As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us have a lot to be thankful for, such as getting paid for our work.
Getting paid for the work you perform for an employer is the most basic employee right.
But every now and then an employer comes up short – either missing payroll completely, or paying employees only part of what they’re due.
When this happens, there are often promises of making up the missed pay “as soon as the deal comes through,” or “after the client pays what we’re owed.”
It’s tempting to wait it out, keep showing up and hope for the best – especially if you’re generally well-paid, like your job, or don’t think there are a lot of alternative opportunities available.
Problem is, if this happens once, it almost always happens again.
For most employers, the first missed paycheck is seen as a catastrophe. If there are no immediate consequences, it can quickly become business as usual.
And you’re left working for nothing.
It’s against the law
Legally, there is no gray area on this one. Employers are required to pay employees according to their agreed-upon schedule.
Under the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law, an employer must pay employees regularly and on time.
The law also says that employees do not have the right to waive the agreement. There’s no “we’ll just agree to pay you when we can” option. If you’re not paid on time, your employer just broke the law.
If this happens to you, your first step should be to seek a lawyer. Talking through your personal situation with a professional will allow you to make an informed, carefully-thought out decision.
In most cases, you’re trying to reach two goals. First, you want to secure your future income, either in your current position or a different one. Second, you need to prevent the situation from dragging on and the back pay from piling up.
Filing a complaint
In many cases the next logical step if your employer missed payroll, is to fill out a complaint form with the PA Department of Labor and Industry. The department has the power to conduct an investigation and to enforce the law, making sure you get paid what you’re due.
However, it may take time for the investigation, and there could be delays. In the meantime, you need to decide whether or not to show up for your current job and work for no pay.
Filing for unemployment
If you decide to quit, you may be able to file for unemployment benefits. In Pennsylvania, you can file for unemployment if there is a necessary and compelling reason to quit. Not getting paid should qualify.
However, before you choose this option, talk to a lawyer. You’ll want to be sure you meet all the qualifications for unemployment before taking action.
Looking for your next job
Another option, if possible, is to go to work, but spend time at work looking for your next job.
The reason: In many cases, the saying that “it’s easier to find a job if you have a job” holds true. Take advantage of the fact that you’re still employed while talking to other employers. There’s no need to let them know you’re in a potentially desperate situation – one without a paycheck.
Again, while the amount of backpay owed may or may not warrant a lawsuit, it is a good idea to at least consult with an employment attorney to come up with a plan to get what you earned.