Q: My employer has not paid us on the timeline laid out in the employee handbook for over two months. The most recent pay periods were covered by wire transfers without pay stubs. Over the past two weeks, this nation-wide company has closed (or “merged”) over 20 centers, and a manager suggested that my pay rate should be cut because I was relocated to another location where the staff makes less. I need a job that pays, but I can’t afford to walk off this job. Without pay stubs, I have no idea if my employer is withholding taxes, paying me correctly, or withholding contributions for my insurance and 401(k). How can I get this fixed and protect myself during this time?
A: You are in a tough situation, and it was smart to refer to a resource like the employee handbook to find out what your employer has promised in terms of pay timing and records. Pay stubs and timely paychecks are crucial in the employee/employer relationship and state regulators look down on any employers who don’t provide either of those in a timely, reliable, and accurate fashion. The Job Doc legal experts agree that the legal implications of your situation are serious and should not be treated lightly.
You don’t say which state you are in, and much of the law around this issue is governed by state as well as federal law. It’s worth looking into your state’s specific laws, as the nuances of your situation will depend on your location. Under Massachusetts law, some of the biggest issues are around overtime, classification, and pay stub issuance, which can occur via direct deposit. I consulted a labor law expert, who explained that, in most instances, Massachusetts law requires that hourly workers receive their regular wages either weekly or biweekly and within six days of the end of the pay period. If the timeline you’re supposed to be paid on is longer than that allowed by state law or if your employer is taking longer than the law allows to pay employees their wages, it is likely a significant issue—regardless of whether the handbook states a time frame for payment of wages or whether it is ultimately a “contract” with employees. It’s worth noting that Massachusetts courts have ruled that handbooks can sometimes form the basis for an employment contract that binds the employer, and other times, because of disclaimers or other language, they have found a handbook not to be a contract. Learn more about your state’s law to determine if and how you may be are protected.
Another serious problem is the lack of a pay stub. Our legal expert explained that Massachusetts law requires an employer to provide an employee a “pay slip, check stub, or envelope” that includes, among other things, the amount of deductions or contributions made at the time the wages are paid. If you are not receiving your paychecks or appropriate pay stubs, and if you are not getting a satisfactory response from your manager and human resources, seek assistance from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, Fair Labor Division, who deals with issues related to the payment of wages.
Immediately begin to document everything related to this issue. Talk to other colleagues to make sure they are being impacted the same way. Again, due to the legal implications of all this, your best course of action will be to contact your state’s Fair Labor Division.
Regarding your manager’s comment about reducing your pay rate to match the local market—this may be something your employer can do based on the distance of the relocation. Many employers redline employees who have been relocated. They may keep your salary the same but not give you increases until you are equalized with those in the same geography, or they may change your salary immediately. This is a topic that’s negotiable between you and the company. The issues you are having around paychecks and pay stubs are not negotiable and need to be addressed immediately.
Even as you search for a new job, continue to document the lack of appropriate payment practices and know that reaching out to your local labor division will be the right step to make sure you are properly compensated and provided accurate records of your pay and contributions.