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Should City of Vancouver employees be allowed to accept tips when working as bartenders?

One petitioner is asking the city to allow bartenders working at civic venues to accept tips.
Tipping stock image
Bartenders who work for the City of Vancouver at local theatres can't accept tips and here's why.

It is against City of Vancouver policy for staff to accept gifts or cash (including gift cards). This includes employees working in the Vancouver Civic Theatres division as bartenders.

That means, no tips.

This policy doesn't sit well with one Vancouverite, Faye Kiemele, who has started a petition to demand the city allow Vancouver Civic Theatres employees to accept tips.

"I attended a concert at the Orpheum on July 18, and I waited in a giant lineup on the second floor for drinks. The lineup was moving, but as I got closer to the bartenders (four of them) I realized that they kept having to tell people they couldn’t accept cash, and they don’t take tips, over and over again," she tells Vancouver Is Awesome. "People were continually cancelling their transactions because they thought that they had missed the tip option, and that’s just unfair to everyone. I have worked in the industry for years. People want to tip bartenders and servers when they see them working hard, and bartenders deserve tips."

She feels that the policy is "punitive and gross" especially given the high cost of living in Vancouver, and launched the online petition as a result. 

Kiemele believes that if people want to tip they should be allowed to. "I think not allowing employees to make tips (which is industry standard everywhere) flies in the face of the city claiming to want to make this a more affordable city," she says.

As of now, the response to the petition has been quiet. At the time of publishing, it only has 57 of 100 signatures, but Kiemele says she plans to present the petition to the city eventually.

What does the city have to say?

V.I.A. reached out to the city for a comment and a spokesperson responded by saying that the policy applies to all City of Vancouver staff and that Vancouver Civic Theatres is a proud living wage employer that strives to provide significant working hours for their staff.

"In addition, we make every effort to provide an exceptional audience experience and recognize that patrons support arts and culture significantly through their purchase of tickets, merchandise, concessions, parking, etc. To provide as seamless a process as possible, the VCT is a cashless environment and signs are posted to inform patrons that we do not accept tips."

The city adds that with the amount of staff working various audience service positions across all their venues—approximately 40 staff for a Queen Elizabeth Theatre or Orpheum show, 11 for Playhouse and five for Annex—it would be difficult to equally distribute tips.

The card machines used at Vancouver Civic Theatres are capable of accepting tips but the city confirms that the function was disabled a couple of years ago.

Kiemele argues that the city's living wage argument doesn't make much difference in a city as expensive as Vancouver. “It feels like the city is saying because the theatre employees are making a living wage, they don’t deserve tips. Which I think is gross," she says. "Lowly bartenders only deserve to make what we have deemed is the bare minimum to live in their city… no more, even if it’s money freely given."

She asserts that she thinks tips should be allowed since it's the patron's money and not the city's and the people who don't want to tip don't have to.

Is blocking tips legal?

Vancouver lawyer Kyla Lee says there is nothing unlawful about the city's policy since "an employer can put any reasonable workplace policy in place, including that employees cannot accept tips" but there is a way that bartenders could be allowed to accept tips should they choose to negotiate it.

She says, "it seems like the City of Vancouver employees are members of the union, and so this is something that could be negotiated as a change in employment terms through the collective bargaining process."

It is her professional opinion, however, that the city’s rationale is sound and “grounded in equity between employee classes and the complexities associated with tipping out given the size of the organization, which from a legal perspective would justify the existence of the policy.”

If the city was somehow withholding tips that were collected through card machines that would be another story but simply preventing tipping from occurring is not in itself an offence - though it may be upsetting to some people.