Archives for February 2013

Risking My Job By Asking for Overtime?

Dear Compliance Man,

I’m a construction worker and since I’ve worked for my boss I’ve never seen overtime. There are times when I’ll work well over 40 hours and not get overtime. Isn’t this illegal?

You’re probably thinking: why don’t you just say something to your boss? I guess I never had the courage, but I’m meeting with him today and I’m going to say something about all of this. I’m nervous, but this is my life and I work very hard for my living and I just want what’s mine. If it turns out that I’m being ripped off can I get back pay?

–Shorted in Sturbridge

Dear Shorted,

Thanks for writing. Your suspicions are right on the money. You should be getting at least time and a half your regular hourly rate anytime you work more than 40 hours in a week. The good news is that you can get some of that money back by filing a claim for overtime under either the federal or state minimum wage laws.

As you prepare to file your claim, it’s a good idea to try to assemble as much documentation as you can–pay stubs, your own notes about when and where you worked–anything that shows a history of your employer breaking the law. Keep in mind that there is a statute of limitation for overtime claims, meaning that you have to file your claim within a certain period of time, two years for overtime claims, three years for prevailing wage claims. Also, under state law, you may be entitled to triple damages if it’s determined that your employer’s violations were “intentional.” In addition, if you make a claim under state law and it is successful, you’re also entitled to collect attorney’s fees. Both the federal and state statutes prohibit retaliation against you because you file a claim for overtime wages due under the law.

If this sounds confusing–and legal matters almost always are–give us a call at 1-877-507-3247. We’d be happy to help you prepare your claim.

Good luck!

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

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

Tax Time Means 1099 Kinds of Trouble

Dear Compliance Man,

My boss tells me we are in a “contracting relationship,” in which he “subcontracts” my laboring for his construction business. Trouble is, I have a hunch that I’ve been left holding the tax bag. It sure seems strange to say I’m in business for myself. Last I checked, he’s calling the shots.

– “Holding the Bag” in Boxboro

Dear Boxboro,

If you get a 1099 in the mail, it means that your boss hasn’t been withholding money from your paycheck in order to pay taxes. In the worst case situation, you could end up with a huge tax bill come April 15th.

But before you sell your house or pawn your dog, it’s important to find out if you really are an independent contractor. As the IRS explains, the issue is very complicated – what else is new! The good news, though, is that as a construction worker, unless you have your own business, you are almost always an employee – not an independent contractor.

Does your boss tell you what to do or how to do it? If you are told how, when, or where to do the work, what tools or equipment to use, or where to purchase supplies and services, you’re probably an employee. Have your received on-the-job-training? This indicates that your boss wants the work done a certain way, and that you are probably an employee.

If you need help figuring out your status, call the Foundation for Fair Contracting at 1-877-507-3247, or call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 and ask for a form SS-8. And if the IRS finds out that your boss misclassified you? Well, then it’s up to your boss to pick up the bill. So check your status before you write that check.

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