Often Owned Overtime

Dear Compliance Man:

My husband works for a small construction company in Western Massachusetts. He gets several different rates of pay, depending on the job, but his base pay is lower. My question is about his overtime.

His employer will only pay him “straight time” not time and a half. Also, this pay is paid cash, and not regularly. Instead of receiving weekly overtime pay, it accumulates until my husband asks for some of his overtime pay. Then the boss will include a couple hundred dollars in his paycheck envelope. They are not offering us an accounting of how many overtime hours he has accumulated, what has been paid, etc., even though I’ve asked for it. Financially this is difficult for us—we certainly could use the money weekly, not just when we get desperate and need to ask for it. The boss claims we are “better off” receiving the money as cash, but I’m not so sure.

–Frustrated and barely making ends meet


Dear Frustrated:

It sounds like you have every right to feel frustrated! If your husband’s boss only paid him when he felt like it, that would be a clear violation of state and federal laws. His overtime shenanigans aren’t legal either.

Overtime is calculated on a weekly basis and is triggered when an employee works over 40 hours that week. Employees must be paid in full, including overtime, within six days of the end of the pay period. That means that any time your husband works more than 40 hours in a single week, his next pay check must reflect that.

As for being paid in cash, his employer is within the law on this one, but he is required to give you the accounting you asked for. Whether payment is made via cash or check (promissory notes or IOUs aren’t legal), it must be accompanied by a list of hours worked including overtime, hourly rate and any deductions that have been taken out. Our state and federal governments enacted these worker protections in order that workers like your husband would be “better off.”

The most important thing that your husband can do is keep track of exactly how many hours he’s working, regular and overtime, and at what rate. If he concludes that his boss is underpaying him, then it may be time to consider filing a claim with the Attorney General’s office. The FFCM will gladly help him with this (we’re sending along a log book that your husband may find helpful), and will also be happy to provide his employer with a little refresher course on the law.

Thanks for writing!

For more commonly asked Compliance Man questions, visit the Compliance Man archives. Send your question to info@ffcm.org.

Working in Worcester? My Employer Says I Did…

Dear Compliance Man,

I recently got a mailing from you folks and it showed me working on a construction project way out in Worcester. Well, I’ve never worked out there. So why would my name show up on some project that I’ve never worked on?

— Confused in Canton

Dear Confused,

Unfortunately the situation you described happens all too often.

Here’s how it works: Massachusetts requires every contractor who works on public construction projects to submit certified payrolls to the state, showing who’s working on the project and how much they’re getting paid. Some contractors pad their payrolls with fake names to avoid paying the legally-mandated wage. Some of these ghost workers are just that—ghosts—but others are like you, real folks who are listed on projects they’ve never worked on.

So what does it mean for you? Other than an unpleasant surprise, not much. But for the employer who misused your name, it’s likely to mean all sorts of trouble. Contractors who pad their payrolls with “ghosts” often have plenty to hide, and the Attorney General won’t hesitate to look into this contractor’s story.

Thanks for writing!

For more commonly asked Compliance Man questions, visit the Compliance Man archives. Send your question to info@ffcm.org.