The claimant was an employee of a cleaning company and until June last year worked as a so-called “sitter” at a large shopping center in Oberhausen. Her principal duties were to supervise the collection plate in the entrance area of the public restrooms where those using the facilities could voluntarily leave a small amount of money on entry or exit, and in the traditional manner to look both needy and faintly threatening at the same time. She was not assigned any actual cleaning duties but she was not allowed to disclose this fact to the restroom visitors – if anyone asked who got the money left on the collection plate, she was supposed to say that it was used to finance her job position, amongst other things. However, signs to that effect in the restroom facilities were later removed and there was no record that anyone had asked the question.
As a “sitter,” she received an hourly wage of € 5.20. She was supposed to accept gratefully any money left on the collection plate, but then regularly remove the money from the plate except for the scant few coins necessary to create the moral pressure on visitors to add more. It then had to be given to the cleaning company.
The claimant had filed suit against the cleaning company because she wanted a share in the collection plate earnings. She argued that she and her colleagues were entitled to the revenue generated through the collection plate because visitors were allowed to believe that their voluntary tip would go to the cleaning and supervisory personnel. The claimant estimated that several hundred Euros on normal days and several thousand Euros on peak shopping days (can you imagine the queues?) were generated through the collection plate. She therefore demanded from her employer detailed information on those earnings and her share in such earnings.
The cleaning company contested that the money left on the collection plate was really a tip. It said it was a “voluntary user fee” used in part to finance the restroom personnel. It therefore refused to provide that information.
The Labour Court in Gelsenkirchen has now confirmed the view of the claimant. The employer was ordered to provide information on the amount of money left on the plate. According to the Court, the claimant had a claim for payment against the cleaning company, though the amount is still uncertain. The Court determined that based on the overall circumstances the visitors’ likely understanding would be that the money was a tip for the restroom personnel and not a “voluntary user fee” or other subsidy for the employer. As a result, the restroom staff would be entitled to share between themselves the tips received and the employer was not entitled to use them to defray its costs of employing them unless and until it made clear to restroom visitors that this was where their loose change was going.