How can I approach HR on this ridiculous pay stub issue
April 9, 2015 12:42 PM   Subscribe

In the latest in my several-year nightmare in negotiating with SSA about my work activity, this latest wrinkle came up. I work as an adjunct instructor. I am a contract employee. My pay stubs accurately reflect when and how much I was paid, but fail to reflect when I actually earned those hours. And because of this, I'm in danger of losing my SSDI benefits. YANML

Please excuse me if this comes off a little rattled, because these encounters with the SSA inevitably leave me trembly and sneaking cigarettes.

So, to simplify this: I work three weeks in August. One of those weeks is not reflected in my pay stubs, as classes are not in session. But I attend in-service, which is voluntary with the understanding you need to go to them to get future contracts. I also prepare syllabi. Sometimes the syllabus takes maybe an hour or two because it's a repeat of a class I taught before, but sometimes I teach new classes, and preparing a syllabus for those is always a sort of intense process. Plus, the college revises its shit every so often, and that often means large changes.

So. That week of preparation is for the classes that I teach in the coming semester. But my first pay check doesn't reflect that I did anything for that week. In addition, I do maybe 1/3 of my usual work during spring break, because classes aren't meeting. My pay stubs don't reflect this either. There are other periods in the semester like this.

SSA is demanding revised pay stubs that reflect this.

I am anticipating a hard time getting HR to do this. My SSA caseworker said something about my employer engaging in fraudulent practices, and I highly doubt that the HR of a college that employs thousands of people would be all *lol we totally are let me revise your pay stub to reflect this*.

So, it seems to me (although, as noted, I'm rattled) that I'm in a huge pickle. I know that I'm not supposed to earn over a certain level each month, and that's what SSA is accusing me of now, so my benefits are in serious trouble.

What is the best way to approach HR on this?

posted by IwishIwasFordMaddoxFord to Law & Government (16 answers total)
If you don't get paid for prep, which seems would be standard, then that pay would not be reflected on your stub. Are you claiming that you worked for some reason that is relevant to SSA? But you also want to keep your income below the SSA threshold? What is it exactly that you would want the stub to show?
posted by amanda at 12:47 PM on April 9, 2015

Yeah, I want to keep my income below a certain threshold. The standard is "substantial gainful activity" which I assumed class prep was, because it is related to the amount I was paid per contract. That assumption might be wrong.
posted by IwishIwasFordMaddoxFord at 12:52 PM on April 9, 2015

SSA has a rule for when your pay happened at a different time than when you did the work - I can't remember where it is in the regs but I know it exists because it talks about retroactive pay and bonuses at Christmas, both of which I've dealt with on the HR side.

It might be best to ask HR for a letter on letterhead plus your timesheets and a copy of the relevant pages of your employment agreement. It's much easier and less likely to require major administrative involvement than to ask for a revised paystub.
posted by SMPA at 1:01 PM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm with you in understanding that you do work during three weeks in August, but it is not clear from what you wrote precisely what the problem is:

1. Is it that you DID receive pay during that one voluntary week in August when you shouldn't have?

2. Is it that you did NOT receive pay during that one voluntary week, and your paystubs aren't clear about whether you did or didn't?

3. Is it that you did NOT receive pay during that one voluntary week, and your paystubs say that you did?

4. Is it that you did NOT receive pay during that one voluntary week, and your paystubs back up that you didn't?

If it's 3., that may actually an easy fix - you call up the payroll office at the university and say "yo, I got a paystub that says that you paid me, and you didn't, so it's wrong." And then they send you a new one, and you're all set.

If it's 2. or 4., that may be a matter of also calling either payroll or your boss and explaining that you just need some kind of authorized backup stating that you were not in fact paid for that one week. If the paystub is just hella vague, then maybe someone explaining the paystub in writing would help ("line 6a represents the time period in question, and line 6b indicates that there were no worked hours, therefore....")

If it's 1, then....I'm a bit confused what the problem is. You explain that you do some work in August for that one week that's a lot of prep work, but you don't say whether you get a paycheck for this work. But SSA must be getting SOME kind of information that is leading them to assume you got paid for that work, and I'm just not clear what that information might be.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:02 PM on April 9, 2015

I'm still pretty confused as to what the issue is. Could you post something along the lines of "Paystub says Y 1 but I want it to say X."

If the August week is voluntary, are you paid for it at all? Even if it's a condition of employment, if you're not being paid for the hours I'm not quite sure what the problem is...
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:03 PM on April 9, 2015

I'm thinking this may be similar to unemployment where you need to claim for each week that you were either looking and available to work or that you were employed. If you claim to be employed (and thus unavailable for other work) then they want to see proof of that. However, you don't have proof of that because your stub reflects the start of your teaching contract and no earlier.

I think the real pickle is that it's up to SSA to decide whether the break in your "substantial gainful activity" makes you ineligible for your benefits. I think the right tack is probably a letter from HR as SMPA suggests which includes the voluntary in-service day and other "prep for work" activities. However, you may also request clarification from SSA whether a break in your activity (I have no idea what this might be called) is grounds for terminating your claim or whether you can have a break and still maintain your claim.

Please note: I am not an HR professional and my only experience with govt benefits is via unemployment benefits from some time ago.
posted by amanda at 1:11 PM on April 9, 2015

To follow on, it sounds like they want to know if you are able enough to work. When you said that you did work then they wanted to see if they had to pay you any benefits for the week. You feel that you both need the benefits from that week and that your earlier claim of "able to work" did not actually mean that you were paid to work. Is that correct?
posted by amanda at 1:13 PM on April 9, 2015

Sorry for being confusing.

For the month of August, I did prep work the third week of August.
The first pay check for that semester states that the work for that semester because 9/2. I want it to read 8/23.

For the month of March, my pay stubs indicate that I was working continuously, at the same level, throughout the month. But I wasn't. So I would want my pay stubs to read, I don't know, vacation pay, or something other than the fact that I worked continuously the whole month.

EC: The problem is that my pay stubs aren't really reflecting WHEN I'm working. There's no dispute as to how much I earned for a given semester -- just when I did the work.

Thanks so much for the responses so far.
posted by IwishIwasFordMaddoxFord at 1:13 PM on April 9, 2015

Amanda, the perhaps over-simplified answer is they want to know if I earned (not was paid for) a given month in excess of $1090.00. Does that make sense?
posted by IwishIwasFordMaddoxFord at 1:15 PM on April 9, 2015

I agree it's probably easier to get a letter from your department head clarifying the exact dates that the work was done for and that for internal reasons the pay stubs only have the semester dates, not the actual dates worked.
posted by bleep at 1:16 PM on April 9, 2015

Are you paid hourly with timesheets, or by the course? I would assume the latter (based on my experience as a lecturer), in which case the best documentation you can probably get would be giving a detailed accounting of your work week by week, assign proportional dollar amounts to each week, and have some kind of supervisor in your department sign a letter confirming this is when your work is done. I cannot imagine HR/payroll will deal with this kind of weirdness. In particular, there is probably about zero chance you will get anyone to certify that you have any sort of vacation pay when you don't actually have any vacation pay. You just have your total amount for the course spread out equally over however weeks/months to simplify bookkeeping.
posted by ktkt at 2:29 PM on April 9, 2015

So, you need to keep earnings below a certain amount per month. In September, the amount you were paid would put you over that limit, but you feel that since you did some work in August, part of what you were paid in September should be applied to the limit in August bringing your September total income below the threshold you're worried about.
posted by willnot at 2:30 PM on April 9, 2015

ktkt: I'm paid by the course, and there are no time sheets.

willnot: Yes.

Thank you for all the suggestions above and I'll pursue them, but my local office is claiming that only modified pay stubs will suffice (I inquired specifically about a letter and was told that would not do). This may be something that they will change their mind about, however, and I'll provide the letters suggested above.
posted by IwishIwasFordMaddoxFord at 3:56 PM on April 9, 2015

I encourage you to consult with a lawyer to get a clear idea on what to do in this specific situation. My hope is that you can get quick advice from a local legal aid organization that routinely handles these issues, or a free consultation from a local attorney who has a practice with a focus on SSDI. Information about how to find an attorney and links to state-specific free and low-cost legal resources are available on the MeFi Wiki Get A Lawyer page. It seems like you may have an argument to make about how your income is counted, but exactly how to prove it is a legal question.

From SSA's "What You Need To Know When You Get Retirement Or Survivor's Benefits" [at 15] "Wages count toward the earnings limit when they’re earned, not when they’re paid." From "Reporting Work Activity to The Social Security Administration" ( January 2011) [at 2] "The pay stub, however, would provide incorrect information in situations where a person’s check represents work activity in more than one month, as often happens at the beginning or end of the month." The definition of Substantial Gainful Activity from the SSA Handbook is here.

I like the idea about producing your employment contract (or relevant portions of your personnel manual) to show you are required to work in August but don't get paid for this required work until September, but it is unclear if this will resolve your current issue. It does seem unfair for SSA to demand that you get different paystubs than everyone else, especially when SSA is aware that paystubs don't always reflect actual monthly income.

Other documentation that may help show you were required to work in August might include emails or letters from your employer notifying you about changes to the syllabus that must be made before the semester begins. It seems common for colleges to require advance work that is actually paid for after classes officially begin - for example, if you didn't produce the syllabus, you couldn't do your job when classes begin, and you would probably be fired or at least put on a performance improvement plan (to remind you that you are required to work before classes begin).
posted by Little Dawn at 4:16 PM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just as a thing: the person at the local office is entirely too likely to not have a clue how to handle this in terms of what SSA's actual rules say. You would not believe the number of people at the Department of Labor, EEOC, and FEMA I have had to ask the exact same question of before I got a reasonably definitive answer, and it took the IRS three years to decide a question about the tax-exempt status of neon safety shirts and personal use of cell phones in the context of unlimited minutes (and what we got is a private letter, so no you can't use the answer we got as the reason for how you treat those things with your employees!)

Anyway, the lawyer thing is a good idea, and get your instructions in writing rather than over the phone. You also need to consider the timeframe for requesting a fix to a boneheaded decision (I have no idea if the 60 day rule for reconsideration applies here.)
posted by SMPA at 5:23 PM on April 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Today, I learned that being an Adjunct sucks in terms of SGA. (Note the word "today"-this is a complex issue and needs an expert). I have personal experience with the self-employment portion of SGA.

Turns out, adjuncts are considered employees for tax purposes. Looking at the rules for averaging in their program operations manual for averaging income, there are many rules in place to avoid artificially lowering SGA.

The examples they provide include teachers who elect to be paid year-round for work performed over 9 months. Only those 9 months are counted in the average unless the teacher can prove they worked (prepared classroom, etc) over the summer.

Your situation is different, because you aren't paid year-round, nor could you elect to be. If you didn't show up the first day of class, or the first week, you wouldn't be paid at all. Your prep-work is unpaid labor to get the job. HR isn't going to adjust your paystubs to show otherwise.

Even if HR did move the date to 8/23, I am not sure August would be counted, because the same rules state " If you determine that any partial months: ... do represent a significant change in the work pattern or earnings, do not include those months in your average;" Ditto for the week you didn't work in March. One way they determine significant change is " Was there a change in job duties or hours ?"

However, you may be able to prove that you worked throughout August, by showing mandatory meetings, conferences, deadlines, and etc, that don't match your paystubs. At the same time, please remember that income is one of many ways SGA can be determined, and you are probably performing comparable work compared to many 'unimpaired' adjuncts.

Someone experienced with this particular situation, rather than my general familiarity with SGA, would know more about both scenarios.

Good news is, even if your trial work period has ended, you enter an extended period of eligibility where ssdi payments will resume if you are no longer able to earn sga due to increasing disability.

DI 10505.015 Averaging Countable Earnings

DI 10505.000 Evaluation and Development of Employment

posted by bindr at 7:53 PM on April 9, 2015

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