“How can I collect commissions due me from my former employer and still get a good job reference?”

Question: Recently, I asked the management of my company if they would pay me the commissions I was due for sales I had made. At first, management denied that they owed me any commissions. Then I showed them my employment offer letter, and they offered me part – but not all – of the commissions I was due.

I did not accept their offer of part of the commissions I was due, but told them I would accept, as a compromise, about 85% of the commissions I had earned.

Two weeks later, they asked me to come to the central office, where they told me my “position had been eliminated due to financial strains.”

They still have not paid me the commissions they owe me. I need a good reference to get a new job. My wife is 8 months pregnant; luckily the company extended our health insurance for two months.

What are my options?

Washington, D.C.

Answer: I’m sorry to hear of the dilemma you find yourself in. The way I see it, you have two “options”:

Option One: Seek Collection Immediately and Aggressively, as Best You Can

Consider seeking collection of what you are due, immediately and aggressively. That is what I might suggest you do IF you must pay rent and provide food, but have no savings, no investments, no family to help you, no other financial resources and no credit with which you might borrow money. It might get you a negative reference, but I do believe very few prospective employers would look down on you for trying to collect what you are due. They do the same thing, when customers don’t pay them.

To do that, you could take three paths:

(1) Seek a municipal agency, similar to a State Labor Board, that might help you collect what is considered “unpaid wages” in most states. I “googled” Washington, D.C.’s municipal offices, but could not locate one for you. Perhaps you can do better in finding one.

(2) Depending on the amount of money you are owed, you might consider suing in the Washington, D.C. Small Claims Court for the limit of damages you can gain in that Court. These days that limit in most states is $10,000 or $15,000. That would not require your hiring a lawyer, and it would force your former employer to stop avoiding their unfulfilled obligation to you.

(3) If the amount in question is more substantial, you might find an attorney to assist you who would agree to take as his or her fee only a percentage of what he or she collects. Simply “google” “Commissions Unpaid” and “Washington, D.C.” and “Attorney,” and you’ll find a whole list of attorneys who handle this kind of work. 

We also offer a list of five or more experienced employee-side employment attorneys in Washington, D.C. If you would like to obtain a list, just [click here].

Option Two: Seek Only New Employment Now, and After that is Secured, Pursue Collection

IF you can look to your savings, retirement accounts, family, friends or credit to tie you over during this time of no incoming income, then I would focus on finding a new job, and rely on those sources of sustenance at the moment.

Now is the time to equip yourself with positive reference letters. Use our Model Letter to Former Managers and Colleagues Requesting Positive Reference Letters, with Three Sample Reference Letters. “What to Say, and How to Say It.”™ To obtain your copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

After you gain new employment, and gain, too, the trust and confidence of your new employer, you might ask your new employer that you have some “unfinished business” to attend to – namely, collecting monies from your former employer – and ask him or her if that would be OK. We never want to do anything whatsoever to splash potential “cold water” on a “budding romance.”

In most states, you have six years to collect on monies owed to you. While Washington D.C.’s statute of limitations for collection of monies due may be as short as two or three years, that should give you enough time to settle into a new job, and regain your financial footing.

You can “google” to find an employment attorney who would share with you how long you have, without charge.

If you would like to obtain a “model letter” for seeking collection of monies due you from a former employer, simply [click here].

Good luck in everything. I really mean it.

Best, Al Sklover

Repairing the World –
One Empowered and Productive Employee at a Time ™   

©  2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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