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

Electrician’s Wage for Electrician’s Work; Everything Else is Exempt?

Dear Compliance Man,

My buddy and I have spent most of the last year doing electrical work as part of a big school renovation project. Everything was going fine until we got near the end of the project and switched over from wiring to installing equipment like flat-paneled TVs, sound systems. When we noticed that our paychecks were smaller, we approached him and were told that we don’t get the electrician’s rate anymore because we’re done with the electrical work. Is this really true?

–Wired Out West

Dear Wired,

The short answer to your question is ‘no.’

Unfortunately, in my years answering questions from construction workers, I’ve encountered too many examples of just what you’ve described. And while contractors typically blame confusion over prevailing wage laws, the mistake seems to always result in the worker being paid less than what he or she is owed. Roofers, for example, are still roofers even if they’re moving up and down the ladder or hauling equipment to the roof site.

In your case, the rate you receive is based on the collective bargaining agreement that covers your particular trade. In other words, while the specifics of your job may change from day to day, you remain an electrician throughout and that’s the rate at which you should be paid.

The good news is that you’re most likely entitled to back pay—and the FFCM would be happy to help you get it. 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

What Exactly is the FFCM and What Can It Do For Me?

Dear Compliance Man,

I recently received a letter from you people in the mail. It had my name, the company I’ve been working for and the project we’re working on. Then it had the amount of money I guess I’m supposed to be making, but what I am getting is a lot less than that. So I have two questions. First of all, how did you get my name, and second, how do I get the amount of money that I should be getting?

–Real confused in Reading

Dear Reading:

Thanks for writing! The Foundation For Fair Contracting of Massachusetts sends out tens of thousands of letters like the one you describe to workers just like you.

State law requires that contractors who get public money to work on construction projects—roads, libraries, schools, fire stations, etc—submit payroll records to the cities and towns that employ them. These records include your name and the amount that your employer says that you’re earning. In our capacity as a ‘watchdog’ group, we show you that number so you can check it against what you’re really making—the amount that shows up on your paycheck each week.

Now, for the second part of your question. If there is a difference between your personal bottom line and what your boss says you’re making, you’ll want to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office.

For more information on how to do just that, 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

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