Fraudulent Payrolls, Shady Unemployment, and a Dodgy Employer

Dear Compliance Man,

My husband and many of his coworkers are not getting paid the prevailing wage as required on state projects. The owner of the company also fraudulently fills out certified payrolls, which as you know are required on these projects. My husband has been collecting unemployment for months, as are many others at the company, but still getting paid under the table by the owner. Many of my husbands “paychecks” bounce for his under the table work.

This has been going on for years, and while we realize that we weren’t doing the right thing by working and accepting these checks while collecting unemployment it has now gotten to the point where it needs to be exposed.We just want to survive as a family.

I’m 100% certain that when you interview the workers, all these issues will be found to be accurate. I hesitate to sign this letter because of the owner’s volatile temper and repercussions that may happen should I become involved.

–Had It

Dear Had It,

First of all, thanks so much for being brave and honest enough to come forward. This obviously wasn’t an easy letter for you to write.

Now for the good news. The state of Massachusetts has begun to crackdown on employers, like your husband’s, who skirt the law through various “off the books” schemes. A new anonymous tip-line (1-877-627-7233) has been set up to help workers report fraud at their workplaces, and a tough new state law will entitle workers who’ve been underpaid or denied overtime to triple damages paid by their employers. You’ve done your part by alerting authorities to what sounds like a serious case of workplace fraud.

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

What’s the Formula for Filing a Complaint?

Dear Compliance Man,

I would like to know how to go about filing a complaint about an employer. I recently learned about a landscaping firm that hires mostly Spanish-speaking workers, many of whom are not aware of prevailing wage requirements. Some of them have worked for the firm for several years, but make only $9-$10 per hour. Because I work with a corporation that does all public work, I am very familiar with state and federal wage laws. What can I do to file a complaint so this can be investigated?

– Concerned in Quincy

Dear Quincy,

Without hearing directly from the workers you mention, there is still quite a bit that can be done to expose this fraud being committed at the expense of the public and the workers themselves.

First of all, I’d like to remind you that in addition to the e-mail you sent, you can call us directly on our fully confidential hotline: 1-877-507-3247. Anytime you (or any construction worker) would like to chat, leave a message – the Foundation for Fair Contracting won’t forget you.

Because the jobs you describe here are public, the contractor has a number of contractual obligations, including submitting payroll records. Once we’ve gathered the necessary evidence, the FFCM is not shy about filing complaints with the Fair Labor and Business Practices Division. The Foundation works directly with you, at no cost, to see that justice is done. And tip-offs like yours are always welcome. For more info on this subject, see the Compliance Man story Fraudulent Payrolls, Shady Unemployment and a Dodgy Employer.

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

Compliance Man FAQs

In every Wage Watch issue, Compliance Man answers your questions about your rights as a public construction worker. And plenty of questions there are—I get letters, phone calls and e-mails from workers just like you almost every day.

While I love hearing from you (keep the questions coming!), many of the queries are very similar. So this issue, I’ve revisit some of the topics that seem to come up over and over again. Here’s a look:

“What is the FFCM and why are you sending me a letter?”

The FFCM monitors public construction projects all over the state, making sure that contractors who receive public money are paying their workers the prevailing wage. The Foundation for Fair Contracting sends out thousands of letters a year to public construction workers, informing them of what they are entitled to.

“So does that mean that my employer is cheating me?”

Look carefully at the letter and you’ll notice that we have included information about the rate recorded by your employer and other important issues like job classifications and overtime. Check the information in the letter against your pay stub. If things don’t match, there may be a problem.

“My boss is paying me less than the prevailing wage. Is there anything I can do?”

Yes! The FFCM is here to help you get back any money that you might be owed and works with the Attorney General’s office to make contractors like yours aware of their legal obligations to their employees. Our monitors will help you determine how much money you’re owed and assist you in filing a claim with the AG’s office.

One guarantee: the key to a strong case lies in good record keeping. If you think that you are being cheated on the job, start keeping track of the work you’re doing and how much you’re being paid for it ASAP. We can send you a logbook to help you keep track.

“I’m worried that there is something fishy going on with my pension plan—but my employer discourages me from asking questions.”

Under federal law, your employer is required to provide you with a copy of what’s called the Summary Plan Description (SPD), including information on what your plan provides and how it operates. You are also entitled to receive annual financial reports, individual benefit statements and other pension-related documents. Failure to provide such information could result in a penalty for your employer.

If you have pension problems, give us a call at  1-877-507-3247, email us at, or fill out this electronic form

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

Long on Hours, Short on Pay

Dear Compliance Man,

I worked construction last year on a public job and I’m pretty sure I got paid less than what I was supposed to be getting. If I’m right and my former boss owes me money, how do I get it back? What happens to him if it turns out that he was breaking the law?

–Shortchanged in Somerset

Dear Shortchanged,

You’ve come to the right place! If you suspect that you’ve been paid less than the prevailing wage on a public job, the Foundation for Fair Contracting can help. Contact us by phone, email, letter or fax. We’ll discuss your complaint with you and send you the form and information you need to start the process.

Using whatever information we receive from you and the additional documents we’ve collected, we’ll help you assemble as complete a complaint as possible for transmittal to the state enforcement agency – the Office of the Attorney General. Their Fair Labor Practices Division will assign an investigator to your case who’ll determine whether and just how much money you’re owed. Your investigator might also contact you for additional information. The Attorney General will notify you of the outcome. You can contact the Foundation at any time during the investigation process for updates. The Attorney General may also issue a citation and additional penalties against your former employer.

How long does the process take? This often depends on how clearly you’re able to document your case. And the sooner you get started, the sooner you’re likely to get the money you are owed!

REMEMBER:  Always keep a log of all your jobs – hours worked, work performed, wage rates – and your pay stubs so that if you need to file a complaint, you’ll have the records you need! We’ll be happy to send you one of our Log Books; just call 1-877-507-3247, email us at, or fill out this electronic form.

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

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