Question: When I was hired, I was told that my starting salary would be $60,000, and that it would be raised to $65,000 after 90 days of employment. That offer was confirmed to me by the company in an email.

However, my first pay stub indicated that I was paid at an annual rate of only $50,000.  Twice now I have written to the owner of the company, asking why I haven’t been paid the right amount; both times he stopped by my office and told me he is looking into the “issue.”

Now, as a result, they are threatening to fire me. Do I have any options? 

Claudio
Glen Cove, New York

Answer: Claudio, you are surely in between “a rock and a hard place.” That being said, there is probably a way out.

On the one hand, you do have legal rights that are enforceable: your employer has made you a promise – in a “writing” – of a certain amount of money for your services, and is not paying you that amount. For this reason, you have a fine legal claim for unpaid wages. And you have also written to the company “making a claim” for those unpaid wages. You have a right to both (a) file a claim for unpaid wages with the New York State Department of Labor, which will follow up on this for you, or (b) take your employer to Court (probably Small Claims Court) where you do not have to hire an attorney, but you can represent yourself.

[By the way, in New York State, employers who intentionally do not pay wages they promised to pay are also liable for a potential penalty of 25% of the unpaid amount, plus legal fees, if any.]

On the other hand, you may likely lose your job if you either file a Labor Department claim, or start a lawsuit.

Might I suggest you (a) continue in your job, to continue income and benefits, (b) search for a new job, and (c) if you leave for any reason, or are fired, you should:

(i) file for unemployment benefits, and show them you were fired for simply standing up for yourself;

(ii) write a letter to the company demanding what is due you; and, if that does not work,

(iii) then make a claim (either in Small Claims Court or with the New York State Department of Labor) for unpaid wages, 25% penalty, and if applicable, attorneys fees.

We do have available for purchase a Model Letter entitled “Demand for Unpaid Employment Compensation,” on the “Model Letters” section of our blogsite. If you are interested in using such a Model Letter [click here.]

While you are in an unfortunate position, you are fortunate to have promises to you in “writing,” and your “protest” in writing, as well. When the time becomes right, you should be in a strong position to stand up for what you deserve.

Hope that helps.

           Best, Al Sklover

© 2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.