In this scenario, the fact that you’re putting yourself through school is morally irrelevant. Your need for the money doesn’t affect your coworker or the customer’s rights and expectations. The question in this scenario is one of Justice. It’s about respecting the will of others and our agreements with them.
The person whose will must be given the most respect in this scenario is the person paying the bill. Because the tip is a gratuity, it is entirely up to the customer to decide how much money is given and to whom it is distributed. When you accept the tip with that qualification, you have entered into a tacit agreement with the customer as to who will receive the tip. However, a Justice relationship is also generated by your agreement with your coworker. So, the primary question is how to approach these two (seemingly conflicting) issues of Justice.
The fact that you truly worked more than your coworker and deserve some of the tip yourself has to be balanced against the agreement with your coworker. Maybe that agreement was based on the awareness that the coworker would help you in similar circumstances. Whatever it was based on, the fact remains that agreements must be kept.
A person with authority in the matter (e.g., the restaurant’s manager or a higher authority such as a hotel manager) could perform an equitable judgment about the agreement. It is appropriate in cases of doubt and potential tension to bring the matter to the attention of the person in charge of both coworkers because she is responsible for maintaining a good and friendly atmosphere in the workplace.
Special Circumstances to Consider:
- The existence of official policies that prohibit that kind of agreement between coworkers
- The fact the coworker has done the same thing for you other times, giving you the entire tip, or the fact that you have a ongoing agreement with her about helping one another this way
Read Fulvio Di Blasi’s full bio here.