Question: I took a position at a nuclear power plant to enter a training program to become a reactor operator. My offer letter stated I would receive “Reactor Operator Premium Pay” of an additional $1,000 per month upon obtaining my Operator’s license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

After obtaining my Operator’s license, the company placed additional conditions which will result in a delay of 5 or 6 months in getting my premium pay. These additional conditions were not in the original offer letter, and are contrary to the company’s past practices with other Operators.

Does the offer letter legally bind the company, and is it cost effective to attempt to recover the $5,000 or $6,000 with an attorney?

Vidalia, Georgia

Answer: There’s no question: if your offer letter plainly states that you are entitled to an extra $1,000 monthly upon getting your Operator’s license, it is as enforceable as any other contract. That being said, it’s never good for a working relation to in any way “threaten” your employer with legal action.

Situations like yours – in which employees are owed money by their employers, and have a hard time getting paid – are more common than you’d think. They arise in connection with raises (like yours), commissions due, expenses not reimbursed, overtime not paid, and other matters, too.

Some employees get angry and threaten. Some employees just “let it go,” and become less motivated to work hard. I encourage our clients to do something more effective: send a respectful memo to a higher-placed manager or executive, and lay out your case for payment, and respectfully ask that it be looked into. Respectful, reasonable, with your reasons laid out clearly.

There are considerable advantages to this route: first, it makes an email “record” that you believed you were due money, and that you even requested it. Second, it puts the recipient a bit “on the spot,” but in a professional way. Third, if you do not get what you want, you are free to then take your concern to a higher executive. Fourth, it might just work. Finally, if you ever leave the job, it serves as good evidence for you to then make a “claim” to HR, or, if necessary, in court.

As you may know, on our blogsite, in what we call our “Private Library,” we offer “for a small fee” Model Letters to help people who are not comfortable writing letters for difficult situations, like these. We have one letter written specifically for this purpose that might be of help to you.

If you would like to obtain a “model” memo to help you collect monies
owed you by your present employer [click here].

Most states have “Small Claims Courts” for people to collect amounts like these, without the cost of hiring an attorney. If you are unsuccessful in the approach I suggest, and only when you are no longer an employee, you should feel free and prepared to take your “case” to court, if you want to.

Hope this is helpful. Really do.

Best, Al Sklover

© 2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.