What does he take me for?
March 20, 2007 4:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm pretty sure my boss's accountant lied to me about sending out my paycheck to cover up my boss's lack of funds, thus leaving me without a paycheck for a full pay period.

This is a pretty baffling situation and I'm not sure what the best course of action is.

Backstory: I started this job approximately 8 weeks ago. I am the sole employee of a one-man operation. At the end of each two week pay period I send my hours to my boss's accountant who dispatches a check to my home address. Theoretically, anyway.

Recently I noticed that the "company" debit account was declined when I ordered some supplies for my boss. I also received a phone call from the building management saying they had not received his March rent. My boss acted surprised when I notified him of these things.

Fast forward to the pay period before last when I e-mailed the accountant my hours. He replied to my e-mail asking about unrelated tax matter of my boss's. I answered his question and asked him if I should assume he'd send out my check that day as usual. No response. A week passed and I still had not received my paycheck. (I should mention here that the accountant's office is located in a suburb of the city where I live and normally it takes mail approximately 1 day to get from his door to mine), so I call him and ask him when he sent it and he says it went out on time. I tell him I haven't received it yet and he says it must be lost in the mail and to wait until the next payday comes up and if it's not there yet he'll cut me a check for all four weeks. Which, stupidly, I agree to. It occurs to me the next day I shouldn't have agreed to this and I e-mail him requesting he send out a new check immediately because I need the money now. No response.

Today is the next payday for which I was instructed to wait. According to my boss Mr. Accountant is out of town this week. Thus it is clear to me he had no intention of cutting a check to me for anything today. Today I remind my boss I am currently owed two pay periods worth of pay and after futzing around all day he finally goes to the bank to get a "check thingy" (his words) for me. He returns empty-handed (which leads me to believe there was no money in the bank) and says he will just write me a check from his personal account. Then he asks me if I'm SURE I didn't receive receive my last paycheck. I tell him yes and what he owes me for the four weeks minus some for withholding (which the accountant is supposed to take care of later).

I deposited the personal check in my account and am hoping to God it doesn't bounce.

NOW, I have been very patient and trusting here but I am at the breaking point. It seems clear to me that my boss's accountant never sent out my paycheck and lied about it when I finally called him to cover for the fact that the company account was empty, hoping I would be stupid enough to believe the post office was responsible until there was enough money in the account to pay me.

However, I don't think I can actually prove this. And I'm not sure if my boss knew what was going on or not. He is just disorganized enough that I can believe he might be unaware of the fact that his business was broke. But then, why on earth would the accountant LIE to cover my boss's ass without even being asked to?

For what it's worth, my boss and I have a strictly professional (i.e. we don't hang out or chat much) relationship. I don't particulary trust or distrust him.

All signs point to quit, I realize, but unfortunately, I have neither the time nor the money to do so right now (though if the personal check bounces I'll have no choice). My questions are: Should I confront my boss and his accountant about this? I'm afraid if I do I might get fired. On the other hand if this happens again I'm out of there. How can I deal with this without making my work life miserable? And if I did end up quitting or getting fired over this would I have ANY legal recourse?
posted by Jess the Mess to Work & Money (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: P.S. I'm sorry about how ridiculously long that was.
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:32 PM on March 20, 2007

Where do you live? In CA, my understanding is the law is quite clear that you MUST pay employees on payday, even if that means backing a Brinks truck up to the back door and dispensing cash. The fact that you work for a one-man operation might make things more ambiguous. Contact the appropriate employment practices agency in your state.
posted by clh at 4:42 PM on March 20, 2007

Response by poster: I live in Illinois. I checked out the website for the IL Dept. of Employment Security to find out about possible unemployment benefits and it doesn't look like I'd be eligible because I haven't worked there long enough. I'm having a hard time finding anything re: payday laws though.
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:52 PM on March 20, 2007

All signs point to quit, I realize, but unfortunately, I have neither the time nor the money to do so right now
That makes no sense. Check your skull for signs of trauma or bleeding. You aren't getting paid- how much less would you make if you were working for someone else?!

Anyway, if the check doesn't bounce, then be glad, pocket the cash, and walk instantly. One mistake you made was depositing the check: you should have tried to cash it directly, if possible, and then deposit the cash into your account. By depositing it, if it bounces you may have the funds removed from your account after you think it's already "cleared". When I worked for a dotcom that was going under, those last paychecks we grabbed, ran down to the bank they were written for (Bank of America I think), cashed them, then raced across the street to Washington Mutual and deposited the cash. Once that happened, we literally could not lose that money.

If the check does bounce, well you're fucked. Never, ever, ever, work even one minute beyond the "you didn't pay me" point. Seize everything you can that is of value in terms of work you've done, and walk. You should be looking for a new job now, period. You know that, you hardly need people to tell you this!

No point in confronting them further: you've already done that. Whenever this topic has come up, the two most important pieces of advice are: talk to the relevent employment agency in your state/visit its website, and b) if you have done work in the last 4 weeks, keep it safely with you, and not on any property of this "company", so that if they aren't just planning on declaring bankruptcy, they'll have incentive to deal with you. After all, any work you've done in the past month is not theirs until they pay you.

I also am not a lawyer, but I believe in some states (such as Washington) you can be entitled to triple damages for late paychecks, if you have to pursue legal action. It might be trying to get blood from a turnip, but again- talk to an employment agency to find out what legal recourse you have.
posted by hincandenza at 4:53 PM on March 20, 2007

Best answer: There was a late paycheck thread from last week that covered some of the legal aspects (not that you and the OP are necessarily in the same jurisdiction) that might be a good read.

Just as a possible tactic: do not take your boss' word that the accountant is on vacation. Call him up, as a follow-up to the problem you spoke to him about previously, and which is ongoing. If the accountant say "Oh, your boss fired me" or "he stopped paying me so I stopped working", be very afraid.

If you get fired for trying to get paid for work already done, other things are wrong. Treat yourself as a business -- don't keep providing your services gratis to this guy based on vague promises. Sit him down, explain the situation from your perspective (without extrapolating or accusing), and see what he says.

On preview, yeah. don't work if you're not getting paid.
posted by misterbrandt at 4:56 PM on March 20, 2007

Ah- I see on preview that you noted you live in Illinois.

By the way, I didn't mean to be harsh, but it's frustrating to read this question, because it's been asked in various forms before: really, you know what needs to be done. GO NOW. It sucks, sucks, sucks to be you, but you can either ask on MeFi what you can do to salvage this job (nothing), or you can get on with finding another job. There's the slimmest chance you can sue them for back pay, which you should pursue, but right now you should focus on getting your UI claim filed, and then looking for another job. There will be time in a couple of weeks to go after these sleazy bastards.

As for unemployment, you may be eligible if you've worked any job for the requisite number of hours in the last two quarters (states vary on the formulas they use, but it's usually not a huge amount of time). From the Illinois site, there's this PDF which lists the base total wages you'd have to have earned over the past two quarters, and how much that entitles you to per week. It looks as if a mere $800 over the last two quarters is enough to get some benefit, in this case a whopping $51 a week, although this calculator suggests it's $1600 minimum for a valid claim. However, the more you've earned in this or other jobs, the larger your benefit. So I suspect you'll get something.
posted by hincandenza at 5:01 PM on March 20, 2007

Having been in this position when working for a family friend, there comes a point where you have to take care of yourself. Leave now. Keep hounding them for the money, but you have to take care of yourself first; which you can't do if you can't get paid.
posted by Phoenix42 at 5:10 PM on March 20, 2007

Best answer: Actually, here are some good links from the site Workplace Fairness. They have a lot of good information, both national and tailored to state-by-state.
posted by hincandenza at 5:12 PM on March 20, 2007

I don't understand how you could make less money than you make at a job that doesn't pay you unless you had to PAY your boss for the pleasure of working for him. I'm not being snarky for the sake of it, I'm trying to show you in stark terms that you need to leave and leave now.
posted by veggieboy at 5:21 PM on March 20, 2007

Your boss was out of money.

He knew he was out of money.

He hired you anyway.

That's a pretty bad start to a relationship, even if things turn around for him. Don't walk, run.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 5:26 PM on March 20, 2007

I don't see how we know that the business is broke. Currently the only thing we know is that something fishy is going on with the accountant, yes? The concrete signs of money tomfoolery could just mean the accountant isn't doing his/her job (supply order bounced, rent didn't get paid) and the "boss didn't show up with a check from the bank" angle could easily just be because, as you said, he is pretty disorganized.

I'm not saying you shouldn't quit, but I do think you shouldn't jump to the conclusion that the business is broke. Bad accountants (and bad workers of any stripe) happen. Talk to your boss about it directly if it's still an issue at the next pay period.
posted by wemayfreeze at 5:44 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

It doesn't matter if the company or the boss is broke, or not. If they don't pay you when agreed, whatever the excuse, that's not a company you can work for. It's not about jumping to conclusions, it's about an irretrievable breach of trust. No pay, no work.
posted by normy at 6:23 PM on March 20, 2007

Best answer: Do they need you? Because in my experience if they needed me and I needed money then I had a bargaining chip to get paid immediately.

As in "I'm sorry but I can't afford to live because you haven't paid me & so I cannot in good conscience lift a finger to do work for you until you do so. This is nothing personal, it's just business and a matter of survival for me. You are leaving me no choice because I have bills to pay and a need to eat food. If you would like me to remain here and you need me to continue my job, then you need to get a check or money order for $___.__ to me asap. Otherwise you are leaving me no choice but to look for other employment and to promptly take you to court for the money that I've earned and you are keeping from me.

I don't want to leave, I like working here and I can guarantee you that neither of us wants to waste an afternoon sitting in court. So I'm hoping you'll fix this problem without having to take those measures.

You have until __/__/07 to pay me the amount of $____.__ that you owe me or to negotiate the immediate payment of installments (in terms that you agree to, and feel free to charge late fees since in essence you've loaned them money & you are probably paying late fees for the things you are late on due to lack of funds) or I will have to find other employment and a court summons will be forthcoming."

I had this happen to me once when I was in my early 20s... I kept working there for 2 months without getting paid and I could barely make my rent before I finally got some sense. My boss was going out for $50 lunches and I couldn't afford food. He didn't think I'd walk, but I did and he panicked out. He begged me to come back (I didn't) and he eventually paid me -- with late charges. It taught me a big lesson about standing up for myself and not being a victim. Don't be afraid to be upfront about late payments not being acceptable. You are less likely to be in that situation again if people know you won't let them walk all over you.

Good luck.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:55 PM on March 20, 2007

Seriously, it's not your problem if the guy has money issues or not. What is your problem is that YOU are having money issues. And HE is causing them.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:57 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Should I confront my boss and his accountant about this? I'm afraid if I do I might get fired.

If they fire you for asking for your pay they are probably not planning on paying you.

Aside from actually paying you what they owe, firing you would be the biggest favor they could do for you. Then you wouldn't have to deal with your own lack of perspective and misplaced priorities.

Start looking for other employment opportunities immediately.
posted by almostmanda at 12:57 AM on March 21, 2007

There comes a time when, if you're digging yourself into a hole, you have to stop digging and climb out. Disruption is inevitable.
posted by humblepigeon at 3:34 AM on March 21, 2007

Best answer: IAAL.

First, establish your legal foundation. That is, print out your bank records, showing beyond doubt that you haven't been paid.

Second, establish good faith. Inform the accountant and your boss of the situation IN WRITING, calmly asking them to clear up what is no doubt a minor mistake. Go to the post office and send this by snail mail and get a Certificate of Mailing to prove it was mailed.

Third, as everyone else advises, don't walk, run away.

Given all the other problems, there's certainly no money to pay what you're owed. Chalk it up to experience, be grateful it's only one pay period and look for the warning signs on your next job.
posted by KRS at 8:52 AM on March 21, 2007

And you still work there???

There is exactly one thing you need to say to the accountant: "I'll be back at work once I have a check. I will cash it at your bank within one hour of receiving it, and then I will come into the office."
posted by ilsa at 9:48 AM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: I appreciate all the comments, even the incredulous-at-my-naivete ones. There is a lot of helpful information here and some much-needed perspective. I'm in school right now and have several projects due at the beginning of next month which is a big part of this reason I think I was kind of in denial about this. It's just the worst possible time to have to deal with this sh*t, not to mention I hate having to lean on my angelic boyfriend again to cover more than his share of expenses.

For what it's worth, my boss's personal check cleared today, thank God. I'm due back in tomorrow, and I plan to take action, though I haven't decided on exactly what yet.
posted by Jess the Mess at 6:57 PM on March 21, 2007

Congratulations on getting some cash. Good luck with this! :)
posted by miss lynnster at 7:46 PM on March 21, 2007

see if your school or town has some kind of legal-aid office which might be able to help you out. They'll probably tell you things fairly similar to what you've already read here, esp. from KRS, but they'll also help navigate the forms and offices necessary to get unemployment and, if necessary, take legal action.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 9:11 PM on March 21, 2007

A piece of side advice, as soon as you can, build an emergency fund. You only need a month or two of money stashed away to keep yourself from starving in times like these.

As far as this job, ask for pre-payed funds. At least for a few weeks. Tell your boss that a month worth of no pay caused some hassle and you need to be prepayed from now on.
posted by cschneid at 6:32 PM on March 23, 2007

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