Friend is going to be fired soon
February 11, 2024 3:10 AM   Subscribe

Looking for guidance on how to handle things when the axe falls. For the past 6 years they’ve been at a NYC small religious institution as an assistant office administrator. Until recently the only other office staff was their boss, and a remote part time bookkeeper.

Boss went to part time, and a new Admin Director was hired to be everyone’s boss.
Friend is in charge of getting payroll issued, so they’ve had to research laws to make sure they are in compliance. A few years ago they found that they were not getting NY minimum wage for their position, which was rectified. But with changes for 2024 they were once again below minimum. After bringing this up with the new boss, there was a long delay in addressing it, and the boss’s attitude changed. Several emails made it clear that a paper trail was being established to justify firing friend. Sort of confirmation came when new boss used the company credit card to post ads with friend’s exact job description.

Friend has 30+ days of unused vacation (rollover from past years). Friend does not have an employment contract, and what passes for an employee handbook is not clear on how unused time is handled at separation. Teacher’s contracts do have a payout for unused vacation.

Friend has taken all personal items home, is backing up emails, contacts etc.
So what would be things to ask for in the final meeting? Severance on top of the vacation payout? Months of health insurance? Anything creative to ask for? Any relevant old testament passages to cite? Offer a freelance rate of 2.5X current hourly?
posted by Sophont to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
How about they threaten to go to the department of labor for all the back wages they were denied due to the payment of a sub-minimum wage? Your friend may need a labor lawyer to scare these people into a fair severance. How many years were they paid beneath minimum wage? And why are they being fired for requesting a legally compliant wage? Sounds like retaliation to me.

This is New York. They can make their employer's life hellish enough to hurt, and they should. "Small religious institution" or not, put the fear of "god" (lol) in them.
posted by spitbull at 5:20 AM on February 11 [46 favorites]


Following up: NYS DOL on prohibited retaliation.

Sounds to me like your friend should clam up at the office ans immediately report being paid below minimum wage. Then any termination becomes retaliation for reporting a violation.

Lawyer up.
(IANAL)
posted by spitbull at 5:37 AM on February 11 [27 favorites]


I too would highly recommend that your friend lawyer up and/or go to the DOL. I don't know exactly how it works in NY but in my state your friend would be entitled to triple damages for all the time they were underpaid, so if they were underpaid by say $50/week for three years they would be entitled to something like $20,000 in back pay and damages.

Even if your friend decides not to e.g. sue their employer, it would be really useful to know what they're likely legally entitled to, so that they can go in to the meeting saying, "Look, I could get the NY DOL to force you to give me $X, but all I am asking for is for you to pay out my vacation time and give me a month of severance."

I think offering to work as a freelancer is a terrible idea - they already aren't paying your friend when they're on the books as an employee, why would they pay your friend's invoices (also your friend would almost certainly be misclassified if they did this work as an independent contractor - it's employee work). Time to find a new job, regardless of what happens at the meeting.
posted by mskyle at 6:30 AM on February 11 [9 favorites]


Yeah, this is terrible behaviour on the part of the employer. I agree with all the advice to lawyer up. No worker should be treated this way. File that complaint about being paid below minimum wage right away so to create the retaliation paper trail. If you want to help them, you could also keep and secure copies of the e-mails you're seeing.

In addition to the retaliation angle, is your friend a member of a protected class, e.g. a woman, or an older person? There could be a human rights/discrimination angle that is worth exploring with a lawyer.

If nothing else, all of this gives your friend ammunition to negotiate a good severance package, since if this goes to court and becomes public, it could be highly embarrassing for a religious institution. They should be ashamed, but clearly they are not, so your friend needs to speak to them in a language they understand.
posted by rpfields at 8:50 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Just have to clarify, a bit ironically years ago when it became friend's responsibility to deal with payroll was when they found out they were underpaid. Those issues have been addressed and current back pay is being taken care of. So its not a simple retaliation case.

New boss was brought in to fix systemic problems. Throwing friend under bus for a few of the issues is an easy win.

Since its a small community, actually taking legal action would likely preclude employment at similar institutions. Place is good about paying vendors, my thinking is if they need help with projects and friend is available that's an easy gig.

Hopefully there won't be any further need for my responses.
posted by Sophont at 10:15 AM on February 11


No worker should be treated as a commodity, but that's happening. Their behavior regarding minimum wage is wildly unacceptable. NY State may have a mediation program for settling violations. This stuff seldom pays out much, but fines are how organizations learn when they choose to ignore the law. She should make notes and gather data on her performance, as they may decide she was fired for cause, and if she files a complaint, mud will be flung. But mediators have seen it all before, and if she has solid documentation - no warnings, etc., it will be okay. It certainly looks like retaliation. This process takes time.

It sounds like they paid back wages, right?

Make copies of every performance review, every compliment on work, etc. Copy the names and contact info for board members and past board members, for references if nothing else. Contact info for anyone who can comment on her work and/or be a reference/ networking contact. Take pictures of the work space, assess it for OSHA compliance, anything that might be a wedge to get an eventual settlement. Yes, the community may turn on her, so if she chooses not to file a complaint, accept that. It's not an easy process emotionally.

Small organizations may not be required to pay severance in a layoff. She should ask for 6 months of health insurance; it's a difficult cost to bear, might not affect Unemployment Compensation, and it's so important. In Maine, it's way better if you are paid accrued vacation with your last check, as you are eligible for Unemployment pay sooner, sort of.
posted by theora55 at 10:32 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


With a "community" like that, who needs exploitative corporate employers? But it sounds like your friend wants to roll over and take it, without a fight, so that's her choice.
posted by spitbull at 2:52 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Lev 19:13 You shall not defraud your fellow. You shall not commit robbery. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning.

Deut 24:14 You shall not defraud a poor and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of your land. 24:15 You must pay him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets, for he is poor and urgently depends on it; else he will cry to YHWH against you and you will incur guilt.

Certainly sounds like this employer did not pay their worker within the 12 hours Torah commands and Talmud scholars back up.

Dismissal for raising workplace/labor law violations is a form of illegal retaliation in New York State. I would still recommend checking with a lawyer. Legal Aid might be a place to start. Friend should send copies of all those emails and performance evaluations to friend's personal email.
posted by brookeb at 3:34 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


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