Payroll-pinching boss receives payback

A boss with suspect accounting practices gets his comeuppance when the employees push back against his shady demands

Back in the early days of my career, I worked at a small IT shop as a senior technician for a boss who had no idea how to run a business -- especially how to treat employees. "Bill" would "forget" to pay overtime, fight not to pay out vacation time, and even announce at 4:55 p.m. on a Friday that we were staying as long as it took to finish some surprise task that he would spring on people without proper advance warning.

Bill came up with all kinds of strange arguments. One encounter I had with him involved vacation time. Long story short, I put in a request for time off that covered the July 4 holiday. Bill refused my calculations, claiming, "Vacation days don't add up like normal numbers." I eventually resubmitted the same request but used different wording. He agreed readily to this plan, but demanded twice as much paperwork for the same request. I just shook my head, filed the papers, and took my vacation.

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Many of the employees were actively searching for other work in their spare time, and we dealt with Bill's random demands as best we could in the interim. For instance, at one point he announced he was adjusting our pay rates and wanted us all to take a $2-per-hour pay cut to control expenses.

The day after this announcement, he showed up at work driving a new motorcycle. We drew the proverbial line in the sand at this one, and surprisingly he relented -- maybe because some spouses joined in against him.

As Bill made more and more demands, I compiled a phone list of contacts in government offices, asking them for advice on dealing with some of his shenanigans. Our company met requirements for adhering to the fair wage and labor practices, so I got busy familiarizing myself with the laws.

But Bill pushed the limits more and more. Once he decided to rework payroll entirely, going to a two-week delay instead of a one-week lead time, so there was a week where we wouldn't receive paychecks.

The kicker was that he was more than happy to loan us a couple of hundred dollars each, as long as we paid it back out of the next four paychecks and with taxes collected against it going back into his pocket. Treating repaid loans as income was setting himself up for tax fraud.

Still another time he distributed a memo stating, "Too many mistakes are occurring at the shop, so the new policy is that on your first mistake you will receive a written warning. On the second mistake you will be docked a day's pay as punishment. On the third mistake you will be dismissed." Again, as I confirmed, docking pay in such a fashion was against the state's labor laws.

Bill started getting letters from government revenue and labor offices, undergoing audits, and receiving phone calls from government officials -- all of which made him decidedly angry and even harder to work for. Employees left. Customers abandoned him in droves. Eventually he wasn't taking in enough revenue to pay the electric bill, so he closed shop.

I think I can safely say that a lesson we all took away with us when we left that business was to do your homework -- not only with your job duties and skills, but also with the legal limits of labor practices and accounting. Granted, not all bosses are as suspect as my former supervisor, but it doesn't hurt to know when you're covered by the courts. Even after moving on to bigger and better networks, I still double-check everything on payroll and stay current with my knowledge of the state's wage and labor laws.

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