was I fired or laid off, buying alcohol on a lunch break, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My manager has been really accommodating about my medical issues, and I feel guilty about resigning

I work for a small (less than 10 people) nonprofit in a role with a pretty rare skill set. I’ve been in the position for just under two years, and for almost the whole time I have been struggling with a mental health condition that’s strongly harmed my work. I’m looking at intensive medical interventions, which will require some form of work accommodation (either a 2-4 week leave of absence, or me going 4/5-time). My manager is on board with these options — I’m honestly surprised I haven’t been fired already, but she’s an incredibly understanding person.

However, because of unrelated reasons, I’m also strongly considering resigning about the end of this year. It seems like poor form to take a generous accommodation and then turn around and resign. Because I think I’d be difficult to replace, I had always planned to give a lot of notice, package up my work neatly, and train my replacement if asked. But I feel like I owe my workplace a lot for putting up with my mental health condition and being willing to extend further accommodations.

How can I figure out what’s fair here? How can I navigate between “my mental health needs are genuine” and “I owe my workplace for putting up with my crap”? And beyond being an ideal resignee, what could I give my workplace in payment of this debt, real or perceived?

You’re dealing with medical issues here. You haven’t been jerking your employer around. This isn’t them giving you tons of flexibility to let you pursue a hobby or some other passion outside of work, or okaying a travel sabbatical with the understanding that they’d hold your job open as long as you were going to return to full-time work afterwards, and then you saying “never mind, see ya!” This is a situation where they were accommodating to you because you were dealing with a serious medical situation. Sometimes those end with “okay, everything’s great and I’m back to work at full speed” — but any sensible manager knows that sometimes they end differently.

Don’t let your manager’s willingness to help you turn into an albatross that guilts you into not doing what’s best for your health. You say she’s kind and understanding, so I feel certain that she wouldn’t want that. (And even if she did, it wouldn’t create an obligation on your part to give in.)

Plus, it’s pretty likely that you’ve been providing more value than you think during this time, and I suspect that’s part of why she’s been so willing to accommodate you — so don’t sell yourself short there. If you weren’t providing much value on a tiny staff, you probably would have heard about it by now.

As for being an ideal resignee: Giving lots of notice, leaving your work in good shape, and training a replacement is pretty much the best thing you could ever do when you’re resigning and have a boss who has treated you well. That’s a great plan. But you could also talk it through with your manager and get her input too — “here’s what I’m thinking; is there anything else I could do that would make this an easier transition?”

2. Buying alcohol on a break from work (to consume later)

I have a birthday party I have to leave for immediately after work, and so I thought I would go ahead and buy the alcohol I needed for it over my lunch break. I also (stupidly) happened to mention to the cashier where I worked, and it’s a place that definitely frowns on drinking while on duty and is concerned about the appearance of their employees. So my question is, do you think it was a big mistake to do that over my lunch?

Not at all. This isn’t drinking at work, or even drinking at lunch. You bought a perfectly legal product on your lunch break. It would be really strange — to the point of bizarre and outrageous — for anyone to have a problem with that.

Go forth and worry no more.

3. Was I fired or laid off?

I lost my job today. Well, I know where my job is, I was just asked to stop doing it. I’m not too terribly upset by it. It was a fantastic job, but they were having a hard time finding work for me to do. It’s also a great time to be a developer in Seattle, so I don’t expect that it will be all that difficult to find a new one relatively quick, and I’ll probably make more money too. Fingers crossed, anyway.

One thing stood out when I was being ushered toward the door. My now former manager told me that I wasn’t being fired because of anything I did or did not do. He said that he’s got something like 20 developers in the company, that he couldn’t find a project to put me on, and that the company has changed a lot since I started last year and doesn’t have the capacity to train a junior developer (which I am). He specifically said that I was being fired rather than being laid off, but from what I’m reading it sure sounds more like a layoff to me.

It sounds like the definition of a layoff to me, but a lot of people are confused about the difference between firing (let go for performance or other cause) and laying off (position eliminated for lack of work, restructuring, or other business reasons). I can’t tell from your note if you mean that he went out of his way to stress that it was a firing and not a layoff, or if he just called it a firing. Assuming the latter, I’d figure it’s just a terminology problem and that it’s in fact a layoff. But if it’s the former, I’d contact him and ask him to clarify.

Actually, you might contact him either way, because you don’t want him telling future reference-checkers that you were fired if in fact you weren’t. You could say something like this: “Fergus, I wanted to check back with you about my termination. You called it a firing, but also said it wasn’t due to anything I’d done, and that it was because of lack of work, which sounds more like a layoff. I want to make sure that I describe it accurately in future interviews, and that we’re both telling reference-checkers the same thing — am I right in thinking this is a layoff, since you’re eliminating the position?”

Read updates to this letter here and here.

4. I found out from a coworker that I got a promotion

I was going for a promotion at work that report to a different executive and management chain. I was waiting for a yes/no answer and received an email from a peer who was also going for a promotion. The email essentially said “our director (neither’s direct manager) told me we both got the job.” This was the first I had heard of my promotion. Besides the fact that he told many colleagues and new teammates we both got the job before I received the offer, the director never told me I received an offer; no one did for a week after.

I’ve since received an offer directly from the hiring manager but am still negotiating salary. I am upset about the way I was told. Is it appropriate to bring this to HR? I mentioned how I was told to my manager and she brushed over it. The director makes me uncomfortable and plays favorites but is highly popular with her bosses.

That’s weird and was mishandled, but unless it’s part of a larger pattern of concerns about communication with your director, I’d let it go. If it is part of a larger pattern of concerns about communication, I’d start by talking to your boss about that, with the focus on the pattern, not this one incident. HR’s job isn’t really to be an intermediary if you haven’t already tried to address this kind of thing on your own first.

5. My paychecks have been late for five years

Five years ago, my employer had asked me to hold off on depositing my paycheck due to lack of funds from business slowing down. Being a small family-owned and operated business, I wanted to be helpful so I agreed to hold off. Well, here we are, five years later and I am now sitting on four paychecks! Each pay period I deposit the oldest check while retaining the newest. Every time I inquire about depositing them, I get told a slew of excuses and that I need to wait. I’m done waiting, so what can I do? I’m in California.

Say this to your manager: “I’ve tried to be patient with the paycheck situation, but I really need to get it taken care of this month. I’m currently owed four paychecks. We could get in a lot of trouble with the state government for this; California actually requires employees to be paid within two weeks of performing the work, and comes down pretty hard when labor laws aren’t followed. Can we set up a plan to get fully caught up on my pay with the next check?”

(You can find out the exact number of days that applies to you here.)

I’m not hopeful that it will actually happen; if they don’t have the money, they don’t have the money (although this could motivate them to move it from something else). But it’s a reasonable thing to say. And meanwhile, give some thought to how comfortable you are tying your livelihood to a business that’s having this much trouble paying you what you earn. It’s been happening for five years — I think you can safely assume that it’s going to continue happening.

Last, you can file a wage claim with the state here.

{ 188 comments… read them below }

  1. neverjaunty*

    OP #5: stop being helpful. Start looking for a new job, and in the meantime, check in with the the California labor department. It is NOT okay for a business to stay going through stealing employee wages, which is exactly what has been happening to you. Plenty of small, family owned businesses pay their employees fairly.

    1. Hlyssande*

      Yes, this.

      Also, if you’re constantly a paycheck behind, they’re probably reporting your taxes wrong.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        I didn’t even think of that. Yikes! OP, please get out of this place as soon as possible. You don’t want the IRS coming down on you for their screwup.

      2. AW*

        Can OP #5 get in trouble with the government for mis-reporting their earnings or would that all be on the employer for doing their W2’s wrong?

      3. Bleu*

        OP is four paychecks behind. That’s 2 months behind if OP is paid every other week; 1 month behind if OP is paid weekly.

      4. Devil's Avocado*

        I read it as if the OP has the cheques, but is unable to cash them. In that case, the cheque would be posted in their accounting system (presumably on the right date), but the business doesn’t have the cash for the cheque to go through. If that’s true the business’ reporting could be up to date, even though OP can’t cash the cheques.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Well, OP *could* take the checks to the bank they’re drawn on and try to get them honored – it would not surprise me if the business in fact had money in its accounts, but just prefers to direct that money to things other than paying the OP.

        2. Beezus*

          I don’t think OP has really been “paid” for those pay periods if they’ve been told not to cash the checks, regardless of what the employer’s system says about the payment date. I would not consider the payment made until the OP can cash the check, and I suspect the DOL would agree. The employer is just playing a cute semantics game if they argue that they’re paying on time because the check has timely issue date in the system.

          1. Devil's Avocado*

            Oh, whoops! I meant to respond to AW’s post about tax filing.

            I’m not arguing that the OP has been paid – I’m just saying that theoretically, the business could be up to date on its filings even though the OP doesn’t have the cash.

  2. MsChandandlerBong*

    OP #5, if you aren’t already, start looking for another job. My FIL owns a business and has had to ask people to hold their checks about a bajillion times. I’ve done some bookkeeping for the company, so I know what’s going on in the background, and none of it is good.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      What is going on in the background? My BF recently left his job for one week, only to find out the new place couldn’t meet payroll and owed employees over 5 million in backpay, so went back to his old job (thank god). I don’t understand how they are still in business because multiple people have left and filed claims over the past two years. I can only assume they’re keeping two sets of books? One with real wages, the other with fake?

      1. MsChandandlerBong*

        I don’t want to say too much and give myself away here, but my FIL only keeps one set of books. He’ll run payroll and know that he’s going to be in the negative if he doesn’t make a deposit, so he’ll ask people to hold their checks until Tuesday or Wednesday instead of cashing them on Friday. He really has no business sense at all (his father is the one who was good with sales, customer service, and management, but he passed away years ago). My husband’s aunt was running the office for a while, so she managed to keep things going, but she finally got fed up and got a job elsewhere. Now that he’s on his own, they are getting shutoff notices from utility companies, the property taxes on the business property haven’t been paid in two years, vendors are cutting them off for non-payment, etc. I just can’t think of any good reason an employer would have to ask you to hold a check, unless there had been some huge mistake with a bank deposit or something. Even then, it would be a one-time thing, not an ongoing issue.

  3. Artemesia*

    It is so important that this layoff read like a layoff and not a firing, so this is a critical conversation to have; if the boss doesn’t immediately agree, then I would push back about how important it is to have it phrased that way.

      1. anon for this*

        That’s what I wondered too. In my state (and in most states, I think) a layoff means basically automatic eligibility for unemployment. It’s the quintessential example of losing your job through no fault of your own. Being fired or quitting leads to the unemployment office automatically treating your claim as contested. Now, if you were fired for something that wasn’t misconduct (and that’s misconduct as defined by the unemployment agency, not the employer) you’ll still get unemployment benefits. But there will be more hassle and hoops to jump through.

        If I were you, I would have a conversation with the employer ASAP to get on the same page regarding 1) what to tell unemployment and 2) what to expect them to say if contacted for a reference. Alison’s script is excellent.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Unbelievably, there are “consulting firms” that advise employers in unemployment compensation evasion.

        Some states, they don’t do well and they steer clear; others, what their “M.O.” is —

        a) they advise a manager to be vague as to why the employee is being let go. On termination, you “trick” the guy or gal into thinking he’s laid off

        b) when the person goes to file and collect unemployment – he learns he was let go “for cause”.

        c) upon demanding the “cause” – the employer evades, ducks, dodges, etc.

        If the employee stands and fights, he eventually will win. It’s a matter of patience, strong will, and, of course, finally, as in a friend’s case where his claim was held up for eight months – the state told the employer “RESPOND OR BE IN DEFAULT”, and the former employer finally came clean.

        In some states, punitive damages can be awarded.

        If you find out you WERE fired – terminated for cause – force the employer to reveal the “cause” – with specifics.

        1. BananaPants*

          Yes, and most large companies hire these firms specifically to keep former employees from getting unemployment.

          Long story short, this happened to my husband after he was let go with no warning after nearly 3 years of working in a call center for a major telecom company. He had multiple performance awards, including one just a few weeks before he lost his job, and consistent excellent performance reviews. When he was let go he was not told a reason, just that a number of others were also being let go and HR advised him to file an unemployment claim. Then six weeks later the checks stopped and we were told his former employer was appealing the unemployment claim by saying he’d been fired for a performance issue. In the end their contracted firm managed to win and he was denied further benefits due to him supposedly incorrectly transferring three calls to tech support over the course of a year (I’m not kidding). The only thing the labor board did in his favor was to rule that he filed for unemployment in good faith and didn’t have to repay the six weeks of benefits already received.

          We realized way too late that we should have retained an employment attorney. There’s so much red tape involved in the appeals process and if you’re not 100% sure of what to do and when, the former employer (or their contracted firm) usually wins.

        2. Middle Name Jane*

          This happened to a woman I used to work with many years ago. Really scummy of the employer to have done that to her. She didn’t have much money to begin with, and her husband had cancer. She had to work fast food for awhile.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes, this is also important for your Unemployment. If you choose the wrong kind of termination, and it doesn’t match with what they filed, it could hold up your first check. It happened to me and we had to have a hearing because they were trying to dispute it, but I ultimately won because they didn’t have a leg to stand on as far as denying me my benefits.

    2. Vicki*

      When this almost same thing happened to me, the paperwork had the “voluntarily quit” box checked. Oh no, I did not.

      I saw an employment lawyer (in our county, the Bar Association offers anyone the ability to talk to a lawyer once for a general consultation, for $25). The lawyer recommended I send a letter to the company stating that “On the advice of my lawyer, I am asking you to correct this error, stating instead that I was laid off (not voluntarily quit). Also, please include a statement to the effect that the company will not stand in my way when I apply for Unemployment Insurance benefits”.

  4. Brooke*

    At one point I worked at a very small, family-owned business. The fact that they couldn’t make payroll which I estimated to be less than $20k was a huge red flag. I heard about even more shady things they were doing, like asking employees to carry large amount of business-related debt on their own credit cards, defaulting on debts owed to vendors, even misusing state funds. I got out… and shortly after reported what I’d discovered to the state of CA.

    And trust me, it makes the “why are you looking for a job?” interview question a cinch. All I had to say was “they can’t make payroll” and it was onto the next question :)

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      “I heard about even more shady things they were doing, like asking employees to carry large amount of business-related debt on their own credit cards…”


      I mean, what?

      I can see the odd picking up a box of pens because stationery isn’t due to be replaced for a couple of weeks, but who answers “Will you carry our business related debts this month?” with “Yes, sure” and not “I’ll be leaving in [notice period]”?

      You just shouldn’t ever pose that question to an employee. Ever. I amazed that they were able to do that.

      1. Violetta*

        I suspect it would be more like being asked to pay for something like business travel and not being reimbursed – which I can see as harder to say no to, especially if you initially have no reason to suspect they won’t (immediately) reimburse you

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, that’s my read of it — having people put those expenses on their personal cards and then get reimbursed is actually really common. But if they take a long time to reimburse you, you’re essentially making them a loan with zero interest.

          1. Brooke*

            In the case I mentioned, it was even worse. The company didn’t have the money to pay a vendor and an overly-nice project manager was asked (and agreed) to putting the expense on her own personal credit card. It did NOT get paid off promptly; at least the project manager DID demand interest. But still, insane.

        2. super anon*

          I’ve been watching a lot of Gordon Ramsey related tv lately, and on one episode of Hotel Hell he talks to a chef who eventually quit because she was tired of maxing out her credit card buying produce for the restaurant – because it was either that or have no food to serve. That owner was also terrible at making payroll (aka, he never paid payroll), so I can’t imagine she ever saw any of that produce-spent money back.

    2. Noah*

      Been there, late on payroll, late on expense checks, and lots of employees leaving. I will forgive missed payroll once, as long as it is made up in a reasonable timeframe. I would not float four pay periods for 5 years.

    3. LabTech*

      And trust me, it makes the “why are you looking for a job?” interview question a cinch. All I had to say was “they can’t make payroll” and it was onto the next question

      Wow, thank you for saying this – it’s going to save me so much headache whenever I’m job-searching. Before my current role, I was at Toxic Job, and among the many awful working conditions there, they went a whole month without paying me, and acted very nonchalant about it.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Right, *no* functional company is going to side-eye you for leaving a place that couldn’t make payroll.

      2. Brooke*

        Yep. It was the easiest explanation I’ve ever had to give. I coupled it with “…. however, I did get great experience working on X and Y, which I can apply right away…” etc.

        1. Vicki*

          The other easy explanation is “I was working for [Company known for layoffs every other quarter for the past 5 years]”. I get a nod of the head in response and a “Yes, we’ve read about them in the news” and we move on.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      Wow, sounds a lot like the place I mentioned above. Supposedly that place is’t even investing the employees’ 401k contributions, and they’re getting employees to sign away their backpay in lieu of raises (yes! raises they can’t pay) and more stock options. Can’t believe anyone can get away with it, especially in CA.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        There was one company in our area – some 20 years ago – that hit the financial ropes — under new ownership. The first major alarm bell came with the United Way. This company had been heavily involved in the United Way – its employees cheerfully made payroll deductions.

        The United Way became suspicious and indirectly warned some employees, informally, that they weren’t receiving their donations.

        The, well, organic material hit the fan when a woman was hospitalized for delivery of her baby and found out her health insurance had been cancelled. Since she wasn’t going back to work – the bosses there were dragged into court – and ordered to pay the medical bills. And it made the papers.

        Around six months later, the company went belly-up. And another year or so later its executives were off to jail.

  5. Doriana Gray*

    OP #2 – I used to buy alcohol all the time on my lunch break when I worked at my former job (a law firm that was high stress and notorious for churning and burning through employees), and sometimes I’d take it home on the break (I lived down the street from the office), but other times I’d just store it in my bag and go back to work. No one cared. As long as I wasn’t taking shots at my desk, nobody questioned it. I like to think of it like running any other errand on a lunch break – most reasonable employers realize people have lives outside of work and will occasionally need to do personal things when there’s free time from work.

    1. I'm not a lawyer, but ...*

      This really depends on your employer. Many government employees are subject to immediate firing for bringing alcohol on government property, even if it stays in your car in the parking lot.

      1. hermit crab*

        Right, but in that case there’s a clear policy, which employees are presumably aware of. The “it’s probably fine” answer applies to situations where there’s no such policy.

        1. Doriana Gray*

          Exactly. We understand that government jobs, schools, churches, and other places that have stricter policies may take issue with this (and if the OP worked for one of these places, I would think she would have said so in the original letter.). We’re talking about everywhere else.

      2. Meg*

        I mean, the cashier doesn’t work for the employer. I think this is probably not a big deal as it is highly unlikely that the cashier is going to be calling up the employer to report that the employee bought booze. I’m not allowed to have alcohol at the office at my job, but I could have a bottle of wine in my car in the parking lot (I drive to work and from this letter it is not clear whether the OP drives or commutes on foot or public transit). The cashier certainly had no way of knowing whether the OP was bringing booze into the workplace. I can’t imagine why it would matter that the OP told them cashier where the OP worked.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          The cashier and the OP work in the same place– I had to read it a few times! I think she mentioned to the cashier that she was running out to by booze and she was concerned that the cashier would share that with their manager.

          1. Meg*

            Yep, totally missed that (even though I read it twice). In that case, it is only a problem if the OP is keeping the alcohol on premises and there is a policy against that there.

          2. Minion*

            I’m not seeing where the OP and the cashier work in the same place. She says she happened to mention to the cashier where she worked – which I interpreted to mean that while she was checking out with the alcohol she chatted with the cashier and mentioned that she worked at Teapots Inc. and now she’s afraid the cashier will mention that to someone else who may be from Teapots Inc.
            Of course, that sentence can be read a couple of different ways, I suppose. Not sure which one OP meant, but suddenly I have this burning desire to know for sure. It’s really difficult being a know-it-all and unable to know something for sure. :(

            1. OP #2*

              I don’t work with the cashier. I work in a school district and I was more afraid that he would mention it to someone else at the district or that he would report to the district that someone was buying alcohol during the school day.

      3. AnotherHRPro*

        This is what I came to say. OP, if you are brining alcohol into your employer’s place of business, please check to see if they have a policy prohibiting that. Many employers do not allow alcohol on premises. If you are leaving it in your personal car on company property, that would most likely be fine.

    2. Dot Warner*

      I could see where it would get awkward if the OP was in a work uniform, and an employer could conceivably have a rule against that. But if they don’t, I think you’re fine, OP. (I wear scrubs to work and buying alcohol is one of the things I don’t do while wearing them, but that’s my rule, not my employer’s.)

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        But also, I assume this was a substantial quantity, if it was for a party, and therefore kind of obvious she wasn’t just buying a tallboy to drink on her break.

    3. INTP*

      Yep, just keep it well-hidden from customers’ view. I assume this is a retail or similar environment, and the customers might not be so generous with a “These employees have lives view” if they see you walking into the back room holding a bottle of tequila. Sometimes people are weird and will assume the employees are all in the back getting drunk instead of helping them. But if you keep it in your purse or an unassuming grocery sack as you walk by the customers and keep it fairly hidden in the employee area, it shouldn’t be a huge deal if someone happens to catch a glimpse, especially if it is obviously full and unopened.

    4. Cath in Canada*

      I’ve done this several times, too – there’s a liquor store just a block away from the office, and I see various colleagues doing the same thing from time to time. It’s always fun walking back to your desk with a clinking bag and fielding all the “helpful” comments about it from colleagues!

      Once, a day before the deadline for a couple of grants I was working on for a funding agency that’s also a block away from the office, I ran into our program manager as we were both leaving the liquor store. My bag clinked and I said “grant writing supplies!”; with perfect timing, her bag clinked too and she said “grant reviewing supplies”.

  6. BobtheBreaker*

    OP #5

    Enjoy your new business! The settlement for 5 years of tom-foolery, like that, would be (relatively) staggering. You’ll likely never see a dime of it, but taking your Statement of Award to civil Court would almost guarantee that you could assess damages out of the equity of the company.

    1. Nursey Nurse*

      If the company can’t even make payroll, there probably isn’t much equity to be claimed.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        Cash in the business and assets are very different things, so it’s possible that even a cash strapped busiess has assets worth taking to cover a debt.

        1. Nursey Nurse*

          Sure, that’s possible. I’m assuming that a small business would have borrowed against its assets to pay expenses, but I could be wrong.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Eh, it depends. It could be a company where the owners are cleaning out the business to line their own pockets, so it could make payroll, but they choose not to. It could be that the personal assets of the owners and the assets of the business are entangled such that OP could actually go after the owners’ finances. It could be that if it’s an ongoing business, OP could have assets seized or do a ’till tap’ (taking money as it comes in) to pay an award.

            We don’t have enough information to say, but it’s clear that OP shouldn’t cut these people any slack.

          2. Rater Z*

            I worked 30 years ago for a small company (13 employees including the two owners) where the owners had finally bought a small building to be in instead of renting small offices. I remember them saying they had to tie the mortgage on the building to those on their homes. We never had a problem with the payroll. However, both owners would be 88 now so would presume the business is long gone. (What they were doing has changed so radically there’s no chance they survived it.)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think it will be staggering, because they’ve only been a few paychecks behind at a time. California actually doesn’t have an automatic fine for missed paychecks (surprisingly), although they do if an employer is late on the final paycheck when someone leaves.

    3. Colette*

      That may not get the OP what she wants.

      When this happened to me (one bounced paycheck, not four going back years), I pointed out that I don’t work for free, so they needed to figure out how to pay me. They figured it out – but if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have continued working.

      In the OP’s case, she should be clear that they need to get caught up and give them a deadline (less than a month). If they don’t pay her, she can report them then. She should be aware that the most she’s likely to get is the money she’s owed, and she will likely be out a job. On the other hand, if she resolves it directly, she may stay employed while the company is solvent, which could give her more time to find something else.

  7. Nursey Nurse*

    I have a question regarding letter #5. I looked at the linked code provisions, and the penalties discussed therein seem to apply only to former employees who aren’t payed promptly after quitting or being laid off. Is there a separate set of penalties that apply in cases where the claimant is a current employee?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Exactly – there’s no automatic penalty for late paychecks. However, I think it’s a safe bet that the state department of labor would enforce the law and insist on payment as vigorously as they enforce the rest of their labor code. Which is pretty vigorously.

      1. Nursey Nurse*

        Sure. The employee clearly has a right to prompt payment of wages under the code. I also wonder if the employer, who is basically floating checks, would face repercussions under some other section of the law.

        Thanks for answering my question!

        1. Legalchef*

          The employer is essentially writing bad checks, since they know they can’t cover it. That’s a crime in a lot of places. So that’s one way they can face reprucussions.

            1. Apollo Warbucks*

              Does the law surrounding bad cheques make a distinction around if the intent is fraudulent? Also the law states wages must be paid within certain time limits issuing a cheque and then not letting the OOP cash it is denying them their wages I’m sure that has to be illegal.

              1. Natalie*

                If what they’re doing is functioning as check kiting (basically, using the float to make a check into a short term loan) I don’t think it matters that the receiver of the check knows.

              1. Colette*

                I doubt that – I can write a cheque to myself for $1000000 and I doubt I would be prosecuted for it. If I wrote it to you to pay for my $1000000 debt, that would be fraud as I know it won’t clear. If I wrote it to you as a joke, that shouldn’t be illegal as you know it’s a joke and that it won’t clear.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  Right, but ‘fraud’ is not the only law you could possibly be violating by writing a check you know has insufficient funds (and obviously it would depend on the circumstances of the check).

    2. Employment Lawyer*

      I’ve dealt with this, though not in CA.
      There’s a general obligation to ‘PAY WAGES.” There are also various laws against giving bad checks. The laws don’t always address this situation specifically (giving checks which you can’t cash) but it’s illegal nonetheless. one trick, of course, is that you often need to try to deposit the checks (and have them bounce.) Only that way can you properly document things.

  8. Observer*

    #5, you need to start looking NOW. Either they have been having financial problems that are getting progressively worse or they are taking progressively more advantage of you. There is simply no acceptable reason for being progressively late with someone’s paycheck. The only understandable reason is cash flow issues, but only if it’s RARE. If it’s common, it may still be understandable to some, but it CERTAINLY means that the company is in trouble financially.

    Get out while you can. I just hope you get to cash your last few paychecks.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      The fact that they’re still operating like this 5 years later makes me think that they are doing it because it is a convenient and useful source of cash. If they were this close to the edge for this long, chances are they would have been sued by many vendors or creditors already.

      Although maybe they have….the OP should probably check court records. Civil suits for debts could be one of the last warning signs that their shell game is no longer sufficient.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Exactly, I wonder if the owner/s are paying themselves and leaving everyone else out to hang dry.

  9. Chris*

    For #3 I bet they’re just trying to get out of paying unemployment by calling it a firing… Sounds like it’s all about the $. At least they didn’t fake a fireable excuse…

    1. Stayin' Alive*

      I thought the same thing — the company is trying to convince the OP not to file for unemployment compensation, which is a deserved benefit in this case.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        Yep…same thoughts here….sounds like a clear attempt to fight unemployment. Best of luck to the OP.

    2. NJ Anon*

      In NJ you get unemployment regardless. There is a longer waiting period, I believe if you are fired, but you can still collect.

      1. Natalie*

        AFAIK most states allow for unemployment if you’re fired, as long as the reason for being fired isn’t egregious misconduct.

        1. ThatGirl*

          I can’t speak for other states, but I got fired in Illinois and still got unemployment – the HR woman specifically told me to file for it, even, and while I did have to do a phone interview over it, it was not contested by my former employer.

          1. Bndy in TN*

            Its the same way here in TN. As long as you don’t quit, if you are laid off or fired, you get unemployment.

            1. Brandy in TN*

              Its the same way here in TN. As long as you don’t quit, if you are laid off or fired, you get unemployment.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Most states don’t care what the employer called it; they care about the actual reason. In all states, you’ll get unemployment if your position was eliminated for business reasons. In most states, you’ll get unemployment if you were fired for a reason other than misconduct or breaking rules (so, yes if you were fired for work not being quite good enough, and no if you were fired for regularly coming in late). And in most states, you won’t get unemployment if you quit, unless you can show it was “constructive discharge” — that any reasonable person would have quit under the circumstances (the bar for that is pretty high in the states I’m familiar with).

            There are some variations by state, but that seems to be the basic pattern.

            1. Gandalf the Nude*

              In the Carolinas, in my experience so far, Unemployment often denies the initial filing for fired employees, presumably in hopes that claimants won’t want to deal with the appeals process and they won’t have to pay out. I’ve had both NC and SC call basically fishing for reasons that the claim could be denied, which is basically never at our company.

    3. Mike B.*

      It would be so easy to trump up a reason to fire a junior staff member that if they didn’t do so, I think it’s unlikely that the word choice carries that implication. The manager went out of his way to cite lack of work as the sole reason for the dismissal.

      I think people overdo the paranoia sometimes. Not every employer is looking to dump its former staff members penniless in the street.

    4. acmx*

      I figured the boss was stressing it wasn’t a layoff because some positions have recall rights. I don’t think s/w developer is that type of position but if the company has employees with recall rights.

    5. LeisureSuitLarry*

      I’m the question writer, fyi.

      Once I got over the shock, this is one of the first things that occurred to me. And nearly everyone I talk to says this sounds more like a layoff. I’m glad they didn’t make up a fireable excuse, but I wonder about what will happen when the unemployment claim hits. I made no secret that I would be filing for it, and someone at the company in a HR-ish capacity actually told me that it shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll see. I’ve taken Alison’s advice (sort of) and emailed the person in HR that should have been in on my exit “interview” but wasn’t.

  10. Ruth (UK)*

    2. I’m afraid I disagree with this answer. Not because I don’t think it’s ok – I think its fine, or should be. But I disagree because answer seemed to assume most employers will think it is fine. In the last store I worked on we very definitely had a policy not only that employers couldn’t drink on duty, but also could not possess alcohol on the premises (this was the type of workplace that searched bags as well). This was not a great workplace but I can also imagine some places of work where a no possession of alcohol rule would make more sense, like a school or something. I help with a volunteer project that is based in a religious building ( we’re not affiliated with the religious group, we just rent their hall) and because of their rules, we cannot have alcohol on us, even if we’re not drinking it.

    In short, I think the answer of whether or not it’s ok depends very much on the workplace and one shouldn’t necessarily assume that all workplaces are fine with it.

    On the other hand, I’d find it surprising if any workplace acted too seriously over it if it was a one off. Also, since OP doesn’t seem to know whether it was ok or not, I’d assume their workplace doesn’t ban it or they’d surely have heard about that policy before now.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Your employer has a specific policy about this; if the OP has that policy and is violating it (as opposed to keeping the bottle in the trunk of her car, for example), then sure, she’s violating a workplace policy and that’s an issue. But the policy you describe isn’t typical (and is probably connected with the fact that you’re in a religious building). There are always specific one-offs that could be an exception, but in general no reasonable employer is going to have an issue with this.

    2. Not Today Satan*

      I’ve never had a workplace where I would have gotten in trouble for this–and I’ve worked at some controlling, strict places. At my current job (admittedly because I have the privacy of an office) I get six packs of beer all the time to take home.

      The only exception I can think of that might be common would be if someone brings an open, 3/4 full bottle of liquor to bring to a party after work or something (because it’s open). As long as everything’s sealed, in a bag, and there’s no empty bottles in your trash can (lol) any normal employer shouldn’t care.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        I worked at a warehouse in Australia where if there weren’t empties in the trash at the end of the week it was a very bad week.

    3. Student*

      I think there are strong regional, cultural, job-specific, and gender/minority aspects to the perception of whether this is an issue. If the OP is a black female kindergarten teacher in Salt Lake City, the reality about expectations around alcohol are very different from if the OP is a white male English literature professor in Berkley. I agree that it shouldn’t matter – but I think that if someone decided to make a fuss about both of those scenarios, one would result in local condemnation and a career-damaging firing whereas the other would result in local support and temporary celebrity.

    4. Oryx*

      I’ve worked places like this, where alcohol was not allowed on the premises but, like AAM said, in those instances it was a known policy. Not just known, like written in the handbook and something we signed off on the first day and promptly forgot, but there were signs in common areas like the break room and such.

    5. MashaKasha*

      There’s nothing in OP2’s letter that indicates she was going to bring the alcohol into the office. I, too, worked at a place where there was no alcohol allowed on the premises, so people would leave it in their car. One of the coworkers did alterations on the side, and altered another coworker’s clothes. Coworker 2 brought a bottle of nice wine to work to give coworker 1 as a token of thanks. They moved it from one car to the other, and that was it. That’s perfectly acceptable.

      1. Artemesia*

        I keep seeing nice bottles of wine made undrinkable by spending an afternoon in a hot car trunk. Obviously missing the point here.

        1. MashaKasha*

          I agree that it was wrong of me to automatically assume that OP is in the same hemisphere as I am, where it’s the dead of winter, and a hot car trunk is pretty far outside the realm of possibility right now. However, if OP had planned on bringing the wine with her to work, then, IMO, that’s what she would’ve been worried about – not the cashier at a grocery store knowing where she works.

  11. Monique*

    I’d also expect any employer with such a policy to be vocal and straightforward about it. It’s unlikely you’d be working for a place that wouldn’t be OK with it and not know. Most organisations would realise it’s away from the norm and explain their policy specifically.

  12. Mookie*

    I think what LW 2 is getting at is an issue that’s been discussed here before: representing (or subverting, disobeying, or flouting) company “values” while nominally off-duty but clearly marked or identified as a company employee. The concern may not be that her employer is keen to actually police her every movement, but that it desires to be seen as tee-totaling and a public or private word from the cashier or an overzealous eavesdropper to her conversation with the cashier may force a confrontation. To be clear, the LW did absolutely nothing wrong here — and there’s nothing to suggest that the employer is monitoring her for signs of drinking or intemperance — but that wouldn’t stop a Nosey Parker if the Parker’s intent on doing damage. LW’s wondering what her options are, I think, if that were to happen. The answer’s probably the same: do nothing, because you have nothing to solve or make amends for. I suppose one can be hyper-vigilant and draft up a hypothetical response should the employer quiz her about this, but that may be overkill.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It would be very rare for an employer to have an issue with someone purchasing a bottle of liquor on their off hours, unless there’s some highly specific context that the OP didn’t mention (and I assume she’d mention it if one were in play).

      1. OP #2*

        I guess I should have mentioned I work for a school district in the same area as the store was. That may change your perspective. I should have been more specific. I checked over the policies that are posted and there aren’t any related to that. The issue with the cashier is that I was afraid that since I mentioned I work for the district he may try to be the noble type and report to the district one of their employees is buying alcohol during the school day…

  13. Yetanotherjennifer*

    OP5, I’m straying a bit off topic because I’m studying for my tax preparer’s test and thus have taxes on my mind. The obvious and easiest solution for everyone is for your employer to find a way to cover the checks you hold. But that’s probably a lot of money and your employer may want to catch you up in smaller amounts and ask for the checks back. (Which, come to think of it, I wouldn’t do, hold them as security until each check is paid off. And definitely keep the stubs with the withholding info.) But anyway, if they reissue that money in any way, you should make sure the taxes are handled correctly. Especially since being 4 pay checks behind means you are holding checks from last year and will soon be filing taxes based on income you haven’t received.

    1. LiptonTeaForMe*

      As an IRS employee, I would be willing to bet you that the business has even bigger issues than not paying you on time. Any business that has employees is required to make deposits for any withheld income taxes, social security tax, or medicare tax from employee’s paychecks. Since they have been floating checks to you forever, I can almost guarantee you that they are either using the funds they are supposed to be holding for those deposits or they never had the funds. Most employer’s will bend over backwards to keep from letting go of their employees, but by doing so, they dig themselves deeper into the mess. If this employer is in deep trouble as I suspect, then you need to get those checks honored sooner rather than later.

  14. Jack*

    2) I work at a religious non-profit. One of my co-workers said they were called onto the carpet after someone saw them darken the door of a liquor store. It didn’t matter that the employee was buying the alcohol for cooking. Management was concerned about the perception of one of their more public-facing employees. I can’t imagine how the conversation would have gone if the purchase had taken place during the employee’s lunch break…

    1. Temperance*

      Wow – so I’m assuming that if someone at your organization was caught having a beer at happy hour, they could be fired? Yikes.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        If you work for certain churches or organizations connected to them, you absolutely are expected to live according to their rules, even off hours. The big one here states on their university’s careers page that they strongly prefer to hire members. If you followed the rules, there’s no reason you couldn’t theoretically get a job there. But as strict as they are, unless you belonged to a similar faith, most people would have a hard time doing so.

  15. Newbie*

    LW#5: I agree with the previous advice to talk with your employer about getting caught up with the payment dues, particularly if you plan to stay with the company for the time being. Being direct and up-front is the best first option.

    But also be aware (at least in the US) that where you have checks in hand, you can always take them to the bank they’re drawn on, if there is a local branch, to cash them. If there are funds available in the company’s account at the time that you’re there, the bank should give you cash that you can then bring to your own bank to deposit. That way you don’t have to worry about depositing the check in your account and then having it bounce. Of course, if there isn’t enough in the employer’s account when you attempt to cash it at their bank, then the bank just won’t let you cash it at that time.

    This will most likely result in some of your employer’s other checks bouncing instead when other employees or vendors tried to deposit the checks the employer provided to them. So that could present issues for you with the employer if you agreed to hold onto the checks and then go ahead and cash them without alerting them to what you’re doing.

    1. Lizauthor*

      I suspect doing this would get LW5 fired, especially if the employer told them not to cash the checks.

      1. Natalie*

        Eh, they’re functionally working for free right now, so I personally wouldn’t worry too much about being fired. That said, I think Newbie’s comment was about how they can get their actual money right before they quit.

      2. Ineloquent*

        If they got fired for forcing the company to pay them for their work, I think that’d be pretty messed up.

  16. AnotherFed*

    #4 It just sounds like your coworker either has better inside knowledge than you, not that this was an unusual situation. At least where I work, everyone knows the formal job offer takes several weeks after the decision has been made, especially for an internal promotion. The person in charge of the hiring has made their pick(s), but the chain of people who have to approve that choice can be long, especially if that decision also involves promoting two people instead of just one. Many people involved need to know about that before it’s an approved decision, including mid level managers and bigger bosses, their admins, the HR people who had to handle the second opening, etc., and some of them are going to spread the word, either by accident or looking to pass along good news. It’s not ideal, but it’s not something to bring up to HR (you’d essentially be telling them they’re too slow to beat the gossip), and I probably wouldn’t even bring it up with the hiring manager for your promotion.

    1. Pwyll*

      I was thinking the same thing. It sounds to me like the manager sent in the decision to The Powers That Be, who will make the formal offer, and then mentioned it to others on the team. I could see a manager, who has finished everything she needed to do in the hiring process, dropping into conversation at some point afterwards “We’ve made a decision so when Julie starts you’ll need to train her on x” or something like that. It makes salary negotiations a bit more difficult, but I think this kind of thing is pretty normal in large organizations.

    2. Mike B.*

      My director makes a point of forbidding us to discuss the details of our direct reports’ promotions with anyone before they’re ready to be formally announced. It’s too easy for a rumor to be distorted, then to reach the wrong person’s ears–“I hear So-and-So won’t be working with us anymore,” may reach So-and-So as “I’m sorry to hear you’re being laid off,” when So-and-So is actually a much-valued employee being promoted into a new role with different duties.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I had this same thought. This isn’t so much “them not telling you” as it is “other coworker being ‘tipped the wink’ bcs of his/her relationship with the other manager, and indiscreetly sharing it with you.”

      The intent was for you to feel reassured, not to make you feel that other people are cheating you somehow.

      Get beyond this, would be my suggestion.

    4. Rater Z*

      I remember walking into work one evening and eight people said “Hello Boss”. They didn’t bother to ask me if I wanted to be the evening supervisor. Depending on circumstances, I would have been making decisions on what in different would be doing as well.

      It wasn’t a job I wanted and it created problems for the company. They wound up having the dock supervisor making decisions regarding the billing clerks and rate clerks work time and I had the responsibility regarding how things were done as far as procedures were handled.

  17. Hannah*

    #1: It’s great that your employer treated you fairly. I’m sure that your needing to resign isn’t the outcome your boss was hoping for, but she probably wouldn’t go back and do anything differently. Your company must have certain values about how to treat employees, and they have showed their true colors by not leaving you high and dry after a medical crisis. I think that attitude is good for the company culture.

    Years ago, I had a boss who was in and out of medical leave/reduced workload for a few *years*. They kept saying she would be back to a regular schedule soon, but it never happened and eventually she left altogether. Although it was frustrating at times as her employee, her management and HR stayed 100% behind her and it really showed their loyalty to employees as human beings.

  18. Audiophile*

    OP #5: Five years is just too long to wait. I would have given it six months, maybe. I say this as someone who waited 2 years to file a labor complaint about the company I previously worked for, but that was for OT issues, I was still getting regular paychecks in a timely manner. I don’t know how you made it five years, because I know my own financial situation would have made it difficult. I have to agree with the others and say you need to start job searching, if you haven’t already.

  19. Employment Lawyer*

    Re: #5 (non-payment)

    I sometimes think AAM (awesome though she is) can be a bit blase about the real-world consequences of raising wage issues. This sounds like one of those times.

    First of all, a comment on your case specifically: You’ve been asking for five years and they have not paid you. That isn’t an accident; it’s an employer who is willfully stealing your money. (‘Can’t pay’ is, forgive my bluntness, a bullshit excuse over that kind of time frame. Catching up is a one-time gig, and even if they caught up at the rate of a single paycheck/month, you should have been clear a while ago. Does the owner buy Xmas presents for his family? Go on vacation? Go out to eat? Does the owner drive a nicer car than you? Live in a nicer house than you? Donate to charities? Etc. I’ve seen business take a short term dive, and this is something else.)

    Foe anyone who takes this as general advice: AAM often tells folks to demand in a way that references wage law. But there are a substantial subset of employers who will retaliate against you for raising the issue–which is to say that you can find yourself out of a job. As a practical matter the results of retaliation can be OK; firing someone for asking for a paycheck is, if anything, even MORE illegal than not paying them in the first place, and you can win a decent bit of money….

    But you need to win.

    The solution: Document, document, document. When you “inquire about depositing them,” it should be via email, and you should print/save/forward a copy to an address you control. When you get told “a slew of excuses and that I need to wait” then you should confirm via email, with copies saved. If you have a conversation then you need to make a note of it, ideally with some sort of traceable dating system.

    AFTER you’ve done that sufficiently–the longer the better–then you can, in theory, make a larger fuss “this really needs to end now, and I need my paychecks by next Monday.” (again, through email.) Then, if you get fired/demoted/penalized/targeted, you have a good case.

    The benefits of documentation can ‘t be overstated.

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      “The solution: Document, document, document.”

      This is basically the first answer to any legal situation or query ever. The law doesn’t care what is, it cares what can be proved.

    2. Erin*

      Ugh, I want to give this employer the benefit of the doubt really badly, but all of this makes sense. I mean, FIVE YEARS.

      Arguably, there’s no acceptable amount of time to be late on paychecks. But even if it’s a new, struggling mom and pop operation, I think a reasonable person who believes in the business would allow paychecks to be delayed for a year MAYBE two, as things are getting started. Five is inexcusable.

      As Alison alluded to, it’s clearly a pattern at this point that is absolutely not going to be changed.

      1. PinkTeapots*

        I don’t know a single reasonable person who would allow their pay checks to be delayed for years. Even one. That’s categorically insane to me. I have a mortgage. I’m trying to have a baby. I have car payments, insurance, utilities, etc etc… I cannot wait to be paid. Just because I hate confrontation, I might have gone along with it the very first time, but there’s absolutely no way I’d have done it a second time.

        Honestly, OP5, you can’t be the only employee. Are you the *only* one holding this many checks? Or are they taking advantage because you’ll do it, but Suzie in IT gets paid normally because she refused?

      2. neverjaunty*

        No, I don’t think any reasonable person who believes in the business would allow paychecks to be delayed for a year. Period. People who put money into a business to help it succeed until it is profitable? Those people are called “investors”.

        It is not the job of employees to act as investors. If a mom and pop operation can’t make payroll, then it should not have employees.

    3. jhhj*

      If the employer is taking any salary at all while still owing employees money, this is so wrong. He should be paying himself zero until he’s paid all his employees.

  20. Yep*

    #1 – Without getting into my whole story, I’ll just say I’m in somewhat of the same boat as you. I think you’re doing everything right. There’s only so much you can do, and you’re doing it or are planning on doing it: giving lots of notice, getting your work in order, and offering to train a replacement. I would also emphasize that you’re more than happy to do whatever else they need to make the transition, you’d like to keep in touch with them in the future (if that’s true), etc.

    Also, I’m willing to bet your employer and even other coworkers there are more sympathetic than you think, and probably have their own medical problems. At a former job, I was hesitant to tell my employer about my cystic fibrosis, but it turned out that he had Chrons disease, and my other coworkers were in even worse shape health wise than I was – so everyone was more than understanding about people needing time off for medical reasons. Again, even if you don’t know about it, I’m certain the majority of those 10 people have their own things going on and understand you need to do what’s right for you.

  21. S.I. Newhouse*

    OP #3: The difference between a firing and a layoff may seem like semantics, but I’m seeing a major potential problem here in that your company may be saying you were “fired” to block a potential unemployment claim. Based upon the facts presented here, this is a layoff. Please make sure you straighten this out with your former employer, who may have made an honest mistake here, but also may be doing something below board… at least in my mind, which doesn’t always give others the benefit of the doubt in situations like these.

    1. S.I. Newhouse*

      Apologies, somehow I missed a much larger thread above that said the exact same thing. But I stand by my comment. Make sure you straighten this out, not just for the purposes of unemployment but as Alison said, so that you get a correct reference!

    2. Erin*

      Yes, this is a major potential problem here. I’m sure it’s an honest mistake on the employer’s part – but you really, really want to get this nailed down and make sure you’re on the same page before you start interviewing.

      1. LeisureSuitLarry*

        OP here. I used to believe in honest mistakes, but I don’t believe any corporate mouthpiece any farther than I can throw them. I’ve taken Alison’s advice to contact them about getting on the same page. We shall see what they have to say.

  22. Mimmy*

    #5 – Am I the only one confused about the “5 years” part? In the post, it says, “Well, here we are, five years later and I am now sitting on four paychecks!” This reads like the OP is given a check once a year, which I’m sure isn’t the case.

    1. Erin*

      Hmm, I read it as her paychecks are consistently late and have been for five years. At this present moment, she’s sitting on four. At any other given time during the past five years she may have been sitting on one or two, or more than four.

      In any case, if California requires employees to be paid within two weeks of the work being done, they’re currently breaking the law if she’s sitting on four paychecks – whether this is the first time this has happened or the 83rd time.

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      I think it means over the period of 5 years they have four pay-checks they have not cashed. Assuming a two week period that’s 8 weeks wages they have not yet been paid.

    3. Kelly L.*

      I think this is how many she’s been asked to “not cash yet.” So she’ll get paid in January, for example, but the boss will tell her “don’t cash that yet,” but might tell her she can finally cash the one from September.

      1. ThatGirl*

        S/he said s/he cashes the oldest one when s/he gets a new one. So presumably, the two-months-old one gets cashed and a new one takes its place.

    4. CADMonkey007*

      It’s basically the opposite of being paid in advance. Instead, OP is being paid 2 months behind. Technically the company has “paid” OP because they issued checks regularly and she has them in hand. There is just an under the table expectation that she won’t cash them, which is shady as hell.

  23. Mike B.*

    #4 – Did your manager actually say “you’re being fired, not laid off,” or did he just use the former term rather than the latter? He might just have been using it as shorthand, not thinking about the implications. Alternately, he might have been awkwardly stringing words together and implied something he didn’t mean–“You’re not being fired because of something you did” might not have meant “You’re being fired for some other reason,” but “You’re just being let go, not fired, because you didn’t do anything wrong.” It’s worth clarifying, but I’d bet heavily that he didn’t mean anything that will cause you additional problems.

    1. doreen*

      It might also be a regional/industry/generational difference, Until I started reading AAM , I only heard “laid off” to refer to a hopefully temporary situation where people would be laid off due to a lack of work and those same employees would be recalled when work picked up. ( for example, employees at a resort might be laid off at the end of ski season and recalled at the beginning of the summer season). A permanent end to employment would informally be be referred to as firing and officially referred to as an involuntary separation, termination or discharge.

      1. Artemesia*

        That sounds right to me and thus the OP needs to clarify that she understand the position is permanently terminated but that her understanding is that she is laid off due to lack of business not fired for cause. Help the boss frame this so references are not damaged.

    2. LeisureSuitLarry*

      At one point in the discussion. He said “this is not a layoff.” That was after I asked about severance. He was pretty definite that I was being fired, and he said “it’s not because of anything you did or didn’t do.”

      1. Stephanie*

        To echo your feelings in the original post, it is a good time to be a developer in Seattle. In fact, my company is hiring like crazy for developers in Seattle (disclaimer: I’m on our media team, not a developer). It sounds like you have everything pretty much figured out but if you’d like to discuss, we can take it off the AAM thread :) Networking, right? – Stephanie

        1. LeisureSuitLarry*


          I’d like to minimize this downtime as much as possible, so I am all about the networking. The referral you give for something might be money in your pocket, too, which is what I like to call a win/win. Not sure how to get my contact info out there other than to just post it here though: larry.scroggins@gmail.com

          Drop me an email and we can do coffee or lunch or whatever. I seem to have plenty of time on my hands.

      2. Mike B.*

        That’s really peculiar, and I would definitely reach out to him and/or to HR regarding references and unemployment eligibility. Per your initial message, he made it quite clear that you were being let go purely for lack of work, and that’s widely understood to be a layoff–if he understands the terminology he’s using, your company could indeed be planning to treat you poorly, and you need to be prepared to fight for what you’re due.

  24. AW*

    California actually requires employees to be paid within two weeks of performing the work…

    Wait, does this mean that monthly paychecks just aren’t a thing in California?

    1. Kelly L.*

      I think it would be within two weeks of the pay period? So if the pay period is a month, you’d have to get paid within two weeks of the month ending. That’d be my guess. IANAL

      1. Natalie*

        No, in general, bi-weekly is required in California. And in general, when paycheck laws say you have to be paid within X time of performing the work, they usually mean that literally. Otherwise they’ll say “within X days from the end of the pay period.”

        1. Natalie*

          I guess it would be more accurate to say semi-monthly is the minimum requirement in CA. Bi-weekly or weekly are also fine.

        2. Apollo Warbucks*

          When I was working at McDonalds in the UK we used to get paid every two weeks which I never understood as weekly or monthly is the standard but after reading this blog I realised that it was because of american paycheck laws and they had simply kept the same pay periods.

          1. Artemesia*

            Interesting. In 45 years of employment I was only paid semi monthly when I worked at a diner during high school. For the rest of my career, it was always monthly. My husband was always paid monthly as well.

            1. Afiendishthingy*

              Are you in academia? I think monthly might be more the norm there. The only time I was paid monthly was as a student worker when I was an undergrad. Since then I’ve always been paid every two weeks, except for one job that paid weekly.

      2. Pwyll*

        What Natalie said. Though, I would add that exempt (executive, administrative and professional) employees are allowed to be paid once per month.

    2. chumpwithadegree*

      Ironically, the only people in California that can be paid monthly are state employees-although some agencies pay every other week.

      A monthly paycheck is an interesting budget challenge.

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        Only if you’re making the switch from more than monthly to monthly, really. Otherwise, it’s still the same amount covering the same time frame. Monthly is (IME) the standard in the UK and I actually prefer budgeting that way to over shorter periods.

        1. Tau*

          Yep, I’d find biweekly hard to budget with as there are a lot more expenses in one half of the month than the other. This way, my paycheck is on the same schedule as my rent and my utility bills.

          …or are those not monthly in the US?

          1. Cam*

            Bills are still monthly. But it doesn’t really make a difference how you are paid unless you are literally living paycheck to paycheck. You still end up getting what you are owed. I don’t like monthly if only because it can take five weeks or more to get your first paycheck. I had a job in France that paid monthly where it took two months after I started working to get my first paycheck. That’s a long time to try to hold yourself over without any income.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are some exceptions to the law. Certain categories of people can be paid monthly, including executive, administrative and professional employees; employees in agriculture, horticulture and viticulture, stock or poultry raising, and household domestic service who are boarded and lodged by their employer; and employees of a motor vehicle dealer licensed by the Department of Motor Vehicles who are paid commission wages (mechanics and other employees performing repair or related services are not considered commissioned employees).

      Full chart is here (scroll to bottom):

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Yeah, I used to have a teaching job in California that paid on the 15th of every month. I don’t believe my employer was breaking the law.

        1. MommaCat*

          I’m pretty sure the law changed or was updated in the last 6 years. When I was working at a CA university 6 years ago, I was paid monthly, but when I went back last year I was paid biweekly.

          1. De Minimis*

            I’m another CA employee paid monthly–not a state employee but work for a non-profit. All of our people are paid monthly, I think we all fall under executive/administrative/professional.

  25. Amanda*

    OP #1:

    Not that you are at all required to give notice now, but it seems to me that if you’re already thinking about this 1o-11 months in advance, you’re positioning yourself to provide your employer with all the notice they need (whether that’s 4 months or 4 weeks) for a smooth-as-possible transition. So maybe take comfort in that you’re doing exactly what you need to do, both for your health and to show courtesy to your employer. Best of luck to you!

    And thanks, Alison, for the reminder that mental health conditions are *medical* conditions. Speaking from experience, when your own brain is lying to you that can be hard to remember.

    1. LeisureSuitLarry*

      Thanks. If I’m going to be a burden on society I’d better be entertaining while I do it.

  26. HR Caligula*

    I don’t think OP 3 has much to worry about collecting UI. OP mentioned living in Seattle, my city as well, the UI office is very liberal.

    Whether the terms “fired” or “lay-off” were used make very little difference, the actual reason given was the position was eliminated through no fault of his own.

    1. LeisureSuitLarry*

      OP here. That’s good to know. I’m a little nervous. This is my first time. Hopefully they’re gentle with me.

    2. Retail HR Guy*

      Yep, we do business there, too, and it is hard to NOT get unemployment in Washington.

      We had an employee steal from the company and admit to it in the hearing, but then get unemployment anyway because we didn’t give her any warnings that stealing was unacceptable (and the Employee Handbook didn’t count as a warning because the employee testified that she never bothered to read it). According to the unemployment department we were supposed to write her up a time or two and then only fire her if she didn’t stop.

  27. CMT*

    Besides the possible unemployment implications, it’s also important to get the fired vs. laid off distinction clear for future job searches. You want to make sure what they tell future prospective employers lines up with what you tell future prospective employers. From what other people have said here, it sounds like you’ll be fine getting UI no matter what, so I think the “what will you tell prospective employers” conversation is an important one to have with your boss.

  28. Anxa*


    Where I get confused is when it’s something between a firing and a lay off.

    For example: Say demand is dwindling season to season. People are let go all around you. Then you find out that you are not being asked to come back when the business comes back from vacation. It’s a layoff because demand is lower. But what if they are kind of happy to get rid of you? What about that mistake you know you made right before they lay off? And if you were better at your job, you might not be the one being laid off. If your position is gone, I get that that’s a lay off. But what about when you’re more of a weak link? Isn’t that performance based?

    1. TootsNYC*

      Oh, sure, they’ve made a layoff decision that’s influenced by your performance.
      But it’s still a layoff. Your position was eliminated. You were not specifically told that you were let go because you weren’t good enough.

      Companies do that a reasonable amount; they have to cut several people, so they pad the list with their problem employees, if they can. It saves a lot of angst for them, and maybe even for the employee (because unemployment insurance kicks in, and the employee doesn’t have to struggle to improve, etc., etc.).
      (I don’t even think it’s such a horrible thing, actually.)

      But it’s still a layoff.

    2. LeisureSuitLarry*

      OP here.

      They could have seen me as the weakest link (goodbye!), and they’d have a legitimate argument there. They were my first dev job, and they fired me two days after my 1 year anniversary. However, no one at any point called me to task on any performance issues. No one said “LeisureSuitLarry, you’ve got to start producing something or we’re going to fire you.”

  29. S*

    To OP #2, I have been told (but haven’t seen any written policy to confirm) that we’re not permitted to bring alcohol onto the work premises. This doesn’t really stop people, I’ve exchanged wine and beer with coworkers, but the bottles stay out of sight. Only some of the highest ranking people may actually object, but the feeling is definitely that you don’t want to flaunt that you have a bottle of wine in your office, even though it’s obvious that no one is actually drinking on site. So contrary to Allison, you may want to think if simply having the bottle inside your workplace would be a concern, because it is possible that it would be. My company isn’t overly strict with alcohol when travelling for business, or anything like that. Apparently we just can’t bring alcohol into the actual workplace.

    If you’re buying it and leaving it in your car, then I think there is zero reason to be concerned that it was purchased on a lunch break.

  30. HRLady*

    OP #2: Check your handbook to be sure there’s nothing about possession of alcohol on premises. I used to do HR for a large retailer and this was a policy employees often overlooked. It’s fine when the shift is over, but it wasn’t ok during breaks or lunches.

  31. De Minimis*

    For #2 I’m still trying to figure out what’s okay at my current workplace. We have alcohol at company parties and other events, it’s perfectly okay to give bottles of wine as gifts, etc. Our community fridge has various bottles of wine/beer [party leftovers] So I’m wondering if it would be okay to have a beer when going out for lunch.

    We have a substance abuse policy but it seems to deal with actual intoxication/impairment at work.

  32. Middle Name Jane*

    To Letter Writer #1: I’m sorry for what you’re going through. I’m a sexual assault survivor suffering from depression, anxiety attacks, and PTSD (even with treatment/medication). It’s been extremely difficult to continue working full-time, which I have to do because I’m single and need my salary and benefits.

    You’re not doing anything wrong. You have to take care of yourself. Give as much notice as you can, do what you can to leave loose ends tied up, thank your manager for her understanding, and leave without guilt. If you’ve done good work and don’t burn bridges on your way out, I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t get a good reference you can use in the future. Good luck…

  33. Middle Name Jane*

    Letter Writer #5:

    I’m just…amazed and not in a good way. You say you have 4 uncashed paychecks. What happens if (when?) the company goes belly-up and you’re out of a job?

    In my last job, I started noticing that the company match to my retirement plan was hitting my account late. We didn’t have an actual HR person on staff; the company’s president handled HR matters (red flag since the company had over 70 employees at the time). When I asked, I was told it would be deposited in the next week or so, which it was. But it continued to happen, and they later started laying people off. I got laid off in the 3rd round.

    Please, please, do yourself a favor and don’t be a sitting duck.

  34. J_Mo*

    #5. When a company started doing that to me, I started cashing every single paycheck as soon as I received it.

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