I volunteered at an event. It wasn't my expectation to get paid. However, at the beginning of the event the person doing the "training" said any tips we make, we pool together and divide at the end. I was working in a team of two other people selling beverages. Some customers insisted on tipping (for example they walked away from their change saying "keep it as a tip"). The girls I worked with said they thought we weren't supposed to take tips, and I told them I thought we were. There was no way of contacting anyone in charge to confirm, we were by ourselves.

All of a sudden the lady in charge came up to us and told me specifically I was done my shift. I went to get the tip jar to count how much was there and she spoke to me as if I was stealing money. I told her this was our tips. She said we weren't supposed to have them, and I said the person who gave me the orientation said we were. She then said the tips are going to charity.

I told her this should have been communicated to me in advance and that other people were doing this too, and she said "sorry it wasn't made clear". At this point I left.

I felt a bit of a moral dilemma. The owner of the money intended me to have it, not go into the pockets of some company. On the other hand, I know some service jobs specifically tell their employees not to accept tips.

Was there anything I could have done differently? Should I have let her keep the tips or should I have told her she's stealing them? Is there anything I can do after the fact, such as post on social media or email her manager?

A few general observations: the work it self seemed very serious for an unpaid volunteer position, for example the manager told people not to lean on the table. The shifts were 7.5 hours with no break. A lot of this information was not communicated before hand. Also everyone but me was given a credit card reader to attach to their personal phone to accept payment card, and I thought this was strange if they were just random volunteers too.

Update: I emailed the volunteer coordinator with my concerns. She said the tips were to go to the paid staff or the event itself which she claims is non-profit. I'm unaware of any way of verifying whether or not an organization that claims to be non-profit actually is? I've done volunteer work before but what stinks is this event clearly had a large source of revenue.

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    Was this a charity event? Do you have ways to check if the tips indeed went to charity? Are you working at the organizing company? Do you know or work with the people in charge? Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 11:35
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    What location is this? Usually it’s fine that the company keeps the tips. However some countries have laws in place that say the staff get the tips
    – Twyxz
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 11:37
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    @Twyxz I hadn't even thought but I looked it up and it is illegal for an employer to do that where I live; employers have no jurisdiction over tips. However, this is volunteer work so I don't think it's covered.
    – Turgometer
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 11:46
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    @Turgometer volunteer work also goes hand-in-hand with charity work, usually. If the person doing the training came from the event itself, It could be the person doing the training wasn't really clued in on the charity aspect or accidentally went into 'commercial' mode. Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 12:03
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    Is this really a workplace question if it is volunteering (unpayed) at an event and for an organization that has nothing to do with your “day job”? A charity organization of course can have a payed staff and that is a workplace.
    – Damila
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 18:44

3 Answers 3


It sounds a bit dodgy.

Film festivals can both be organized by charities or by other, private entities.

If it is a charity you should be able to get the information of whether or not they donated anything from this event.

The books should be more openly available than from private entities.

Now, you probably won't be able to verify the amount of tips and if anything was skimmed off, even if they donated them or some.

However for charities there are controlling bodies and you could inform those about your experience and concerns.

If it was a privately organized event you still may voice your concerns to governmental health and safety or worker oversight bodies.

There may have been other violations such as no break, no direct emergency contacts on site or security concerns with credit card readers hooked up to private phones.

Chalk it up as lessons learned.
Next time prepare a list of important questions to ask before you volunteer.

  1. If this was work done for a normal for-profit company, I think it would violate the minimum wage laws which to my knowledge exist in every Canadian province. (IANAL though)

Keep in mind: doing work for free is fundamentally unsocial. You are in a privileged position to offer some parts of your time for free. Not everyone can afford that. Others (students, poorly educated people etc.) may depend on these kinds of jobs. They can´t compete with your zero rate offer! (One exception: Work for a cause that is essentially unprofitable in a capitalistic sense: Charity, communal work etc.)

  1. Tips are a gift from the customer to you / the entire staff. Taking the tips from you is essentially stealing. If the staff unanimously decides to donate tonight´s tips, fine. Put up a sign for the customers or a tip-jar with the name of the charity, so they know what they are giving for. If not, this is a big nogo!
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    The idea that people should refuse to help other people so that the people who would have been helped then have to hire someone, is absurd. And telling people that they're bad people if they don't adopt your absurd worldview is worse. Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 16:15
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    I wouldn't have volunteered if I knew the organization was making money. That's why I'm mad about this.
    – Turgometer
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 22:17
  • "doing work for free is fundamentally unsocial" some people believe it's necessary to gain the work experience before getting hired for a paid position (like an unpaid internship). However in Canada this would be illegal (though to my understanding it's common in the US?)
    – Turgometer
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 22:23
  • @Acccumulation: Classifying work for a commercial enterprise as "helping people" is absurd. If it´s the business model of that enterprise to organize events, and the events need catering than they surly would pay staff to do it. If they can´t afford that, their business model is fundamentally wrong and they should not be doing it!
    – Daniel
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 8:45
  • @Turgometer It's legal if its a nonprofit. Or if it's done for college credit, and a bunch of other requirements are met. Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 16:09

In one of your comments you mention:

it was a film festival so I don't consider this a charity

Frankly it doesn't really matter what you consider to be a charity, what matters is what your local and national government considers to be a charity. A charity need not be an organization dedicated to raising money for the poor or the sick. It might be an organization to promote some other public good, but not with the goal of making a profit. Some film festivals are for-profit and some are non-profit. The for-profit ones would typically not be allowed to use volunteer labor. The non-profit ones will usually have some government oversight making sure that all the money raised is going to advance the declared public good, and not to line some organizer's pocket. It costs money to put on even a non-profit film festival and the sale of food and drink is often one of the ways that money is raised. There may even be local regulations saying that volunteers cannot received tips because all the money brought in is supposed to go back to putting on the event.

It's unfortunate that you received conflicting directions about receiving tips, and it would be an excellent idea to let the organizers know about the confusion so they can create a clear policy about tips. However, at the end of the day, you volunteered to do the work, so you should have had no expectation of receiving a benefit, other than the experience. Only volunteer for organizations who's goals you support and that you trust to be above board.

  • While I did volunteer with the understanding I wouldn't get paid, there's a certain level of unfairness of some people being allowed to keep tips and others not. Not just to the volunteers but the people giving the tips.
    – Turgometer
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 21:35

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