Archives for January 2010

But I’m an Employee, Right?

Dear Compliance Man:

I got hired as a painter six months ago. I was happy to find work but there’s always been something kind of funny about this job. My boss says that we’re not employees but independent painters. Since I started, I’ve worked on a couple of schools and some private stuff and I always get paid the same flat rate, no taxes taken out. Is this illegal?

–Painted into a Corner

Dear Painted:

Thanks for writing. I understand how tough it is in this economy to come forward and question an employer when so many construction workers are out of work.

Your instinct is almost certainly correct though. For years, employers have been trying to skirt state and federal wage laws by claiming that you are your own boss. In fact, a study of construction contractors in Massachusetts found that 14% of them had wrongly classified their workers as independent contractors, denying them the wages and benefits they’re legally entitled to and sticking them with a major bill come tax time. Fortunately, both state and federal authorities have begun to crack down on this particular scam.

The bottom line: if your boss calls the shots about where and when you work and provides you with the equipment necessary to do your job, you are NOT an independent contractor.

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

Can My Wages Change Based on The States I Work In?

Dear Compliance Man,

My husband is a heavy equipment operator for a company based in New England. Almost all the roadwork that they do is in Massachusetts, but he only receives the rate for our state, which is lower. Is he entitled to the MA rate when he is working there?

–An Inquiring Wife

Dear Inquiring Wife,

Yes. Regardless of the worker’s state of residence, union status, or employer’s business location, when working on public projects in Massachusetts, he is entitled to the full prevailing wage set for that project. Don’t let the boss play games with your husband’s pay. While the contractor may deduct for legitimate programs such as health and welfare or pension, etc., the entire package must add up to the full prevailing wage set for that trade.

The actual rate is supposed to be posted at the job site but more often it can be found inside the Clerk of the Works’ trailer. You can also call us for the specific project rate. Most importantly, be sure that your husband keeps a log book of all of his projects along with hours worked, plus all paystubs. We’ll send you a log book free of charge or you can download a simple log book here.

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