex Valdez, D-Denver, told Colorado Politics that the proposed law is meant to help out low-wage earners. He said, "We need to get back to being a society that encourages good service and good work."

However, to what extent will it actually do so? When you're tipping at a fast-food restaurant, there's a chance that the entire gratuity won't wind up in the tipped employee's pocket. At Subway, a restaurant chain that does permit tipping, disbursing the tips is decided by franchise owners. Instead of that extra-friendly sandwich artist getting the entire $5 you tipped, it's possible that all tips received at the restaurant will be pooled and divvied up among the employees.

If Colorado's new law ever goes into effect, it won't stipulate how much of the tip any given McDonald's employee is allowed to keep. In fact, it's spelled out in the wording of the bill that employers are not prohibited from "shar[ing] or allocat[ing] the gratuity on a pre-established basis among the employees." Nothing is said about what that "pre-established basis" can or cannot be, either, although the Department of Labor's Fair Labor Standards Act does stipulate that tips cannot go directly into company coffers. This means that at least some portion of every tip you give will help offset fast food minimum wages, although your good deed may wind up benefiting multiple workers instead of just the one you interacted with.