Should I make a fuss?
March 14, 2007 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Should I file a complaint (i.e. get extra money) over my late final paycheck?

I quit my job and gave a full month's notice, so my employer was required by California law to have my final paycheck ready on or about my last day of work. It wasn't. They do their payroll through a third-party holding company deal, and I was supposed to receive the check by mail on my last day. Apparently they had forgotten to file some key form. After a week, I asked them why I hadn't received it. A week after that (two weeks from my last day), the HR person basically told me that they screwed up and would be sending me my check, finally. She also requested, in writing, that I send them a written confirmation that I won't sue them over this, which kind of pissed me off.

I know that it's within my legal rights and fairly straightforward to demand a day's wages for every day late the check is. My question is, is it worth the ill will? The company is a small one (~20 people), so it's not like dealing with a big corporate HR department (also goes a long way in explaining the oversight). The two co-founders would inevitably find out, and they probably (correctly) assume that, although I am not a rich man, going two weeks without that last paycheck did not pose a hardship to me. I left on very good terms with them, and expect to use them shortly for references and/or letters of recommendation. This was also my first job out of college, so if I can't get a solid reference from them, I'll be screwed. I don't want to be a doormat, and I am legitimately annoyed at the way they handled this, but I don't want their most recent memory of me to be me arguing with them over extra money.

Should I demand to be paid for the extra two weeks, knowing that it might spoil my good relationship with my former bosses? Is there any way I can make that request firmly but nicely and preserve goodwill? Does anyone else have experience with this?
posted by EnormousTalkingOnion to Work & Money (11 answers total)
If you want to use them as a reference, I would let it slide. There is no way you can "demand" two weeks pay for a job you weren't at nicely.

Did you get paid on the "normal" schedule or was it later than what you would have got it if you had stayed?
posted by stormygrey at 3:30 PM on March 14, 2007

The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement has a FAQ on the subject. See link

As for their request for confirmation that you won't sue, you might be interested in the following:

"206.5. No employer shall require the execution of any release of any claim or right on account of wages due, or to become due, or made as an advance on wages to be earned, unless payment of such wages has been made. Any release required or executed in violation of the
provisions of this section shall be null and void as between the employer and the employee and the violation of the provisions of this section shall be a misdemeanor."


(IAAL, but not yours)
posted by Hermes32 at 3:53 PM on March 14, 2007

I believe you've answered your own question: You got the money. They admitted the mistake, so they're not treating you like "a doormat." And it sounds like you don't want to appear, in their eyes, to be a major douchebag.

Be nice. Don't do or say anything about it. And when you ask for that reccommendation, they'll remember that this young kid acted like a cool, mature adult, and not a self-righteous tool.
posted by turducken at 4:39 PM on March 14, 2007

Statistically speaking, it's probably a bad idea.

It's your first job, so I'll say you make $52k/year, or $1k/week.

Two weeks pay is $2k, and likely involves a trade for a strong positive recommendation in the future, thus affecting future employability and probable salary.

There would have to be less than a 1% chance of this mattering for it to be a good gamble, since starting pay of future jobs affects pay for the rest of your career.

If a strong recommendation got you an extra $5k/year to start, you worked for 35 years and you averaged 4% annual raises, you'd be looking at a total lost income of $370k.

So basically you need to think there is significantly less than a 1% chance that it will affect your pay or hireability in any meaningful way for it to be smart.
posted by PEAK OIL at 4:45 PM on March 14, 2007

Best answer: Could you maybe let your bosses know what the HR person asked you for? In a kind of buddy way, like you know and I know I'm not going to sue, but you should know that your HR person is making illegal requests and it might not go over so well with the next person.

Then you can look good to your bosses (for not suing when you could, but knowing your rights and not letting yourself be pushed around, and for letting them know something important) and also express the inappropriateness of how they treated you and potentially get consequences (for the HR person) for it.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:14 PM on March 14, 2007

posted by Ironmouth at 5:25 PM on March 14, 2007

Best answer: What the hell is wrong with you? Seriously. What is it about our society (I speak of the US here) that makes people think that common sense and decency should be thrown out when "free" money is on the line.

Short answer: No you should not make a fuss.

Longer version:

1. They are a small company. A last paycheck is not a typical operation for whatever person is doing HR, and thus it's basically a new task each time it happens. Cut them a little slack. This doesn't excuse how long it took, but it is always best to give the benefit of the doubt.

2. HR isn't easy. There are a great number of I's that needing dotting and T's that need crossing. This is actually made worse for small companies when they have to play within very rigid rules of an outside company handling the details. Once again, unless you have evidence to the contrary, it is not malice you encountered, just ignorance, incompetence, or laziness.

3. There are many rights that you can not give away, no matter what you sign. You should either politely decline the request for a letter indicating you won't sue, or ignore the request. See the link provided by Hermes32.

4. Don't burn bridges that will be needed in the future for short term gains. Sure, you can likely get money from them, but is it worth it? Is it really worth a few grand if you can no longer use your first job as a reference

Only if you have real evidence that the company endeavored to delay your last paycheck should you even contemplate taking any further action. Chalk this up as a learned lesson about the company

My first paragraph was meant as nothing more than the slap back to reality that I think you needed. Please do not read into it further.
posted by fief at 6:21 PM on March 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

In practice, the Labor Commissioner does not always award waiting time penalties, even when complaining parties are entitled to them under the statute. Just a fact to weigh into the mix.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:19 PM on March 14, 2007

Response by poster: I appreciate the feedback. I wasn't originally planning on doing anything about it, but the way they were treating my situation was starting to bother me, and some of my friends seemed to think I wasn't getting riled up enough about it. A reality check was exactly what I was looking for, so thanks all (fief in particular). Along the lines of Salamandrous' suggestion, I am going to try to send a constructive note to my old boss indicating that I think the situation was mishandled and offer some suggestions for how to ensure they can do better in future cases.
posted by EnormousTalkingOnion at 10:58 PM on March 14, 2007

I think fief's answer was all-around awesome.

But, I do think that the matter of HR asking you to sign away your right to sue should be brought to the attention of the co-founders. It's such an unbelievably bad judgment call on her part.
posted by mkultra at 7:21 AM on March 15, 2007

I thought part 1 of fiefs answer sucked - why should he cut this company any slack? He gave them a months notice that he was leaving, and then another two weeks after that. Why should the company be held to a lower standard than him? If he was a contract employee who broke the terms of his contract (like if he didn't show up for work for 2 weeks), you better believe the company would sue his ass off for breach of contract. Who cares how much paperwork HR has to do to finalize his leaving the company? They managed to pay you on time every other pay period, what's different about this one?

You worked for that money, it's YOUR money, they need to give it to you. Do I think you should sue them? No, but I think you should bring this delay to the attention of somebody higher up, as well as the trying to get you to sign away your right to sue issue.
posted by youthenrage at 7:58 AM on March 15, 2007

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