Tipping etiquette
April 25, 2014 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Am I supposed to tip the housekeeper every time?

I use a small local housecleaning service and have been using them since 2006. I get the same cleaner every time and overall, I’ve been happy with them. I’m of the belief that no one is going to clean your home to perfection but I’m willing to outsource this task and lower my expectations somewhat.

I moved at the end of last year and was assigned a new cleaner. On Monday, the cleaner asked me if I knew anyone who needed their house cleaned. I told her I did not and she told me that she wasn’t being paid enough and that she wasn’t getting tips. That she worked all day the prior Saturday and only one client tipped her. Needless to say, this made me a little uncomfortable because I don’t tip every cleaning either. I tip at Christmas and usually give 2x the biweekly rate.

Was she trying to suggest that I should be tipping her every cleaning? My husband says yes and that I should tip her every cleaning. He suggested that I have a conversation with her that I’ll start tipping her and stop overlooking the little things that are being missed. He also suggested that the Christmas tip should be lowered as a result.

I want to call her employer and request a new cleaner. I think that her suggesting a tip was inappropriate and that if she has a problem with her wages, then that’s a conversation she should have with her employer and not with the clients. I don’t want to have the conversation with her that my husband suggests. If she worked directly for me, then sure. But since I’m paying a service, I think they should handle this.

A third option is to leave it alone and just do what I’ve been doing. If she’s unhappy with her pay, then I suspect she’ll quit and I’ll get a new cleaner anyways.

What’s the appropriate course of action here?
posted by mamaquita to Work & Money (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If your mode is once a year, let her know that is your intention if the work is satisfactory. She can take it or leave it.

Your conversation about tips should be with her, not with the service.
posted by HuronBob at 9:29 AM on April 25, 2014

i would request a new cleaner from the service (telling them the reasons why would be your decision) and be done with it.
posted by Hanuman1960 at 9:32 AM on April 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

I tip once a year and give it directly to the owner, so she can pool tips and distribute to all the staff. We don't have the same people every time. I could not afford to tip twice a month (or the amount would be so small as to be inconsequential). I think you should speak to the owner as well about the hinting for tips - that is inappropriate and could inadvertently reflect badly on her business.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 9:33 AM on April 25, 2014

No. Housekeepers are amongst the group that get a yearly tip. An every-time tip is equivalent to raising the basic price of the service. I agree that it was inappropriate for her to "suggest" that you tip her every time.

I'd tell the service to relay to her that she can expect a Christmas tip, but no more. That kills two birds in one stone.
posted by Dashy at 9:35 AM on April 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

As someone who has used cleaners for years, both through services and as independent contractors, I have never had a single person request a tip. I also changed cleaners if I was not happy with the standard of cleaning. You should not have to "lower your expectations," unless you have Howard Hughes levels of cleanliness expectations. I give an Xmas tip of 1x a visit directly to the owner.

I would absolutely request a new cleaner, letting them know she is not doing as good a job as you wish (provide specifics), and because the entire point of using a service is that you don't have to worry about wages, bonuses, and negotiating the financials of the relationship. If you have issues with the second cleaner they send, try a different service, as this one may be underpaying, resulting in not-very-motivated workers. However, that is hard to tell from just one worker. Give the owner a chance to make it right, and then move on if you are not satisfied.
posted by Atrahasis at 9:36 AM on April 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

*shrug* I tip my housekeeper every time. I figure it's highly likely she's getting somewhat underpaid by the service, and I can afford it.

BUT. I am certain I'm in the minority of the ppl she cleans for. I think you are fine.
posted by gaspode at 9:37 AM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used to tip every time, but the service I used would sometimes send different cleaners and there was no way to know if a cleaner would still be employed with them by Christmas.

I think if you employ a housecleaner directly, the once-a-year tip/bonus is fine because it's mostly up to you whether she's still around in a year. But if you go through a service, you should tip a small amount every time instead of (not in addition to) a yearly tip because you have no idea if that person will still be working for the service or still assigned to your house at the end of the year.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:44 AM on April 25, 2014

We give a generous annual tip, but we don't tip every visit. We use a very small, local company that employs only 5 long-time employees. Tips are not expected.

We have the same, fabulous housekeeper every visit. If we used a service that sent someone new each time, I might be tempted to tip each cleaning. (Of course, I'd also boot out that service since I prefer to have a housekeeper I know and trust.)
posted by 26.2 at 9:45 AM on April 25, 2014

The people employed by housekeeping services are generally making minimum wage, and it is an industry well known for wage theft. Cleaners generally are required to arrive super early in the morning, wait around and then they get their assignments for the day. The waiting around time is also not paid. Then in the evening they are often required to do more unpaid waiting around before going home, if only because they are carpooling home with another cleaner.

House cleaning is hard hard work, but doing a good job is still part of the deal. If you're using a service that tolerates less than optimal results, and has employees that are bold/desperate enough to complain about a lack of tips, it's probably time to switch services, rather than request a different employee. You really want someone in your home who feels respected and cared for. And while some of that is your responsibility, the company definitely has a hand in it.

(Eons ago, I had a cleaning lady. She originally came to me through a service. I liked her so much that when she struck out on her own, I kept her instead of the service. I tipped her nearly every visit. Sometimes in cash, and sometimes in homemade food, which she loved since she didn't have enough time to cook. Not every cleaning person will want a food tip. YMMV.)
posted by bilabial at 9:49 AM on April 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

Annual tip at Christmas, or a little extra if they're cleaning up after a Bacchanalia.

Ask around and start trying to find another cleaner. That shit is sly and creepy.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:54 AM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Wow it never occurred to me not to tip every time. I'm not saying this as a you should be tipping every-time, but just that I always have and that I assumed that was normal. I know they seemed to appreciate it, my girlfriend would shoot the shit with them and they would go the extra mile for us. It was 80 for the service and we'd tip 10 per person for 2 hours of work so 20 extra. I just figured that was the cost of using a service given the wage-theft mentioned above. We never had trouble getting the standard we wanted though.
posted by Carillon at 10:04 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another data point. Our family cleaner, who cleaned weekly for years, received cash weekly, tokens for transportation every week, and a Christmas tip of 2 x her daily rate, and 2 weeks paid vacation. We also paid into her Social Security, which her other long-time employers did not. When she retired at 70, we discovered that we were the only employers who contributed to Social Security, so had she not been a thrifty person who saved, she might have had a precarious retirement.

When my mother died and left a modest estate, I gave her $2000 as a thank you from my mom. She had been my family's cleaner for nearly 50 years, and I felt my mom would have wanted her to receive that small legacy.

I think the conversation about a tip sounds manipulative, but I would still want to think carefully about how she is being treated by the agency, and not jump to conclusions. It is possible she is being paid a miserable wage by the agency and really depends on tips, and a few dollars at the lowest ends of the economy is much more meaningful than at higher income levels. A conversation with her without an overtly accusitive or defensive slant could be important.

This is totally unrelated to the quality of her work, which I agree needs to be up to your standards, unless you are an OCD germophobe.
posted by citygirl at 10:37 AM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm of the opinion that a housekeeper is like staff or an employee you have an ongoing relationship with, not like a waiter where your interaction with them is in discrete transactions. So they should get an annual bonus / extra payment, not a regular tip. (Which I give directly to the people who clean that week. I that realize might screw the people who happen to not work that week, but I'm definitely not giving the company managers an opportunity to skim or just outright steal it.)

I think the fishing for extra pay by your cleaning person is pretty unfortunate, although I guess if the service is paying them really crappily maybe they don't have a better option.

It really comes down to how much of a deal you think you're getting. Is the service you're using cheaper than other comparable services in your area? Do you have reason to suspect that the people you're having clean your house are not getting a decent wage? If so, given that there aren't many other inputs to a cleaning service besides salaries, they're probably underpaying their people and maybe you should think about giving the difference directly to the cleaning person.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:43 AM on April 25, 2014

Since reading Nickel and Dimed and discovering just how little people who clean houses as employees of a larger company earn, I have always tipped them. In my eyes it's the same idea as tipping a hairdresser. If somebody has their own business and keeps 100% of the money you pay them to clean the house, that's one thing, but if they're an employee they are receiving a very small percentage of what you actually pay to their employer.
posted by something something at 10:51 AM on April 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

I used to help my sister when she was a cleaner, and when I had cleaners, I tipped every visit. I know that in some circumstances, a tip at Christmas is traditional, and I do so, but I always wonder -- what if the person works there until November and then leaves for some reason? The person that comes in for 1 month gets a whole year's tip and the other person gets nothing?
posted by amarynth at 11:17 AM on April 25, 2014

The trouble with annual tipping in this arrangement is that you already know you haven't had the same person come the whole time you've been using this service. I think Christmas tips used to be traditional for a lot of things, but I've kind of come to the conclusion that in this day and age, when people in low-level jobs move around a lot more, it turns into basically a game of musical chairs where the people who have the right set of clients at Christmastime get a nice bonus but that may not be in any way related to the set of people who actually did the best work over the course of the year... even for the people who happen to give the good tips. If you knew you were going to have the same cleaner for the next decade, annual tipping wouldn't be at all unreasonable, but the job market doesn't work that way anymore.

I don't think it's precisely conventional to tip every time, but if I were in your position, I would. I don't think her way of bringing it up was precisely polite, but I think outsourcing this task is only ethical if you're actually doing what you can to make sure that the people doing the work are earning a living wage for doing it, and while I don't have such help consistently, I've made an effort to really live that ethic.
posted by Sequence at 11:22 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

On Monday, the cleaner asked me if I knew anyone who needed their house cleaned. I told her I did not and she told me that she wasn’t being paid enough and that she wasn’t getting tips.
Whether or not you should tip her per visit is not the issue here. If she works for a service, she probably shouldn't be soliciting side business for herself while on the job. Unless she's promoting the company she works for and gets some sort of bonus for getting new clients to sign on, but that doesn't sound like the case here. She's fairly new to you and asking you outright not only to help her circumvent company policy, but also (in a roundabout way) soliciting tips. Quite frankly, those are two traits that would make a person seem a bit shady and I would call the company and request a new cleaner. I would also state exactly why you were making the request.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:28 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I never know when to tip or not, so I always read these threads with interest. I'm a little surprised by the overall sentiment in this thread, because this seemed to me analogous to situations like tipping a salon worker who isn't the owner (which apparently you are supposed to do). I also learned here that you're supposed to tip hotel housecleaning staff, which I had no idea about originally. So to be honest, not tipping this employee of a service that probably pays her minimum wage seems a little inconsistent. (On the other hand, if she were working independently it would make perfect sense.)

Also, cleaning really is physically harder, less pleasant, and probably often lonelier and more looked-down-on than a lot of the other things we tip for automatically. And it really is hard to get by even on a fair amount more than minimum wage. So I'd at minimum give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that her asking was either out of serious need or -- another thing that comes up here a lot -- a manifestation of Ask-culturedness. (And the idea that she should have brought this up with her employer seems strange to me -- there's a pretty serious power imbalance there.) I really would not report her to her employer. Whether to start tipping or not seems to me an open question. I think if I could afford it easily I would do it.

On preview: why on earth should she not look for business on the side? It's about as pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps a thing to do as possible. If she's not supposed to be getting tips, and she can't start looking for clients to employ her independently, how is she supposed to start making a decent wage? Build up a buffer on her sizeable salary so that she can first honorably quit and only then look around? I think this really deserves the benefit of the doubt.
posted by egg drop at 11:35 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wait maybe she meant by not getting her tips did she mean that the company was taking her tips? Because that's a different issue and would definitely mean that you shouldn't use the service.
posted by Carillon at 11:41 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think part of this is about how carefully you've screened your cleaning company. I'm pretty meticulous about this. Are the cleaners employees or day labor? Do they have benefits? Am I paying their SS or is the cleaning company? What is the expectation regarding tipping? Same thing with any other company who provides services at your home - painters, landscaping.

It's not the most comfortable conversation, but you need to clarify that stuff with the business owner before you hire. It's worth a minute of your time to confirm it when the workers show up. If there's even a hint of suspicion that the company you've hired is engaged in wage theft or tip theft, then you need to fire them. My takeaway from Nickel and Dimed wasn't only that service workers depend on tips (I knew that from my own experience supporting a family on tips!) My takeaway was that as someone who managed to get on the high side of the wage curve, I was accountable for making sure I didn't contribute to the exploitation of workers who had no options.

In your case, I'd follow through with what you indicated is your preference. "I want to call her employer and request a new cleaner." I'd also ask about the tipping policy and whether tips are pooled or given directly to the cleaner.
posted by 26.2 at 11:42 AM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

That's really unprofessional to ask for a tip.

A tip should be voluntary and a reward for good service. It's up to you, the customer, whether she did a good enough job to tip every time, or if you'll just give a huge bonus at Christmastime, or whatever.

As soon as I became aware that "subminimum wage" is actually legal to do toward wait staff (what? that kind of makes a tip an involuntary thing...), I started tipping a lot better in restaurants, but for other things I still view a tip as being at the customer's discretion.

I'd mention this to the service and request a different cleaner. Your current cleaner mentioning how long she had to work and that her other clients hadn't tipped her may well be her blowing off some steam, but still, it put you in an uncomfortable position by effectively asking for a tip with a sob story. It's highly unprofessional.
posted by tckma at 12:19 PM on April 25, 2014

This is a poorly paid woman doing a crappy job and probably being screwed royally while doing it. By all means, if you are unhappy with the service, make a change - but do not say anything that will get her in trouble, and do not just change cleaners: change agencies. Change to one with ethical practices that pays employees a living wage.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:35 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I wanted to chime back in, I used cleaners who were their own employers and I paid them $20 per hour. This was 10-20 years ago.

So I didn't feel that I was underpaying.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:03 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

On preview: why on earth should she not look for business on the side? It's about as pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps a thing to do as possible.
It's all about business ethics. You can look for side work, many folks in all pay brackets do, but you don't solicit a customer of your current employer for such. Odds are word will get back to your boss. If the employee who's doing the soliciting doesn't care whether or not Boss hears about her indiscretion, then that could be a red flag about her overall work ethic. I've read Nickel and Dimed, I know that folks working for cleaning services get screwed, but does that make it OK to violate company policy? I'm just suggesting that someone who is so nonchalant about breaking rules might not be the most trustworthy person to have dusting your valuables.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:05 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone for your input. I really do appreciate it.

I also want to clarify a few things. I've been using this service since 2006. It is a small company that only services a few neighborhoods in this city. They have a good reputation. Based on my experience with them, they do not seem to have high turnover. I get the same cleaner every time and since 2006, this is my third cleaner. When the first person left, she actually gave them notice and they in turn notified me. I tipped the Christmas amount on her last day with me. When I moved in September last year, I tipped that cleaner the Christmas amount the last time she cleaned because I didn't know how long it would take to get settled to restart my regular service and I didn't know if scheduling would give me the same person.

I ended up speaking with one of the owners and I will be getting a new cleaner. I'm not unhappy with the company overall, just not pleased with this recent interaction.
posted by mamaquita at 1:21 PM on April 25, 2014

I pay every time and don't pay at Christmas.

Every two weeks we pay $85 for an hour and 20 minutes for two people and I add $20 to that.

Also, though, the service we chose promises that they pay healthcare and a living wage- they're some sort of co-op or something.

Every Christmas the company sends around pleas for tips for their employees and it annoys the heck out of me I ignore it.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:24 PM on April 25, 2014

"I've read Nickel and Dimed, I know that folks working for cleaning services get screwed, but does that make it OK to violate company policy? "

Uh, yes? Or rather, it means that being bound by company policy is not your concern and that the worker should usually be given the benefit of the doubt.

In any event, I've always tipped the cleaners then, but usually 1) I know them outside of cleaning, and 2) the cleaning is irregular and infrequent.
posted by klangklangston at 3:57 PM on April 25, 2014

I know that folks working for cleaning services get screwed, but does that make it OK to violate company policy?

posted by Kadin2048 at 4:12 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't have any problem with the idea of violating company policy, but I don't accept the woman's implication that you should pay more because the company's taking advantage of her. It would be fine to say to any cleaner, "I'm paying _____ to your employer and that's all I'm willing to pay."

I'm sure the agency was aware your dissatisfied employee wanted more money. I think it's fine that you asked for someone else.
posted by wryly at 6:08 PM on April 25, 2014

I think it's rude and bad service to ask for tips. If it's not worth her time, she can ask to work a different house or do a different job.

I tip my housecleaner once a year. A holiday bonus worth one or two cleanings. It would come to $1-$3 per cleaning if I spread it out over the year, and that would make no sense whatsoever.

On the other hand, my cleaner is self employed and sets her own rates so maybe it's different from working with a company. She is not an employee though (I don't pay payroll taxes) and she has her own company that is licensed and bonded.
posted by ethidda at 9:37 AM on April 26, 2014

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