boss paying under the table

by Ask a Manager on January 18, 2009

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A reader writes:

I work for a very small company that is having cash flow problems. For the past few months the boss has been paying the employees our net wages in cash, not giving us payslips, and not paying any tax to the government. He simply expects us not to report this income on our tax returns.

We are all unhappy about this, concerned that it might get us into trouble, but he said the alternative was to fire one of us so he can afford the taxes. He says he’ll return to regular paychecks when he can.

What do we do? If one of us is audited, will we be in trouble or does he take all the blame?

What your boss is doing is illegal, and unfortunately, if you and other employees go along with it, you will be breaking the law too. Specifically, your boss is breaking the law by not paying payroll taxes or withholding taxes, and you and your coworkers would be breaking the law if you don’t report the income.

His reasons aside, what he’s doing opens you all up to criminal prosecution, fines, and even the possibility of jail time. Plus, if you or your coworkers ever need to file unemployment, workers comp, or disability claims, your benefits could be denied because you won’t have a way to prove your earnings — and it could also affect your Social Security earnings down the road.

I recommend that you and your coworkers approach the boss as a group and tell him that you know that he’s trying to avoid a difficult staffing decision, but that he’s jeopardizing himself, the business, and all of you with his current “solution.” Perhaps there are other alternatives to laying someone off that you could suggest — maybe you’re all willing to work four days instead of five, at four-fifths your current salary, or other things along those lines. Ultimately, though, it’s your boss’ responsibility to figure out what to do without breaking the law.

I’d also start job-searching, as these aren’t good signs.


Gingerale January 18, 2009 at 9:43 pm

I hope you can get out of there ASAP.

Evil HR Lady January 19, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Find a new job. Right now. This is not where you want to be.

Things will get worse here.

Rebecca January 20, 2009 at 2:34 pm

If there’s nothing the employee can do to get out of this situation at the moment (it might take a while to find a new job, after all), how could they handle it? Is there any way to CYA, legally speaking, in this situation?

Anonymous January 25, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Report this company to the government. If you work well with them and they can prove a solid case, there may be some assistance that can be offered in the transitional phase.

Paid Under Table January 26, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Thanks for responding to my letter. I have decided to leave the company at the end of the month. Even if he pays legally from now on, I can’t forgive him for putting us at risk for the cash payments. For my colleagues, it may be worth it. For me, however small the risk might be, the job is just not worth it.

I don’t want to actively get the boss into trouble (mainly because it will affect the other employees, who have to decide for themselves what to do), but I have to get myself out of trouble. I’m going to declare those net cash payments as if they were gross income and suck it up. Maybe the IRS will notice his books don’t match mine, maybe they won’t.

Anonymous November 24, 2009 at 9:21 pm

I am a waitress for a small restaurant, i am only 19 and my boss refuses to pay me legally, he said that i am down as " a casual worker" and that i wont get in trouble for not paying taxes or reporting it. I was wondering if there was more information i could present my boss with.

Ask a Manager November 25, 2009 at 1:37 am

Anonymous, your boss is making things up. There's no special tax-exempt category of worker called "casual workers."

Anonymous October 23, 2013 at 7:40 pm

I’m in the same situation that you are in right now. My boss is an idiot their I said it. He to also does under the table pays and no paychecks we are all at risk if we get cought. He has been doing this for at least 27 years. I’ve only been their for 7 years and been wanting another job. It’s a crappy Mexican restraunt were all the boss dose is complain. About him wasting his money watching us work for him. Right now the place is on the urge of closing tho it serves him right.

Jessa December 1, 2013 at 9:56 am

I’m sorry… Your boss is the idiot? Maybe you should learn the difference between there, their and they’re before you call other people idiots Also, were and where are not interchangeable. And it’s spelled caught, buddy. You’re not on the urge of doing something; you’re on the verge. Idiot!!!

Anonymous December 3, 2013 at 9:09 am

Obviously English is their 2nd language. How well do you write in Spanish?

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