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Can my employer make me work for free for past Metrocards? [NYC-Filter]
July 16, 2014 7:39 AM   Subscribe

I recently gave notice at my job, after having received Metrocards in advance. The HR department says because of the Metrocards, I still have to keep working until my resignation date, but won't get a final paycheck and will owe them money afterwards. Is this either legal or normal? What should I do? Details inside.

Per the terms of the initial agreement on the Metrocards, from what I recall, HR was supposed to deduct an equal amount from each paycheck in order to pay for these cards. I received a 3 month supply of unlimiteds on June 1 and have been using them, while getting regular deductions from my check. Now HR is saying that those cards were supposed to be for July, the deductions for June don't count, and I need to either give back the metrocards (Which I can't do, because I used them) or pay them more than my final check was anticipated to be worth.

What do I do? I've never been in this situation and find it very frustrating.
posted by corb to Work & Money (60 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
If the deductions for June "don't count", presumably they will be returning that money to you? Does that make things wash?
posted by Rock Steady at 7:41 AM on July 16


It's obviously gonna vary by employer, but you should have signed an agreement to authorize this benefit, and the agreement should contain these sort of "what if?" details. I'd start by asking HR for a copy of the signed agreement.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 7:44 AM on July 16


And if this is a pre-tax deduction, they absolutely need to have the paperwork on file.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 7:46 AM on July 16


So let me see if I understand this:

You have 1.5 months remaining of transit benefit that have been fronted to you by your employer, that would theoretically be paid for from pre-tax deductions from your paychecks through August. Is that right?

Looking at the Metrocard rates, it seems like the unlimited ride cards cost $112/month. Which means that you have about ~$168 that would have been paid to them from your future paychecks.

Tell them they can deduct $168 as a lump for your transit deduction on your last paycheck, work up to your resignation date and no more while getting paid at your regular pay, and if they balk tell them to get bent.

Your employer is being a shit over $168.
posted by phunniemee at 7:47 AM on July 16 [23 favorites]


Something is a bit odd here:

-You received 3 months of unlt'd cards on 6/1. So I assume that's for the full months of June, July and August. You're only halfway through the July one and you should have an unused August one now that you can give back, is that correct? How did you use up three months worth of unlt'd cards in a month and a half?

-What is happening with the June deductions that don't "count"? They can't just cut money out of your paycheck and disappear it. Either that money needs to go toward whatever it is you owe on Metrocards, or it goes back in your pocket. Either way, they can't just tell you "sorry, never mind" after deducting from your paycheck without reimbursing you in some way.
posted by griphus at 7:50 AM on July 16 [10 favorites]


Wait, so to what have they then applied the deductions that were made in June? Presumably you both have a record of them being made on paystubs/direct deposit slips. What did that pay for? Ask them to show you on their records what deductions paid for what past metrocards, and make sure their numbers match up with yours. If they give you some excuse about how it's been a month backwards since forever and they just didn't realize it, make them prove it. As a nonprofit organization they are required to have expense records, including payroll, going back 7 years in case of an audit.

My instinctive response to this is NO IT'S BAD AND WRONG but the more I think about it the more I feel like there might be a twisted sort of logic to it, I guess? I would definitely start with finding out about the June deductions, though.
posted by elizardbits at 7:50 AM on July 16 [5 favorites]


Yeah if they're deducting anything from your paycheck that isn't taxes, they should legally have a signed agreement from you. First step should be looking at this agreement to see what you agreed to.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:57 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Yeah, especially if this a newish thing going on, and you are in fact getting direct deposit, they should have a signed document from you authorizing the change of funds transfer amount with Paychex or whoever. That document should outline the terms of the payment agreement saying "deductions for metrocard will be made on X date/payment period/whatevs for Y amount applicable to Z month" or similar.
posted by elizardbits at 7:59 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I don't think I ever received a document like that, and I definitely don't remember signing one. From what I remember, the finance guy just asked me what kind of Metrocards I wanted, I told him, and he walked in one day and said "Here are your Metrocards" while I started getting smaller paychecks.
posted by corb at 8:03 AM on July 16


Yeah, I also don't understand. Why did you swipe your August card?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:03 AM on July 16


I mean, in retrospect I probably should have demanded one, but it's kind of a sloppy nonprofit in terms of bookkeeping in other matters, so I figured it was par for the course, and didn't anticipate a sudden demand for several hundred dollars.
posted by corb at 8:04 AM on July 16


Several hundred dollars? Something doesn't make sense here. Assuming you put two weeks in, you owe them $112, for August, or the card.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:06 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Get a full accounting of all cards dispensed and charged for, a one to one matching. Anything you have used you need to pay for, it is up to them to prove definitively that you actually owe them anything.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 8:12 AM on July 16


I get the $55 weekly cards, so they give me 12 at once, which makes it a lot harder to keep track of.

I just talked to the finance guy - he said that they gave me the cards a month early "as a favor", that I was supposed to start using them in July, and so I don't owe for a month and a half, I owe for three months minus one paycheck, which comes out to something like $575.
posted by corb at 8:14 AM on July 16


So either way, shouldn't you have a bunch of unused weekly cards you can return? Were you using different cards concurrently or something? It sounds like you should have at least six weekly cards that weren't used.
posted by griphus at 8:15 AM on July 16 [8 favorites]


I would return as many as possible and tell them you're willing to go to the labor board or equivalent over it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:18 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


No, that's stupid.

I don't know if New York City has special snowflake laws, but the federal 2014 maximum for transit pre-tax deductions is $130 a month. The maximum monthly total your company should be drawing from your paycheck for transit is $130/month.

You need to look at your pay stubs and like Buttons Bellbottom says, do a 1:1 match on what you have received vs. what you've paid for. If you have unused cards (which you should if you received 12 at a time, right?!?) that have not been "paid for" yet, you should just give them back.

You need to take a more active role in this, since it's clear that whomever is doing it at your workplace is not.
posted by phunniemee at 8:19 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Are/were you FLSA exempt (i.e. are/were you salary or hourly)? If you're hourly they could get in a super load of trouble for deducting from your paychecks without your explicit permission, especially if the deductions drive you below minimum wage (which, if they're saying you owe them money, is definitely the case).
posted by shakespeherian at 8:21 AM on July 16


Can you clarify if you're getting these metrocards as a tax-free transit deduction, or if this is just an odd service/benefit your employer offers? It makes a big difference.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:25 AM on July 16


I was told that I was getting these metrocards as a tax-free transit deduction, which is the only reason I was willing to purchase unlimiteds rather than buy per-ride. But if that bit about the maximum amount going down to $130 in 2014 is true - which makes sense, because my husband was cut down based on it - then I'm not sure what has happened. Have they been somehow deducting pre-tax against the law? Or have they been deducting post-tax and buying them on the side? Is there a way to find that out? And is there anything I can check independently?
posted by corb at 8:36 AM on July 16


Is there a way to find that out? And is there anything I can check independently?

Yes, you really need to look at your pay stubs. Your pay stubs will have everything clearly itemized: gross pay, federal and state taxes, any deductions for heath and transit benefits, any deductions for a 401k, etc, etc, etc.

From there it's a simple job of doing the math.
posted by phunniemee at 8:41 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


If you don't get physical pay stubs there should be an online portal you can log in to and see them going back for at least 1 year.
posted by elizardbits at 9:01 AM on July 16


So either way, shouldn't you have a bunch of unused weekly cards you can return?

This is an important detail. To get better help from us, can you answer it?
posted by nacho fries at 9:22 AM on July 16 [7 favorites]


You should be communicating with these people via email and creating a paper trail, not talking to them.
posted by windykites at 9:57 AM on July 16


Get a full accounting of all cards dispensed and charged for from them, a one to one matching. Anything you have used you need to pay for, it is up to them to prove definitively that you actually owe them anything.

Not that they "write it down right now that you happen to ask" but that they have from their records, their system. The tally or listing or expenditures tracking they used to acquire and dispense your tickets every single time, the date deductions were initiated, and matched one to one for the cards used.

Otherwise they are ripe to accusations of skimming of metro cards/funds.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 10:14 AM on July 16


Most companies contract with an outside provider, like WageWorks or one of the other providers for pre-tax metrocards. I haven't heard of any employers administering the program themselves, though I suppose it's not outside the realm of possibility.

It's also weird that they'd give you weekly unlimited cards instead of monthly unlimited cards - that makes no sense, unless your commuting needs would be changing from week to week.

For my wageworks benefit, the money withheld in June pays for the pass ordered and mailed to my apartment in late July, for use on or about August 1. But other than withholding the money and remitting it to wageworks, my employer is not involved in the process.

Something seems not right here. You need to request a full accounting of all cards dispensed and funds withheld.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:38 AM on July 16 [5 favorites]


A 30-day unlimited Metrocard is $112.

This deal makes no sense. How in the world are they arriving at a figure of $575.00?
posted by TryTheTilapia at 11:22 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


- You got three unlimited metrocards.
- You used one metrocard for June.
- You used a second metro card for July.

What happened to the August metrocard?
posted by Spurious at 12:27 PM on July 16


Are you taking express buses? That's the only way I can see that you'd be paying $55 for a 7-day unlimited card. That would be $220 per month, or $550 for 2.5 months, which almost makes the $575 they say you owe make sense.
posted by mgar at 12:34 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Plus it's an extra $1 for each new card you get, if you're not refilling the same card.
posted by mgar at 12:36 PM on July 16


Now HR is saying that those cards were supposed to be for July .... and I need to either give back the metrocards (Which I can't do, because I used them)

This is confusing. How did you use 12 weeks' worth of cards in 6 weeks? And why would HR say 12 weeks' worth of cards were supposed to be for one month?

...they give me 12 at once, which makes it a lot harder to keep track of.

Have you lost some of the cards?
posted by headnsouth at 2:41 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I think I may have lost some of the cards - I'm moving on super short notice and everyone's been throwing things into boxes. So I may have used them, but someone else in my household may just have packed them from the place I keep spare Metrocards.

I'm okay with paying for this, but not okay with being told I need to continue working at below minimum wage (actually, for zero dollars an hour) until my debt is paid off.

An update: I talked to my immediate boss who suggested I print out the relevant statutes about minimum wage and bring them to talk to HR tomorrow.
posted by corb at 3:50 PM on July 16


I talked to my immediate boss who suggested I print out the relevant statutes about minimum wage and bring them to talk to HR tomorrow.

This is a crazy conversation for you to be having. It's irrelevant what the minimum wage laws are if you don't even know what the actual transit balance is in the first place. Figure that out first. Right now you're just working off of what they told you, which really doesn't sound right.

Also, don't let them bully you into working past your end date, period. It's their fault they're managing their transit benefit system like fucksticks in the first place, not yours. They should have a system in place to deal with this when it happens. "Be our indentured servant" is not a system.
posted by phunniemee at 4:02 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


Yeah, your immediate boss is pushing the burden of proof onto you when it is they who need to prove that the deductions they made in June claiming they were for July are suddenly now that you are leaving no longer for July but for something that "doesn't count" instead.
posted by elizardbits at 4:12 PM on July 16


Here's what you need to figure out:

What are the deductions for June for? Was this for a prior order of Metrocards?

You received twelve 7-day unlimited Metrocards, at $55 each? That's the express bus Metrocard and twelve is $660. That's $220 per month. But, that's the post-tax price.

Companies typically deduct a pre-tax amount from your paycheck (that's the whole advantage). You need to look at your paystubs to see what they have deducted from you and how much they have deducted so far.

Distributing Metrocards directly to employees can happen. They can order a bunch through a company like Transitchek using your pre-tax contribution. Did your Metrocards look like what you see on the site or do they look like what you get at the station? Sometimes, there's info printed on the back if the branding isn't different.
posted by vivzan at 4:20 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


New York is an at will state. In the absence of a contract to the contrary you can quit whenever you want (even with a contract it's hard to enforce specific performance). They can bill or sue you for the funds you owe them, if any.
posted by melissasaurus at 4:59 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Why would you be okay paying for this? Do you use express buses? Are those the Metrocards you've been receiving? If so, the math shown here suggests that you have not been paying a pre-tax cost for them. If this is the case then this is just....odd.

Also, did you lose them or are they packed in a box? These things are each worth $55. If you threw $55 in the garbage you'd look for it, wouldn't you? If the cards are designated for specific weeks - which they're clearly not, if you can randomly put some on a drawer and use others and lose others - then presumably you can return them to your employer for someone other employee's future use, yes? Have you asked?

It would help if you answered the questions people have been asking so that we can help you not get totally taken advantage of here because you didn't fully understand the program you were participating in. Or something.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 5:15 PM on July 16


Sorry - to clarify the issue re boxes/metrocards, I am making a long distance move in the next five days. Most of the boxes have already been put on Amtrak and shipped to the new location. The cards are not designated for future weeks, and I'm sure my job would accept the return of them, but it is simply not possible. Either they are used, or I would have to sort through 40 boxes of belongings currently in another state.

As to why I'm willing to accept responsibility - I honestly don't know a lot about employment law. I don't really know what they can and can't do. I don't know what my options are - that's why I'm seeing what the wisdom of the hivemind has!

I added up my deductions from the last five months of paychecks, which is when the deductions started, and it looks like I've paid 1385$, so the numbers definitely do not match up with what they are claiming either way. The company says that they coordinate with TransitChex, but if that were the case, would they let the company get over the $130 limit for me?

Given that, what should I do when I go in tomorrow? I gave my notice last week and am supposed to have my last day Friday. I would really like to clear this up if I can, and I especially don't want to work past my final day as I have a new job I need to report to.
posted by corb at 6:54 PM on July 16


Those numbers roughly correspond to five months of $55 MetroCards. If you somehow actually owe them money (if they fronted you cards for which they haven't taken deductions for) you should not owe more than the value of the remaining number of MetroCards you have which is something like $330. But they can't compel you to work in exchange for that debt.
posted by griphus at 7:09 PM on July 16


So tomorrow make totally sure you are working for money which will be going to you and not toward a debt they claim you have.
posted by griphus at 7:13 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Yeah I'm not sure if this is a point that needs clarification but there is not any way that they can make Friday not be your last day. Friday is your last day regardless of whatever. If they try to tell you you need to come in on Monday, they are wrong.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:19 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


To give them the benefit of the doubt on the $130 federal limit thing, this was changed with absolutely zero communication to any businesses or to transit benefit administrators, and the government memo regarding the January 1, 2014 change didn't get released until sometime in February. I am the tb admin at my work and I missed it.

That said, it's still not your fault and not your problem. Work up until the day you said you would and not a second longer, and if they refuse to pay you, report them to the DOL.

At your next job do try to pay better attention to these things. Not because you should be ready to clean up your employer's messes, but because knowing what's going on with your own pay makes you a more informed and more empowered worker. (And also it's just fiscally responsible.)

But anyway, for what you should do tomorrow I would refer you to my earlier comment here; tell them to get bent.

I'm so angry on your behalf just reading this, ugh.
posted by phunniemee at 7:20 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


YES FOR SRS at the next job always make sure to:

- get any kind of paycheck deductions itemized in writing
- get copies of anything you sign along those lines
- actually get copies of anything you sign in any employment situation

This is a totally normal thing to request from an employer and if they act like it is not, it should be a huge warning sign that they are going to be shitty about stuff somewhere down the line, especially when you are in a vulnerable "my life is upside down because i'm moving away" position.

Good luck with your move!
posted by elizardbits at 7:29 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Oh and always make sure you know how to access your payroll/direct deposit information because it is an important thing to be able to brandish records triumphantly when shit like this happens.
posted by elizardbits at 7:30 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


What should I do when I go in tomorrow?

I would go to HR in person and as for all my employment files "for my records." If there's nothing about transit benefits, I'd ask for something in writing about the exact nature of the transit benefits I got. I would also ask for the contact information or company account for TransitChek, so I could call them myself. Finally I'd ask for records of the cards they gave me, assuming I didn't sign for them in the first place.

Then I would summarize everything HR told me in an email and send it to them, including the inability to find any of the records above. I'd also CC my boss and my personal email. Then I'd forward all other relevant emails/documents to my personal email (assuming you have work email to which you'll lose access). Send everything. CYA.

Do not agree to pay them anything now. They can't keep you in your job after your end date to pay off whatever debt they think you owe. You're not an indentured servant, FFS. If this isn't resolved by Friday COB, you will resolve it after your move, from your new job where you are being paid and moving on with your life away from their shoddy bookkeeping.
posted by zennie at 8:03 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Okay. Thanks for the answers.

Well, my husband's company works with TransitChek and this is not how their system works at all.

I'm still not clear if you signed up for TransitChek with the explicit arrangement to receive weekly Metrocards to the tune of $55 per week.

I would:

- Ask them to show you the signed agreement to participate in the TransitChek program.

- Ask for copies of their records relating to how the Metrocards would be administered and how much you'd be paying out of your paycheck per pay period. It would really help you to produce your own paystub to show what exactly has been deducted from your checks and for how long.

- Politely but resolutely affirm that you simply will not be working past X date. The notion that they can make you work because of TransitCheks is ludicrous on its face and doesn't bear further discussion.

- Tell them that you expect two things: a.) a final paycheck and b.) a bill for the balance of the cards.

- Tell them that you will mail the cards remaining in your possession back to them but that you cannot lay your hands on them at the moment because you are moving across the country.

End the meeting. Await final paycheck and/or bill, or no final paycheck and no bill. Could go either way.

In the future, know what you're signing up for and be the administrator of this kind of program for yourself. Don't rely on your employers for your own peace of mind.

Good luck.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 8:58 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


Thank you everyone SO much, you have been incredibly helpful at this super stressful time.

Per your advice, I'm going to go in this morning and ask for my records, especially those around the TransitChek program, and note that the issue of my final paycheck and the issue of the cards are separate issues. I will ask for an itemized bill, as well as copies of the signed statements, as per law, specifically authorizing the specified amount of the deductions to be made.

I suspect that they won't have any of these and may get shirty, but I'm going to hold my ground and also absolutely refuse to work past Friday.
posted by corb at 7:01 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Please let us know how it turns out - I hope it goes well!
posted by winna at 7:41 AM on July 17


Even if you're unable to get them to agree that you aren't coming in on Monday, you can just not show up on Monday. (And communicate that to them today, as well.)

Good luck.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:44 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


This kind of thing is completely typical of fucked-up work environments. They don't want you to leave because they are bad at their jobs and/or they're underpaying you and/or they feel entitled to work you to death. They're not going to call the cops on you, you don't have to work. Just don't go no matter what they say. I'm sorry this sucks so much.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:44 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Okay. So I went in to HR, and they said that what had happened was that the finance guy had accounted for some of my metrocards under the transit allotment (130$) and some of them under the parking slot, which had a maximum of 245. HR said that both were taken out pre tax. I definitely never gave consent for that, and am frankly a little worried about them falsifying stuff that then goes to my taxes? I don't even have a car.

I've asked them for an accounting and they said I should have it tomorrow morning. They are holding to the idea that they can deduct my entire last paycheck - the higher-up said that Metrocards are essentially cash, so that any laws about money or cash advances would apply to Metrocard advances.

They are also saying that "we'll" figure out what to do about the last paycheck, but not giving me a time there would be an answer by.

Where should I go from here?
posted by corb at 6:08 PM on July 17


Skip away into the sunset singing a little "I give zero fucks" song in your head. If you don't receive your final paycheck in 2 weeks (or however your pay cycles run), email them and tell them that you will be filing a wage claim with the Department of Labor.

Let the DOL know about the parking benefit thing, too. That's really not cool, and also the parking max is $250.

Don't worry about your tax implications. I don't recall seeing any transit anything on my W2 and anyway this isn't something you knowingly engaged in.
posted by phunniemee at 6:14 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


So basically finance did something legally dodgy that you never gave consent to. There is a record of them making deductions, so there is a "you should have known how much was coming out" aspect, but there was no way you could have known it was for parking. Was there any record of them giving you the cards? Does Transchek have a signed consent form?

Do the math to make sure what you got in cards matches exactly with what was taken from your pay. It is designed to be exact and should be exact.

Don't wait to tell them you're reporting them to DOL and IRS if you don't get your last pay check. You have nothing to lose and they did something wrong. It sounds like they've decided not to pay you, which is bogus if they a) did something you didn't consent to and b) don't have any record of the cards going to you.
posted by zennie at 4:25 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


To be clear, they are the ones doing something illegal re: IRS, especially if they are claiming that the extra transit cards are part of your compensation. They are reporting less pay than they are actually paying. You only pay taxes on what they report.

The whole thing is stupid, just demand your pay and walk.
posted by zennie at 4:43 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]


Jesus, this situation is insane. First off, fuck them. You're so much better off with whatever lies ahead. Second, let us know how things turn out, since I doubt I'm the only one here that has a vicarious interest in this train wreck.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 7:56 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Send them a strongly worded email implying that you know the realities of the situation and that you are ready and willing to pursue legal action if necessary. Like: dear so-and-so it has come to my attention that such and such a thing has happened. This occurred without my knowledge or consent and as you know, contravenes QRST legislation which explicitly states that maximum amounts for such items are X and require employee's authorization to be valid. You'll also note that per Legislation LMNO it is not permissible for you to (withhold pay, force work, whatever bullshit they want to do). I expect to receive an itemized bill for anything your company believes is owing. I expect these expenses will of course match my own records. I also anticipate that you will pay me in full for time worked as is required by the legislation described above. If you have any further questions about the applicable legislation please review (include links to the relevant laws; they should all be available on some government website). Any further concerns in regards to this issue must be addressed to me via email so that I can forward it to my advisor. Sincerely etc.
posted by windykites at 11:42 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


So unsurprisingly, they never had records for me, but supposedly will be "mailing them to my new address." I sent them an email along windykites' lines, we'll see if that bears any fruit. According to the law, they have until my natural pay period, next week, to pay me, so if that comes and goes without anything, I'll be making a complaint to the NYS DoL from the comfort of my new, very cool seeming job.

Will update if anything changes. Thanks again everyone, this has been so helpful.
posted by corb at 6:29 PM on July 19 [6 favorites]


Okay. So after a lot of bluster, they at least paid me minimum wage for the period in question - while not providing me with any of the documents I asked for about debt records. I may still try to go after them for the rest, but I wanted to tell you I appreciated everyone's help, without which I'm pretty sure I would have received zero dollars.
posted by corb at 11:43 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


If you would like to do your former coworkers (who will themselves likely get shafted if they try to leave in the future) a solid, reporting the employer to the DoL for shadiness wouldn't be uncalled for here.
posted by phunniemee at 12:33 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]


Any employment lawyer would have a field day with this nonsense. Let it go if you can, but if you can't (and I wouldn't blame you), chat with a few lawyers. They'll outline options; including DoL options. Choose whatever feels most right.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 11:33 PM on July 29


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