Employment contract legalese
March 13, 2015 5:25 PM   Subscribe

What would my salary be, based on the language below? I am wondering if I grossly misinterpreted my contract and am earning much less than I thought I'd be. If so, is it possible to renegotiate, a month or so into the job?

I've changed the numbers for clarity:

Your starting part-time salary (exempt) will be $1,000 bi-weekly ($24,000 annualized) [emphasis not mine] paid in accordance with our payroll process. This amount is based on a 32-hour week schedule (.8 FTE). You are advised that all salary and benefits are based on full-time employment and may be prorated if your hours should be reduced for any reason.

Does this mean I should earn $1,000 bi-weekly, or $800? It reads to me that I should receive $1,000, as it states the bi-weekly/annualized rate is based on a 32 hour week (or .8 FTE) schedule. However, I'm only receiving $800 biweekly, and wondering if I grossly misinterpreted my contract.

YANML, but if I did misinterpret the contract, this seems like a very tricky way of stating one's salary in a job offer. I'm consequently wondering whether anyone finds this wording dubious, and if it's possible to renegotiate a month or so into the job.
posted by stillmoving to Work & Money (15 answers total)
our starting part-time salary (exempt) will be $1,000 bi-weekly ($24,000 annualized)

The "part time" in this sentence leads me to believe that your salary will be 24k. The rest sounds like boilerplate that should have been edited for greater clarity, because yeah, it's a bit confusing.

This is totally something you can call and ask about though. I've done that in the past and nobody shot me out of a cannon or anything.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:36 PM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

IANA lawyer or an HR person, but I think the first sentence is pretty definitive even though the rest is confusing. You'll make $1000 biweekly, which apparently is 80% of what a full-timer gets.
posted by threeants at 5:37 PM on March 13, 2015

As I read it, you should be making $1,000.00 biweekly if you're working a 32 hour work week. I would go to whoever does payroll with that contract and ask if there's a mistake on your paycheck (you are accounting for deductions for taxes, etc, right?).
posted by amro at 5:38 PM on March 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

The year has 52 weeks so $1000 bi-weekly should be $26k not $24K. I find that confusing right there. I'd suggest you sit down with payroll or HR, find out exactly how your salary is calculated. Then if you feel you were confused or misled you can certainly discuss.
posted by mono blanco at 5:49 PM on March 13, 2015 [10 favorites]

Tax withholding was my first thought, too. Whether 20% withholding is a surprising amount or not depends on your state and what the actual contract numbers are (since you say you changed them for clarity in this question), but it's not wildly out of line with my experience. If your withholding did get messed up somehow, you can file a new W-4 with your employer to fix it.
posted by dorque at 5:55 PM on March 13, 2015

Response by poster: Sorry to threadsit, but mono blanco, you are correct: the job offer states $26k. Misfigured that when I was changing the numbers for the post. (This misfacility with figures being another reason I'm asking for second opinions here!)

Also, yes, it is not withholding that is being taken out, as I am receiving exactly 80% of the base pay ($800, say) and then having taxes, etc. taken out from that figure.
posted by stillmoving at 5:56 PM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sometimes there are also other items deducted aside from tax withholding, too. Make sure you go through the paycheck line by line to see what's being withheld and for what - I'm assuming you're getting $800 into your bank account or on a check? They could also be deducting for retirement accounts, HSA or FSA accounts, or other things, like where I work they also deduct parking fees before the paycheck comes to me.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:00 PM on March 13, 2015

IAAL and I agree that I would read this as, your PART TIME salary is $1000 bi-weekly, i.e., $500/week, and that is based on your working 80% time. If you worked full-time I would expect that you would earn the additional 20% on top of that. Don't present this as renegotiating, just say you've noticed a discrepancy between your contract and the amount you're receiving.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:01 PM on March 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Just to expand on my previous comment -- your question talks about misinterpreting the contract (your followup sounds like it's actually just an offer letter?) and renegotiating. But you should change your mindset -- instead of "did I get this wrong? Can I get them to bring up my salary?" you should be thinking, "My salary should be $1000. They need to honor their commitment."

First, just politely inform payroll that you're supposed to be getting $1000, but you're getting $800, and ask if there is an explanation for that. If the answer is something like others have suggested above, involving withholding or something, OK. But if the answer is, "No, your salary is $800," then you should go to your manager and/or HR and say, "My offer letter clearly states that my PART TIME salary is $1,000, but payroll is telling me $800." And if they say, "No no, it says it's BASED on a full time salary," you politely tell them that in the sentence immediately preceding that, it says it's based on a PART time schedule.

By the way, assuming you are in the USA, there is a legal concept that any ambiguity in a contract is construed against the drafter. So if you write a crappy or deliberately ambiguous contract, you're responsible for the ambiguity and the other person gets the benefit of the doubt. Their crappy or deliberately ambiguous salary language is NOT your responsibility. (Also, it's always good to orally confirm important things like title, salary, and number of vacation days before starting the job.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:20 PM on March 13, 2015 [15 favorites]

Chickenmagazine has a good answer, except rather than asking for an explanation, I'd just ask them if they can get it fixed. If you're lucky they'll be embarrassed or confused, talk to your boss and make the change. If they talk with your boss and say afterwards that what you're being paid is correct (and it's not a withholding issue), then tell them you accepted the job on the understanding that you would receive the thousand dollars. Tell them you think the wording is clear, and ask them again to get it looked into and fixed. You want to handle this in a way that implies the situation is clear-cut and a simple mistake, not ambiguous or open to interpretation.

If they won't, then you can decide how far you want to take it. It is not worth you suing over because you would probably spend more in legal fees than you'd get back in cash over the duration of your employment. It might be worth the cost of one lawyer's letter, or you might be better off to compromise, or just find another job. Good luck.
posted by Susan PG at 7:06 PM on March 13, 2015

The thing that jumps out at me is that 32 hours is 0.8 of 40 hours (FTE), which would tie the 1000 a bit tighter to your current schedule.
posted by rhizome at 7:16 PM on March 13, 2015

Ugh, that wording is so awful.

One thing I haven't seen mentioned yet is this sentence:
"You are advised that all salary and benefits are based on full-time employment and may be prorated if your hours should be reduced for any reason."

Your hours were never reduced; they are at their starting level, and as the letter states, "your starting part-time salary (exempt) will be $1,000."

I have a bad feeling that the misleading wording is deliberate and that the company will resist settling the misunderstanding in your favor. I think pushing against this is important, but I'd be prepared for the conversation to be frustrating, emotionally exhausting, and chalk full of reasons why they're so sorry but they can't raise it to $1,000 because of some mysteriously immutable policy. Good luck!
posted by kprincehouse at 11:27 PM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding treehorn+bunny, is the 800$ the top line of on your payslip, called something like gross earnings, or is it the total at the bottom of your payslip, named something including the word net? This is the first thing that HR should check when you ask for clarification.
posted by ellieBOA at 11:47 PM on March 13, 2015

Where do they get $800? Even if your annualized salary is $24,000 rather than $26,000, you should gross $923.07 every 2 weeks.
posted by Maisie at 7:27 AM on March 14, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for sharing your opinions--glad I'm not alone in thinking the wording is confusing. Marked chickenmagazine's reply as best, as I will follow the suggestions therein if my employer tries to reneg on the contract.

Also, in my over-simplification of the figures, I perhaps obscured the reduction in my gross, as the actual figure is much less neat. That is, my biweekly pay is something like $1.019.42, and I am receiving exactly 80% of that as my gross (pre-tax) on eqch check, so there is no way that I am just having ~20% deducted each time.
posted by stillmoving at 11:45 AM on March 14, 2015

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