I am all about giving the devil his due. I feel that people in service industries deserve proper compensation for their efforts. For such people, hair sytlists, masseurs, wait staff, newspaper delivery staff, etc., I assess a reasonable range for a tip based on service and disburse a tip on the high end of that range, wherever applicable.
A point of ambiguity for me was always the US mail carrier. For years, I have gotten mixed answers about whether a tip would be appropriate for mail carrier. What complicates this for me, every year, is hearing that the carrier in my parents’ town leaves an envelope in their mailbox around holiday time, presumably to solicit a tip.
I first consulted Emily Post, which is usually a good resource for the proper thing to do. From this webpage, the rules for mail carrier tipping are rather involved and are extremely specific:
Mail carriers working for the United States Postal Service are allowed to accept the following items during the holiday season:
- Snacks and beverages or perishable gifts that are not part of a meal.
- Small gifts that have little intrinsic value (travel mugs, hand warmers, etc…) and are clearly no more than $20 in value.
- Perishable items clearly worth more (large fruit baskets or cookie tins) must be shared with the entire branch.
Mail carriers working for the United States Postal Service may not accept the following:
- Cash gifts, checks, gift cards, or any other form of currency.
I corroborated these rules by calling two local postmasters in the capital region. They both cited the above rules almost verbatim.
Let’s stop here and break it down into plain english. In a perfect world, where people get all of their mail on time and are gracious and eager enough to tip and where the mail carriers get compensated for their job in the form of federal salary and benefits, the best you can do for your mail carrier is purchase/bake a tangible item that cannot be cash or be valued as cash. I don’t want to say you shouldn’t bother rewarding the mail carrier, but, unless you have a specific bond with the carrier, finding such a gift that would be appreciated could be difficult. Let’s also agree that a mail carrier providing an envelope is wrong. Since they are not allowed to accept cash gifts, they should not be soliciting cash gifts.
I additionally sought to get an idea of how people deal with and feel about the situation locally, so (full disclosure) I submitted it as a topic to Kristi Gustafson’s “On the Edge” blog, which she posted as one of her “A Reader Asks” features, in which other Times Union blog readers can chime in with their opinions. This has turned into an interesting social experiment indeed…
Through the various forms of social media (mainly twitter and sometimes facebook, since we have still yet to meet in person!), I joke with Kristi about how easily her readers go off topic. Some people provided very good insight, but, as you can see from the comments at the above link, other people really went in all different directions with this question. I’d like to, without getting too specific, summarize and react to a few of the off topic responses.
- Some people commented on how their newspaper carrier left an envelope for a tip. Sorry people, I get it, it’s a newspaper blog, you want the people writing the blog to know you’re buying their paper, but the question said nothing about tipping your newspaper carrier. If you get your paper in excellent condition on time every day, of course you’re supposed to; they’re not federal employees…
- Other people used it as a forum to complain about their mail carrier and why they wouldn’t deserve tips. Fair enough, but the question was supposed to be a little universal in already assuming the carrier does their job well and deserves a tip.
- (Sorry this one is specific, but…) One dude called another woman “ignorant.” Classic!
- Some people felt the need to remind everyone that the USPS delivers in all weather. I’m sorry, but at some point, the choice to perform a job is the responsibility of the individual. I don’t go to my mail carrier’s house and make them go out and deliver mail; nobody does. It is a free country and that is the profession the person has chosen, in good and in bad. I have plenty of complaints about the profession that I have chosen, but I would never say “you know what, i deserve to be compensated specifically from my customers because I deal with hazardous chemicals every day.” This is why working professionals are given a salary; in exchange for your choice to work every day, you get paid.
- There were people accusing others of being cheap for not wanting to tip the mail carrier. So why not just tip everybody, then? Am I being cheap when I don’t tip the guy at the deli counter at Price Chopper?
All in all, getting to the bottom of this has been a lot of fun. It’s great to see what people think once you get into their emotions. People say the darndest things…
As for the matter of tipping the mail carrier, tangible items (no cash/gift cards) under $20 are ok. So stick to that, and nobody is breaking the law.
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