my boss is verbally abusive and won’t pay me

A reader writes:

I started as an intern for a small startup about a year ago along with another person. We were both given three-month internships with the promise of full-time employment if we made it past the internship period. Both of us did, and our manager, who is also the founder of the company, promised us higher salaries, full-time employment, and stock options.

It’s been months since he promised, and none of it has materialized. We’re still independent contractors. In terms of paycheck, we earn less than minimum wage, and he hasn’t paid me for two months as of this week. We work six days a week (over 50 hours) with no overtime pay. My coworker, mentioned above, has a serious health condition and rent to pay, and he not only won’t pay her, but he has repeatedly avoided her to the point where he won’t show up for work until 6 p.m.

On top of this, he frequently and consistently verbally abuses me. Even my coworkers notice how much he harasses me. I am berated for not showing up to work exactly on time (he often doesn’t show up until well into the afternoon, usually 3-4 p.m.), for getting instructions wrong (he rarely gives us instructions or deadlines and often our entire morning is spent trying to figure out what to do without him in the office), for not working fast enough (I can’t predict when a project should be finished since he doesn’t give us any sort of time reference), and for being defensive (he interrogates me when anything goes wrong, including times that he or my coworkers are the cause).

My coworker and I are planning to give him an ultimatum this week — pay us for the last two months, bring our salaries up to minimum wage, make the sixth workday optional with overtime, and employee status with stock options, in writing. Otherwise, we are preparing to walk out until he pays us and report him for violating labor laws. What is the best way to go about this without coming off as money-hungry and/or rude? Are there legal implications on walking out, even though technically we’re not employees and are basically working for free at this point? He’s already told us about ruining an ex-coworker’s chance at working in this industry by telling people what a terrible worker he was — how do I protect myself so that this won’t ruin my chances at another job? I feel as though I’m right, but I’m scared what will happen if I’m wrong.

Whoa. This guy is violating all sorts of labor laws:

  • It’s illegal to pay you as independent contractors when you’re actually employees, and he owes penalties and back taxes for doing that.
  • It’s illegal not to pay you overtime if your job functions make you non-exempt (which sounds like it’s probably the case), and he owes penalties and back wages for that.
  • It’s illegal not to pay you minimum wage, and he owes penalties and back wages for that.
  • It’s illegal not to pay you in a timely manner (specifics on that are generally set by your state), and depending on the state he may owe you penalties for that as well.

In addition, he’s a terrible manager and a jerk.

So: I want to suggest that you alter your plan. You absolutely should should tell him that he needs to pay you what he owes you or you’ll need to bring in legal backup, but do you really want to keep working for this guy, even if he makes makes you employees and gives you stock options? I mean, sure, if he immediately pays you the money he owes you, keep working there until you find other another job (if you’re confident he’ll pay you for that work without another battle), but at this point the goal shouldn’t be “find a way to make this work”; it should be “get out get out get out.”

This is a jerk who flagrantly violates multiple labor laws, doesn’t pay you, and treats you terribly. This is not a place where you want to work.

As for how to get your money, I would say this: “As you know, our paychecks are two months late. New York law requires that employees be paid at least twice in a month and imposes fines of up to $20,000 when they’re late. We’d like to resolve this directly with you rather than getting the state department labor involved. To do that, we need to receive all money owed to us no later than Friday. Can you ensure that happens?” (I just randomly used New York as an example, but to make this specific to your state, google your state and name and “paycheck law” and you should find state-specific information.)

If you want, you can also add this in: “In addition, it looks like the company has been mishandling our employees status — according to federal law, we should have been being paid as employees, not independent contractors. And under the Fair Labor Standards Act we should have been receiving overtime pay for all hours over 40 worked in a week since our jobs are non-exempt. We’re going to need to figure out back wages, which we can either do internally or we can ask the labor department for assistance. What’s the best way for us to handle that?”

But my hunch is that rather than saying that second part, you should skip it and just file claims with your state department of labor — because I think it’s highly unlikely that this guy will react well to hearing this, and you risk him just kicking you out on the spot. Simply handling it with the labor department will probably give you the most control over the process.

To answer your other questions: There aren’t really any legal implications to walking out. You get to leave whenever you want. It does mean that it will be considered a resignation, which can be an obstacle to receiving unemployment benefits, but in this case you haven’t been getting paid so the unemployment agency will almost certainly consider you eligible for benefits — they don’t expect you to keep working somewhere that doesn’t pay you. It does means that your employer can honestly say to future reference-checkers that you walked off the job without notice, but you can preemptively explain to them that you weren’t paid for months and finally left when that couldn’t be resolved.

As for him ruining your chances of working in your field again: It’s unlikely. Someone who operates like this is pretty unlikely to have a golden reputation in your industry. And about the ex-coworker whose chances he allegedly ruined — note that you’re hearing that story from your boss, and it’s probably self-serving and false. But if you want to cover all your bases, it wouldn’t cost a huge amount to have a lawyer sending him a letter warning him about the legal consequences of defaming you.

Perhaps most importantly, please don’t worry about coming across as money-grubbing or rude. It’s not money-grubbing in the slightest to expect to be paid what the law says you are owed. And the only way it would be rude to assert that right is if you added “pay up, you asshole” at the end of the request. (That would be justified, but still rude.) A straightforward “hey, we’re owed $X, it’s overdue, and the law says it needs to be paid immediately” is not rude.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 278 comments… read them below }

  1. Not Karen*

    I’m confused. Why are you still working there? Why haven’t you walked out already? How have you been paying your bills for the last two months?

    1. addlady*

      I think it’s very easy for ordinary people to lose perspective when placed in an abusive environment.

      1. Venus Supreme*

        Exactly, this. Sounds like OP is in the eye of the hurricane and doesn’t realize how terrible these working conditions are. In any case, I second Allison: get out get out get out.

        Also, OP, I’ve contacted my state’s department of labor when my retail job cut my pay without telling me. I got the money back no problem. Do it!! Please give us an update. I’m keeping you and your coworker in my best thoughts. Bad bosses are the worst and you both deserve much better than this.

        1. Koko*

          My heart broke for OP when I read, “How can we do this without coming across as money-grubbing and rude?” I have never been in that exact situation, but I have been in situations where you lose sight of normalcy and begin holding yourself to someone else’s completely irrational expectations.

          That’s clearly what has happened here. OP and fellow “intern” are literally working as slaves right now, and are afraid that they’ll appear money-grubbing for merely asking to be paid for their work, a fundamental human right!

          Please OP, take care of yourself. You deserve so much more than this, just by virtue of being a person.

      2. Greg*

        I had a coworker once who had previously worked for a failing company that had trouble paying its bills. She said the hardest part is that, once they owe you money, you have a strong incentive to stick it out or you risk forfeiting your chance of ever getting that money.

        The problem, of course, is that the longer you stay the more money they owe you, which reduces the possibility of being paid what you’re owed even further. I think my coworker recognized that eventually (and quit her job to come work at my company), but I could completely understand how she could have fallen into that trap.

        My takeaway from her story was that, any time an employer doesn’t meet its payroll obligations, take it very seriously right off the bat and make it clear to them how serious the problem is. The more you let it slide, the worse it gets.

        1. Koko*

          Yes, and in a small start-up the owner (and any other employees with stock holdings) are obviously massively invested in the success of the business, to the extent they might be willing to make certain sacrifices…because those sacrifices will lead to a commensurate payoff that makes it worthwhile. That can lead to a culture where continually sacrificing is considered normal, even for people who are never going to see the payoff, and being unwilling to sacrifice your own well-being makes you “not a team player” or “doesn’t care about the company.”

          There’s a similar dynamic that can happen at struggling nonprofits, where the founder (and perhaps a few other very mission-driven original employees) is so invested in the mission that they’re willing to make sacrifices, and then ends up creating a culture where staffers (usually recent grads) are expected to work themselves to the bone for almost nothing, but they feel like if they complain or ask for more they’re taking food directly out of the mouths of the hungry children their nonprofit serves (or substitute any other mission).

        2. B*

          I’ve heard about companies folding with employees left unpaid for weeks: months of labor. And the employees basically walking off with leftover property as an attempt at recompense. OP, never let an employer go without paying what you should be paid. Once an employer stops paying checks they may be in a death spiral and another paycheck may never materialize no matter what you do. I think of it basically as a con job at that point; get out/don’t put up with it. Better to walk off with X lost wages than keep going for X+Y lost wages.

      3. Charlie*

        Especially when they’re not very experienced. This is tantamount to gaslighting, in addition to being illegal in about half a dozen ways.

    2. Leatherwings*

      We all know job searching is stressful, right? And this guy has promised good pay. It’s not out of the realm of imagination that I might hold out waiting for that to materialize rather than deal with a stressful job search. It’s easy to get lost in abusive situations like this and not really see a good way out.

      1. Elle*

        Exactly. I was in a similar situation in my first job out of college. I’m in my 40s now, and I look back on that situation and cringe. I still can’t answer why I stuck it out as long as I did. I finally worked up the courage to put my notice in, and it got worse. What a relief it was to finally leave!!

      2. nonegiven*

        He promised good pay but he isn’t coming through with even the bad pay so believe him why?

        1. Koko*

          I would venture that with this being probably their first professional job, and with the boss’s behavior being so far beyond the pale that I can hardly believe he is doing it, there’s a tendency to think that what’s happening couldn’t possibly be what’s really happening. They don’t have much work experience but they know that people generally get paid for work, so it almost seems unbelievable that there would be any possibility of not being paid. “Surely the pay must be coming soon.” There is no frame of reference for what to do when your first “job” becomes indentured servitude. Nobody covered that in the university career center.

    3. thunderbird*

      It took me 16 months (and 160 applications) to find a job after my last contract ended. I am currently employed but underpaid and treated poorly so I am job hunting again, going on to month 7. Sometimes getting out is much easeir said than done.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        This. Even if she’s not currently being paid (ugh), she’s still employed, which looks better during a job search. I can completely understand why she hasn’t dipped out yet, though I probably would have already, but that’s because the alternative would have been getting fired for flipping out on this asshat for not paying me.

        1. Kyrielle*

          It does look better to have a job, but if the conditions of the job are making it hard to job-search, it’s worth getting out anyway (which can be really hard to see when you’re in it). I don’t know if they are, for the OP – 50-hour weeks and verbal abuse, plus the stress of no income (while working, no less!) could be enough to make searching, interviewing, and presenting yourself well hard for one person; it might be sustainable, though unpleasant, for another.

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            I agree with you. But OP may not have factored that into her decision making process yet.

          2. Anon Always*

            I agree. If the OP isn’t being paid anyway, I think removing yourself from such a toxic environment is probably better for a job hunt than staying. I think many candidates struggle to perform well in an interview from that sort of situation. Lack of confidence and potentially coming across as desperate can kill an interview.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              For me, this would be the number one counter-point to the argument for staying with the job. OP, you have nothing to lose, you have already lost it all, that is the paycheck and a work environment where you are treated with respect. Neither one of the these things are happening.

    4. Unegen*

      If the LW was originally interning, this may be their first foray into the office-job working world. Someone who has zero to little idea what working norms are (not to mention rights and laws) is exceptionally easy to confuse and abuse.

    5. Kelly L.*

      A relative of mine had a job a lot like this, though with less verbal abuse–she thought it was her only way to get her foot in the door in a competitive field that she’d come to in a non-traditional way. She was only able to pay the bills because she also had some rental income.

      (She did bail and did get a better job–but it’s not exactly in the same field.)

    6. Alton*

      It sounds like this may have been an unpaid internship that was supposed to transition into a paying position. The OP may have had some sort of arrangement in place to cover expenses while interning (like help from family), and since it can take a pay period or so to get in the payroll system or to have employment changes take effect, I can see how it might not have been immediately apparent that there was a problem, especially if the OP doesn’t have a lot of experience.

    7. Luc*

      OP speaking!

      Not Karen, I am fortunate enough to have the help of my parents in terms of living expenses. I had planned to move out this year (in fact, my boss encouraged me to move closer to work) but I just haven’t been able to afford it. I have money saved up from the past year leftover after bills and school loans, but I hate to dip into my savings. I’m already looking for another job but I was reluctant to quit until I get paid.

      By the way guys, thanks for the support and empathy! It’s been a rough situation for me and my first non-freelance job in the industry, so gauging what’s fair and what isn’t has been a little difficult.

      1. addlady*

        What you need to do is this:
        1. Gather documentation.
        2. Let your boss know you are resigning today.
        3. Leave. (switch steps 1 and 2 if necessary)

        1. Beezus*

          Don’t resign until you’ve gathered your documentation! You don’t want to quit only to find yourself unable to access information that you need to back up your claims.

          1. addlady*

            You’re right! I meant steps 2 and 3–you don’t want the boss reacting violently so it might make sense to put some distance between you and him before giving notice.

      2. OhBehave*

        As long as your parents are ok with you sticking around, stay put! Believe me, as a parent, I want my kids to have a semi-firm foundation before they leave the nest!

        Please follow the advise here to seek counsel. ANYTHING you have saved on the work computer, copy to a flash drive and take home. This includes any email that indicate excuses for not getting paid, anything related to promised compensation and benefits, job reviews, etc.

        This is a hard lesson learned.

        1. Barefoot Librarian*

          This exactly! Gather as much information as you can in case he decides to claim innocence. In addition to emails and work, it sounds like you have to log into some kind of payroll system, print or save documentation of your hours worked from there also. He’s going to be a dick about this, no doubt, but you can be ready to provide the labor department with everything they need to get your money for you. You shouldn’t have to deal with him directly, they will normally do it for you as long as you have evidence. I had to fight a rejection for unemployment once and basically took the information I had and took care of it.

          1. The Strand*

            I think you could prove it with some of the emails he’s been sending this (which also, by the way, shows that you are probably an employee being directed in how you do your work, not an independent contractor who makes her own decisions about how to complete a project, goal, etc).

      3. designbot*

        None of this is fair! You have bent over backwards to accommodate this guy, and he is not holding up his end of the bargain. If he says anything about being money-grubbing or rude or anything else like that, remind him and yourself that employment is meant to be mutually beneficial, and it is not rude to insist upon the terms he himself agreed to. And then report this guy, right away.

      4. Stranger than fiction*

        Op, do you have anything in writing? My worry is he’s going to dispute the dept of labor claim by saying you were an unpaid intern and never told you the job would turn into a paid one. In fact he sounds so slimy that he does this purposefully for free labor. I sure hope not but thank goodness you’re looking and have your parents

        1. Luc*

          I have a contract that has the details written out. It doesn’t have the employee status or the promised pay increase, but it does have the original contractor status and pay. I’m not unpaid completely – just not paid in the last couple of months.

      5. Koko*

        Definitely smart to stay with your parents if that’s an option that works for you. Looking back I kind of regret not accepting more help from my parents in my early 20s because I was so proud of being able to support myself–too proud, really. Once you get into the working world and you’re paying housing costs, the first decade+ it can become surprisingly difficult to save money at all….you get two paychecks a month and the first one pays the rent and it’s gone and you have to stretch the second one out for all your other expenses, and saving seems like a pipe dream, so you end up with no cushion in the event of emergency.

        Just being able to move out when the time comes with that cushion in tact and not have to immediately start draining it will give you so much peace of mind in your first years on your own. You can let it accumulate interest and if you don’t end up needing it, it’ll be there when you need to buy a car, or can go towards a down payment on a house some day.

    8. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I’m (peripherally) dealing with this with my son’s girlfriend at the moment, from the advice only angle. Her summer job is jerking her around about her money, but she really needs the money to start her fall semester and it’s too late to get another job. So she keeps showing up to work and trying to get her money.

      (she got paid up mostly to date, after great aggravation, but by that time had worked another 15 hours, so now she ‘s working out the rest of the next two weeks because she really needs all of the money due to her. )

  2. addlady*

    This guy is gas. lighting. you. It’s pretty clear that he’s working really hard to make you think you owe him something, but you owe him nothing. NOTHING. Except maybe notice that you won’t be showing up tomorrow. :)

    1. Jadelyn*

      Frankly I feel like he’s forfeited the right to even that much, although not giving it might cause more problems than it solves for the OP.

      1. Leatherwings.*

        Well, only a doctor can diagnose something like that. It’s sufficient to say that the guy is a jerk without armchair diagnosing him, I think.

        1. Marisol*

          I second that, and I would caution the OP *not* to spend too much time trying to understand this person. Doing that can lead to rationalizing and accepting the abuse. What motivates him is irrelevant–the important thing is for the OP to set boundaries based on her own values and sense of self worth. The focus should be *her needs*, not his psyche.

          1. Paloma Pigeon*

            Point taken, but sometimes seeing it spelled out can help people like the OP see a pattern in behavior that might allow them to question assumptions a bit differently. And gas lighting in particular is designed to get people to question their own best interests.

          2. James*

            I agree that the OP shouldn’t attempt a diagnosis. However, taking a few minutes to look for known warning signs serves two purposes here:
            1) It establishes that what the OP is seeing is very much not normal, and in fact is pathological. This should help remove any feelings of guilt, and allow the OP to put the fault squarely where it belongs: on the boss. This is important, because manipulative/abusive people make their victims feel like the problems are the victim’s fault. It’s part of the process (specific type of abuse seems irrelevant here), and breaking it is very important.
            2) It will allow the OP to see these danger signs for what they are in the future. Some bosses are jerks. Management comes with a certain amount of power, and jerks are drawn to that. The overwhelming majority aren’t as bad as the OP’s boss, but it’s useful to be able to say firmly “I recognize this. This is bad, and it needs to change–either by them changing how they treat me, or me changing jobs.”

          3. Mephyle*

            Understanding a person doesn’t need to mean accepting, rationalizing, excusing his behaviour.
            Seeing the pattern in his behaviour (and using it to understand him and his motivations) can be useful because it helps in designing an effective strategy to deal with his tactics. Knowing that he likely won’t react like a rational person and do A, but is more likely to do X means that OP can be prepared in case he does X, Y, or Z, instead of A, B, or C like a reasonable person.

            1. Koko*

              It can also help clear up any lingering belief that he can be reasoned with or the situation will improve. You can say to yourself, “Yeah, this is not about me or what I do, this person is basically broken and only he can fix himself.”

      2. The Strand*

        I think it is helpful to suggest reading about narcissistic and sociopathic traits. This guy seems to have them, whether or not a dx is in order, and just knowing that yes, this can be a pattern, can help a manipulated person better react to the behavior.

        1. OhNo*

          Plus there are a bunch of forums and websites devoted to helping people deal with people with those traits, so the OP might find some good suggestions there.

          Just to save some googling time, though, the #1 suggestion for dealing with narcissists (especially abusive ones) is to get the heck out of there and not look back. OP, I really recommend that course of action in your situation.

  3. Anna*

    This week’s questions have been making me so sad – I feel like it is a lot of people new to the workforce who are being gaslit by the whole “millenials are lazy and entitled” stereotype into working conditions that are truly unacceptable.

    1. Brogrammer*

      Word. This one especially hit close to home for me. I was illegally classified as an independent contractor in the past, though nowhere near as egregious a situation as this letter writer. I just went along with it even though I knew it was illegal and I was getting screwed. I didn’t think I could get another job since I was a recent grad with no experience, and I had bills to pay.

    2. Anna*

      Seriously. This asshat specifically roped in young people with little experience to screw over. It makes my blood boil.

      Please get out, OP, and file a claim. You are owed money, you have earned that money, and he is literally stealing it from you. Also, please give us an update. I hope his start up fails due to his asinine behavior. Nobody has an idea so good they can pull this sort of stunt.

      1. neverjaunty*

        This, exactly. OP, your boss is a thief and a liar. He is relying on your sense of responsibility to get away with stealing from you. If a car thief busted a window and stole your stereo, you wouldn’t run after him to say “hey, put that back and fix my window or I’ll call the cops”. This guy is no different.

        Call your state labor board immediately. Do not waste time trying to give your boss an ultimatum.

        1. Purest Green*

          Yes, I totally agree with skipping the one-on-one and going straight to the labor board. If he’s stealing from his interns, who knows what he might be doing to his other employees.

      2. RVA Cat*

        Yes. My gut feeling is that the startup is already failing, since he apparently can’t make payroll for the past two months(!).

        Honestly I would think the fact that you worked two weeks, much less two months, without being paid should cover any notice-period issues.

        OP, please send us an update – hopefully from where you’ve landed at a sane, legal employer.

    3. Amber T*

      You’ve summarized this so well.

      OP – RUN! From what you are describing, you are NOT lazy, entitled, rude, whatever other horrible word gets thrown around with millenials, for wanting to be paid for your work and treated like, you know, a human being. Honestly, your boss sounds like a sociopath who will never be reasonable. It’s honorable that you want to try to fix it with him first, but I’d honestly skip all that and just report everything.

        1. The Strand*

          Isn’t it sad that this kind of comparison is even possible? Marcus Lemonis (owner of Camping World, host of a great business turnaround show on CNBC) famously explained that to one entrepreneur who was bleeding his partners dry, “Slavery isn’t legal anymore.”

          1. RVA Cat*

            Exactly – you would think at least developed-world employers would get that!

            What I was getting at with that comparison is that not only is he a tyrant, he’s an incompetent tyrant. I’m thinking specifically of the scenes where Epps was drunk and raving incoherently right in Solomon Northrup’s face.

        2. Seriously Now*

          I hate to have to ask this, but can we please not compare being cheated out of two months’ pay to being detained against one’s will, denied human rights, and treated as property? Please? I get that it’s Hump Day and the weekend beckons from afar, but…couldja not?

        3. Rmric0*


          This guy is a super shitty boss abusing his employees, but it is not remotely comparable to chattel slavery. It is not even apples to oranges, because at least those are both fruit.

    4. Mike C.*

      Yeah, I think it would be really cool for Alison to do a “round up” type post (or maybe an update of one) that goes over a list of “basic expectations” or “red flags” of what obvious illegal behavior looks like.

      I know legal stuff is a tricky topic but so many only learn about their rights after being taken advantage of.

      1. Preux*

        I think that’s a good idea in theory, but might be difficult to pull off because of the fact that labor laws can differ from one location to the next and because criminals (and the employer in this letter IS a criminal, he is breaking the law) can find all sorts of creative ways to break the law that we can’t always anticipate.

    5. Engineer Girl*

      Sorry, no. This was happening before millennials were ever born. It’s just that in the old days they didn’t have the Internet to find out it was illegal.
      This is NOT a millennial problem.

      1. Anon for this*

        I would say that stereotypes of our age being used against us is a problem, though.

        Not anything that other generations didn’t experience, but we are up against being considered lazy and entitled before we even walk in the door. Combine that with inexperience and people can feel they have to go too far to “prove themselves.”

          1. Slippy*

            What is unique to millennials (my generation) is that there are dozens and dozens of information sources from the daily rag at Forbes, to Business Insider, to Inc, and many others that like to kick out a “millennials are lazy” article when it is a slow news day. They know these articles are easy to write, don’t have to be backed up with facts, and play to their audience’s prejudices. The previous generation only had to deal with Will and Mary complaining that their son Bill was lazy because he was playing around in their garage. We have to deal with a vast echo chamber saying we are lazy (Google “Millenials are lazy”, you will get about 470,000 hits).

            1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

              This, this, this.

              These garbage articles not only play to audience prejudices, they also provide ready-made “justification” for them (and the media outlets themselves) to mistreat younger workers.

              Considering how much right-wing “pro-business” rags especially seem to love Millennial-bashing, I’m inclined to think it’s calculated anti-worker propaganda.

              1. OhNo*

                Agreed. There’s a difference between the expected paying-your-dues/you’re-still-young treatment that a lot of older generations got, and the weirdly adversarial attitude that a lot of media outlets and workplaces have towards millenials.

              2. MentalEngineer*

                The clickbait-y style is new (well, kind of, you’d be surprised). The press engaging in near-constant calculated anti-worker propaganda is not new. The Reagan air traffic controllers got it, Cesar Chavez got it, the Wobblies got it, on and on and on. Hell, just owning a printing press has been bourgeois since the things were invented because of the capital and training required. The media’s been reactionary since before Enclosure.

                I’m sure you knew that; I just wanted to squeeze in my bomb-throwing socialist rant of the day.

            2. Purest Green*

              This is true. When I read Alison’s most recent article on Inc. a few minutes ago there was a disgusting slideshow about “What Millennials Mean When They Say X” or some type of thing. While it’s true that the labeling isn’t unique to millennials, what is unique is that they’re seeing it everywhere from so many sources. It has to be difficult not to internalize.

          2. LQ*

            I’d agree that it isn’t unique, but it is current. We can’t go back in time and stop saying this about Gen X. But we can today, stop saying it about Millennials. And we can in 5 years not say it about GenNext. Today we can go, we can do better. Today we can not say, “Oh those Millennials are ___.” But instead say, hey, demanding to be actually paid for the work you do is entirely appropriate.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          One thing is very different. In previous generations a significant majority had worked other jobs before entering the adult workforce. Either it was a job in high school or working through university. In previous generations there was also a lot more manual labor in keeping the household going. In short, they learned how to act in the adult workforce because they already held multiple jobs in their youth.
          Many of today’s graduates are working for the first time ever after they graduate. They do appear high maintenance because you have to teach them all the things that previous generations had already learned by the time they entered the adult workforce. This makes a bad “first impression”. This isn’t true for all millennials of course.
          In short, the hard times experienced by early generations actually prepped them better for the adult world.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Do you have statistics on that? I hire student employees and at least half of our applicants, possibly more, have held jobs in high school — retail and food service mostly.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              Half is a low number.
              Think about it. Previous generations graduated high school to wars. WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam. There was no opt out on the draft. Only Vietnam got an exclusion for university.
              The lack of student loans (like they have now) also meant more students working in university.

              1. Kelly L.*

                If fewer kids are working now, it’s more our fault than theirs. Not on purpose, mind you, but adults are taking the jobs that would in the past have gone to teenagers, because those adults are having trouble finding other kinds of jobs.

                There’s also a limit to how much a stereotypical “teen job” prepares you for the kind of office work we’re usually talking about here. I’ve worked in fast food, for example, and I’ve worked in offices, and neither really taught me much about the other. They’re totally different work cultures. Beyond the super super basics like “show up on time and wearing clothes,” and there are even differences in how strict that is.

                1. JOTeepe*

                  Also, there are pretty strict regulations as to what employees under 18 are allowed to do in the workplace. If an employer has ample choice of people with less scheduling availability and no real limitations on duties they can perform or hours they can work, they’re going to choose them. Teenagers have a LOT more structured demands on their time than they did even 20 years ago (and even then, the tides were changing toward this).

                  I grew up in a tourist area, which is ideal for teens/college kids because there is so much seasonal employment. I was able to work my tail off all summer and then not worry about working during the school year, and a lot of my friends did the same.

                2. Engineer Girl*

                  A lot of low level jobs have gone away due to automation.

                  I would argue that these jobs teach a lot:
                  * Yes, you have to do that yuck job because I’m paying you to do it.
                  * If you don’t want to do that job then feel free to call yourself unemployed
                  * I’m your manager so yes, you DO have to do what I told you.

                3. calonkat*

                  Reply to Engineer Girl:
                  My daughter learned these lessons in school. I told her multiple times that it didn’t matter how stupid she thought a school or teacher’s rules were, if she got nothing else out of 12 years of public schooling, she’d learn that supervisors/bosses get to set the rules, you get to follow them. I offered to homeschool her, but she decided the homework would be much harder :)

                4. Kelly L.*

                  I never said they don’t teach a lot. I said they teach different things.

                  You have a uniform, which doesn’t teach you anything about office wear, unless your office wear is also a garish polo shirt with high-water polyester slacks. You learn that you can’t use the restroom without permission–this was a culture shock thing for me when I switched! It took me a long time to realize I could just go. Conversational topics are different. The culture of requesting days off is different. And so on.

                  Like I said, I’ve done both, and I was at sea when I first switched, and I’m pretty sure that if I’d done it in the other order (office work first), I’d have been utterly baffled by food service, and probably would have gotten fired in my first week. I’m not saying I didn’t learn any General Life Lessons(tm), but there really is a ton of cultural stuff, in both types of jobs, that is different.

                5. Grimmerlemming*

                  I get tired of this over used cliche. As a millennial who worked since the age of 12 my jobs mowing lawns, mucking stalls, and eventually graduating to flipping burgers did not prepare me for an office job.

              2. ASF*

                Today’s high school students seem to have insane amounts of home work and extracurricular activities compared to when I was growing up. When are they supposed to find time to work?

            2. Anon Always*

              According to the White House report on millennials, as of 2013 just over 20% of high school students also held a job and just over half of college students held a job. Compare that to 2000 when about 40% of high school students had a job and over 60% of college students had a job. The information is available at

              However, none of those stats include internships, and almost every college student I know these days has at least one internship. When I was in college 20 years ago, those were few and far between.

              1. Ella*

                A slight nitpick is that I graduated high school in 2000, and I am generally considered a millennial (which apparently stretches back to 1980-ish somehow). So you’re comparing millennials to millennials.

          2. Kelly L.*

            Well, when kids have their first jobs when they’re in high school, that just shifts the opportunity for exploitation back to high school. There are definitely employers who take advantage of teenagers who don’t know their rights, just as much as there are employers who take advantage of inexperienced young adults who don’t know their rights.

            1. The Strand*

              True, that. I’m glad, however, that the first job I had where I was clocked out without my knowledge and forced to work for free, off the clock, happened when I was 14 and living at home. It took me time to learn how to push back on these sorts of things, and while I hate the idea of anyone being hurt, at any stage of live, I agree that fresh grads who have never worked before – because all the traditional “kid” jobs, even paper delivery, are increasingly held by adults – are in a tough spot socially on the job.

          3. Anon Always*

            I would argue that more millennials should have basic work skills because 47% of all millennials go to college and according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers almost 63% of all students participate in an internship (of which about 60% were paid internships and 40% were unpaid). Internships were pretty uncommon until the mid-1990’s. So the rates of young people being exposed to a professional work environment prior to graduation seems to have risen substantially (because more of them go to college and internships are far more common).

            I just don’t really see millennials as being any different than any other generation. I’m generation X, and I’ve met a lot of 20 somethings who start work who seem to think that their ideas are the greatest thing ever, and that they know more because they have a piece of paper. But, I think I was like that when I started work. It took me a few years to realize that experience really is more critical than some pieces of paper that I may hang on the wall.

          4. babblemouth*

            Really? Most (actually, all) under 20 years old I know have flipped burgers, or worked Saturdays in retail or some job like that at some point.

      2. Lance*

        That’s the basic point: a lot of people are attributing it to ‘millenials’ and ‘kids these days’ and glossing over the fact that it’s been going on with younger generations for ages.

        1. Rachel*

          Exactly. 20 years ago (when I was entering the work world), there were all the think pieces about how Gen Xers were just a bunch of lazy, entitled slackers.

      3. aebhel*

        Well, currently it’s a millennial problem since right now millennials are the young people entering the workforce, and young people entering the workforce are much more vulnerable to this BS, for a number of reasons.

        And millennials experience a lot of pressure to prove that they aren’t as lazy and entitled as the stereotype paints them, so it’s easy for unscrupulous people (like this boss) to use that to manipulate them.

    6. JOTeepe*

      My theory: The economy still isn’t stellar, but it’s improving, and people with good experience have more mobility than they did say, 5 years ago. Employers are PANICKING that the Underemployed Gravy Train is coming to an end.

      … just a theory. :)

      1. Kelly L.*

        I agree! I think we’re finally getting to the end of “You have to put up with whatever, In This Economy!”

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        There have always been employers who take advantage of people who don’t have the experience to know how they are supposed to be treated, and there always will be. I don’t think this is caused by the improved economy. There will always be new grads who don’t know what a normal workplace looks like, there will always be people too desperate to leave, there will always be people who don’t know their rights. And guys like this always find them, unfortunately.

        1. JOTeepe*

          Absolutely. My comment was more in response to the onslaught of “Who do these Millennials think they are?! They are lucky to have a job!” articles and other various poisonous talk. Meanwhile, they could be referring to a 30 year old with a master’s degree and 5 years of experience under her belt, who is ready to move up and is worth a good salary. Someone in a similar scenario 5 years ago wouldn’t have the same flexibility.

  4. Leatherwings*

    Often when things aren’t being handled in accordance with the law, it’s best to go to the employer first, discuss the situation calmly and try to reach an agreement. This is not one of those times. I also think you should go straight to the legal route and talk to the labor department. This guy needs a swift kick in the pants.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Agree 100% Based on the information provided, this guy will not react well to being confronted. He will probably do everything he can to make the OP’s life miserable. Going straight to the Department of Labor will make things easier.
      Also, I once had to confront a monster boss about labor laws and he easily pushed me over. I was trying to sum up all the confidence I could, but I was terrified, and really had no shot at making any headway. Every time I opened my mouth, he yelled right over me. I bet this guy is the same sort of person, and I would recommend just skipping the abuse and getting legal support.
      …and I had no problem explaining the situation and finding a new job.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Also, tbh I would be kinda worried that he might get physical – maybe not explicitly violent, but physically aggressive (invading personal space, etc.) – if you tried to talk to him about it. F*** that, go to the labor board directly and get the hell out of that place.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, this type of person is just going to talk over OP, perhaps slam a few things onto the desk and so on. OP, this guy is showing you who he is, take his word for it.

    2. Amber T*

      Agreed. It’s one thing when things aren’t being handled correctly because of confusion related to the law, or even struggling business (not okay, but understandable), to try to work it out with the boss. Leatherwings is right – going straight to the legal route is probably for the best.

    3. Alton*

      Yeah, I would give the employer the benefit of the doubt and give them a chance to correct things themselves if it could be an honest mistake or ignorance. This guy clearly knows what he’s doing if he’s intentionally avoiding talking to them about it. And I don’t trust someone who’s such a jerk to his employees to handle this well even if he didn’t realize he was screwing them over.

  5. Natalie*

    Excellent advice Alison.

    OP: I doubt anyone would take your manager’s bad mouthing you seriously, you seem like a really hard worker and I hope it all works out for you.

    1. Amber T*

      I could be wrong, but a lawyer would probably just send them to the labor department. You might get some reaction if the lawyer sends a nice stern letter on their legal letterhead, or a lawyer could help explain and walk through the process, but I don’t think think a lawyer is necessary at this point.

      1. addlady*

        Yeah, the department of labor will usually do everything to get that money back, with minimum hassle. You don’t need to worry about lawyering up.

        1. Kyrielle*

          The *only* exception to that might be the threat to blackball the OP in the industry, but like other commenters, I strongly suspect the boss doesn’t actually have the social capital to accomplish that, even if he tries.

          And, honestly, it’s not hard to explain why he’s an awkward reference. The hard part would keeping it factual, dry, and calm, but assuming one can say relatively-neutrally, “I hadn’t been paid in two months,” you’re good to go. (The mis-classification as an independent contractor and the abuse are also egregious, but ‘I was not paid for two months’ stands by itself and no company that *actually pays its employees* will have a second thought about that one, whereas someone who knows very little about contractor vs employee classifications might not realize why that was such a big deal.)

          1. NW Mossy*

            And really, any potential employer that can’t accept “I wasn’t being paid for my work” as an entirely valid reason for leaving a position is not the kind of company you want to work for anyway.

    2. Pwyll*

      A lawyer could certainly help here, given many states will multiply the back wages as punishment. But it also might be a fairly small amount of money for a lawyer as well (2 months at minimum wage isn’t a ton of money) depending on how much money the employer has and how many other employees are misclassified/not being paid, they may not recover. That said, a sternly worded letter from a lawyer might just be enough.

      If they decided to go the legal route, OP should probably start with a free consultation to determine the liklihood of a recovery, and how much the lawyer might charge. Google ‘state lawyer referral service’ to find one if you don’t have any direct referrals.

      But if the chance for recovery is too low (a good lawyer will be straight forward with their fees and the risks, even in a free consult) or if OP can’t pay for a lawyer to go after it, OP should absolutely contact the state labor department or attorney general to file a wage complaint.

      1. animaniactoo*

        I believe I saw something here that said if you’re planning on filing a DOL complaint, you have to file the complaint first and then you can consult/hire a lawyer afterwards as additional leverage, etc. It sounded like there’s something that gets screwed up if you go the lawyer then DOL route.

        1. Pwyll*

          I think this depends on the state. In some states an Attorney needs permission from the Attorney General or state DOL in order to proceed with a wage claim without the DOL exhausting its investigation first. So a lawyer’s hands might be tied if the complaint was filed first (though nothing that can’t be solved by the lawyer contacting and working with the DOL/AG). If getting the money quickly (relatively, speaking) is a concern, it can (but isn’t always) be better to speak with a lawyer first to go the demand letter route, rather than filing the complaint. That’s why having a trusted lawyer is so important, because a good lawyer will redirect people to the state agencies first if that’s their best option, or explain why it’s not their best option.

    3. neverjaunty*

      It would be a very good idea in addition to calling the labor board – not necessarily because OP wants to sue, but for advice and backup.

    4. Sunny*

      That’s what I was thinking. This is bad enough that I would look for legal help before confronting the guy or not showing up. He sounds like enough of a jerk that if he knew you might take some kind of action, he could retaliate or take illegal measures to protect himself (destroying or fabricating evidence). A lot of places have free legal advice services for people in these kinds of situations.

    5. J.B.*

      Probably not, but I would confirm with the department of labor that they will forward on to revenue. If not, I’m sure that either the state revenue department or IRS has an assistance line. You know, so they can get their easy enforcement!

  6. sparklealways*

    How Terrible! OP – Your boss is a terrible, pathetic excuse for a human being. You don’t owe him any level of decency.

    Please make sure to document any conversations via email and BCC your personal email address.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      This is really good advice. Document everything. And send/make yourself copies of any of your old records that help support any claims that you might make with the DoL.

    2. Amber T*

      Ditto to sending everything in writing to your personal email! There have definitely been stories here where evidence of a coworker’s or boss’s wrongdoing mysteriously went missing in the work email.

    3. clumsyfemme*

      +1. And be sure to do this before having the conversation, in case you have to leave right afterwards.

      1. Kyrielle*

        I’ve started being terrified to say it because somehow, somehow it will be trumped. Apparently not-saying it to the last one didn’t change it tho.

        Is it just me, or does 2016 have more Horrible Boss stories than usual? :(

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          2016 has more weird letters in general, which I think might be responsible for the recent rounds of “this must be fake.” As for why 2016 has more weird letters — I think it’s that I’m getting more mail, and I’m definitely drawn to the weirder ones, and there are more of them now that the pool to pick from is bigger. That’s just a theory though — I’m not positive it’s right.

          1. Anon Millennial*

            I must admit that I’ve read some letters and thought “Not real.” However, I work in a dysfunctional environment and if I were to write in everyone would be thinking “No way!” I hope you’ll consider posting an occasional “Nicest Boss Ever” letter if/when you get one.

            1. Kelly L.*

              I think, for me, the usual flag of “possibly fake” is when an LW starts confidently espousing a viewpoint that, to me, is obviously terrible. Weird circumstances, I can believe. But usually when a terrible boss writes in, they’re self-justifying about it–they don’t make themselves a villain in their own story. When someone does make themselves the villain, like if a LW wrote “Well, obviously Wakeen should be fired for having green eyes, that’s just common sense,” it would make me start wondering if they’re actually Wakeen and writing a flipped letter.

              1. addlady*

                Unfortunately, there are really people like that though. Some people just look at themselves and go “I’m a wonderful person, so everything I do is justified. Period.” This leads to some pretty egregious behaviors, because they CAN’T do anything wrong.

                1. Kelly L.*

                  Certainly true! :) It does make me wonder, though, and sometimes when I start wondering, I find other inconsistencies, etc.

          2. Kyrielle*

            Definitely weirder, but that I found less concerning – because of course the weird ones are more likely to be unique enough to not feel like you’ve answered it 47 times. But also more that are horrible. Of course that makes sense. You have more visibility and more letters, so a larger number of each type even if the percentages coming in to your inbox are the same. (And like the plainly-weird ones, the horrible ones are more interesting to answer – and arguably more in need of an answer.)

            I don’t read too many and think “not real”. Of course, any of them could be fake (including the more banal ones, though I can’t imagine why someone would fake one of those), but I’m never sure they are and I’d rather not assume wrongly. Truth is stranger than fiction, and there’s plenty of things that happen in real life that would never work in fiction because people would complain it wasn’t plausible. :)

          3. AMT 2*

            Also, you have huge archives built up where many normal questions have already been answered – most likely a regular question can be addressed by a past letter, so someone is probably more likely to write in with the odd stuff, not the run of the mill stuff.

          4. TL -*

            If your Google status has gone up, you may also be more likely to be a first page result for workplace problem questions, which means you might get more questions (and weirder ones, I would guess.)

          5. Not So NewReader*

            I think that you do have an affinity for the off-beat questions (lol). It does spark conversation and there is plenty of weird stuff that goes on out there. If one person is experiencing X there are probably others experiencing X also. I like the off beat stuff and I like how you talk about complex issues. It’s just the type of help people need.

            For example, with today’s post there are probably a few people reading who have missed one or two paychecks because their employer is behind for whatever reason. People could be wondering what to do, where to turn and how much of THIS do they have to put up with. You answered their questions and they did not even have to ask.

          6. Violet Fox*

            It could also be that people are looking into your archives and already finding the answers to some of the simpler and more straight-forward questions.

  7. JacqOfAllTrades*

    Remember to get all the documentation you can before you have this conversation – you may not have access to the records you need (timesheets, etc.) after you talk to him if he fires you and bans you form the premises!

    1. Interviewer*

      Coming here to say this very thing. If you used timesheets to record your work hours get those, and if you sent him invoices, make sure you have copies of everything including backup. Also, you’ll want to save emails, letters, or memos where your boss described terms of the work assignment, employment, hire dates, orientation periods, scheduling, work hours, supervisors, etc. – forward it all to your personal email. And grab a copy of the employee handbook, too.

      1. Interviewer*

        Ack. Forgot to mention a copy of the job description, and copies of all pay checks or pay stubs.

        For a DOL audit, he’ll be asked to provide most of this. If he claims there is no signed offer letter, and yet you have one, or if he claims you weren’t working for him during those months, and yet you have timecards and a paystub – that’ll be a big plus in your favor. In other words, you want a good documentation of your case to prove he’s lying about his case.

        Good luck!

  8. Naomi*

    OP, please keep in mind that there is a wide gulf between “I was money-grubbing and rude” and “my boss claimed that I was money-grubbing and rude”. The first is not at all true; the second is extremely likely to happen. If your boss says anything of the sort, remind yourself that he is an unreasonable person who frequently projects his own unprofessional behavior onto you.

    And hey, look, it’s another “worst boss of the year” contender. The vote is going to be depressingly competitive this year.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      It’s no more money-grubbing and rude to ask to be paid for your work than it is for a store to ask you to pay for its merchandise. Like Alison keeps saying in these cases: This is a business relationship. You don’t “owe” your bad boss extra-special loyalty any more than you “owe” a business that doesn’t provide the service you want/need at a good price loyalty.

    2. Hermione*

      Yes. Wanting to be paid fairly for the work you do is NOT money-grabbing. Please don’t let this man’s words shake your mind into reframing yourself as being responsible for his poor treatment of you.

  9. EddieSherbert*

    Wow, I’m so sorry this is your situation! If possible, get copies of all your time sheets, any documents with your job description/job offer… really, anything important, before you talk to this guy. Just in case. It seems super likely to me that he’s going to fight you on this and you will need to report him.

    1. Temperance*

      I’d like to add: store these at home, not at your work desk/in your office. Because I have a hunch that they would disappear, mysteriously, from the office.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yes. Get them, and get them to your house / personal email / personal computer. Because I suspect things are not going to go well after you talk to your boss. I might skip straight to the DoL also, if you think you can do with the delay in getting any of your pay (and because I have a hunch it might not work without going to the DoL anyway…).

  10. Elizabeth West*

    Oh holy wow. No it’s not money-grubbing. I’m pretty sure not being paid qualifies as intolerable conditions; you should be able to get UI for that, but I think you do need to show that you tried to remedy the situation (although I can’t imagine how you would do that).

    If it were me, I’d leave and go straight to the labor board. He is not going to be reasonable. What a colossal assmonkey.

  11. Lauren*

    Get out today! File a report with your state’s Labor Department today! File an unemployment claim today!

    Do not wait for anything else.

  12. Liz*

    He’s already told us about ruining an ex-coworker’s chance at working in this industry by telling people what a terrible worker he was

    I am willing to bet money that this ex-coworker does not exist.

    1. Liz*

      Wait, I might have misread that. I thought it was one of the boss’s ex-coworkers, not the OP’s.

      In any case, nope, still likely not true.

    2. Brogrammer*

      I 100% believe that ex-coworker exists and that BadBoss tried to ruin his chance at working in the industry. Bosses who pull the shit like OP describes in the letter are notoriously petty.

      Whether BadBoss was successful in doing so is another question entirely.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Eh, it’s certainly possible that Boss simply made up or exaggerated this. And I doubt that Boss’ colleagues treat his opinions with the same deference Boss thinks they do.

        1. Brogrammer*

          The ability to actually do it is the bit that should be taken with a grain of salt.

          I’ve worked for a bad boss who tried to ruin former employees’ chances of getting work in the industry. He failed and the former employees are much happier at non-dysfunctional companies.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Yes, a reasonable manager is going to give stuff like that a huge side-eye, especially if the person has otherwise great references and they say something like, “They weren’t actually paying me.”

      2. Anon Always*

        I bet with treating employees the way he does that most employees who leave that organization are almost bulletproof in the industry. Word gets around. Especially, if this boss tried to actively hurt a person’s chances in the industry.

        But, even if it doesn’t, any decent HR person is going to pick up on the level of ridiculousness that this person would express during a reference check. Not to mention, bosses like this often say one thing to intimate the people working for them, and then act completely differently.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      I would get confrontational at that. I would tell him that if he defamed me by not telling the truth I would respond by telling the truth. That they weren’t making payroll and had cash flow problems. In the startup world that would be a clear signal the company has problems and could cause a whole slew of other problems for the company. Think suppliers no longer extending credit etc. You can be the boss won’t want that little tidbit getting out to the industry.

      1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

        Hahahahaha, I love the idea of responding to his defamation with truth.

        I wonder what field your startup is in, Luc, and if there are any industry blogs that might be interested in this business’s cash-flow problems and illegal practices. Might be time for someone to get a tip or some leaked documents from a little bird….

    4. Anon for this*

      Ha, I actually believe him on that, but not for the reason he said.

      I think an ex-coworker might have left the industry after dealing with this guy.

    5. Luc*

      OP here! He actually does exist – he left months after I started, and we’re not sure what happened to him since none of us were close at that point. Not sure about what my boss said, but that much is true.

    6. Mreasy*

      Yeah, I was in a situation very similar to this one. Instead of questioning why I stormed off the job one day after umpteen 12 hour days at sub minimum wage, being verbally abused at every turn, everyone who looked at my resume in our small industry said “wow, I can’t believe you lasted that long!” So much for my boss’s threats that she’d destroy my reputation!

    7. MouseCopper*

      Yeah. If you listen to my bad boss, I apparently had no work ethic, needed to be fired, was combative, and she “put me in my place!”

      Truth? She left the role and I was promoted from Junior Analyst to Senior Analyst completely skipping the middle run and got a 15% raise. Yeah. She totally put it to me though. ;)

    8. Not So NewReader*

      OP, we don’t know if he can or can’t muddy your rep. But we do know that people who say things like this are doing so that they can control us. Why would he care what happens to you after you leave? Nooo, the point is to keep you from leaving that is the whole point of this statement.

      You get out of that place and you will probably find he has a rep as being a Loser, with that capital L.

      And, just for your info, someone showed me this and it has been very helpful to me. SOME people test the waters with us to see what they can get away with. I don’t know which came first the verbal abuse or the lack of pay, but the two go hand-in-hand. He tested you to see what he could get away with, saw that you weren’t paying close attention and that is when he accelerated his behaviors.

      Good, honest people bust their butts to make sure that others get paid what is owed them. Very, very, very seldom do you see good, honest people asking someone to wait for their pay.

  13. Pwyll*

    Internship and Independent Contractor are mutually exclusive terms. ICs must be self-employed and are hired to complete a specific project or assignment, where the employer is not providing direct supervision or direction on the completion of that project. Paid or unpaid, interns are not “self-employed”. And I’d be hard pressed to prove you can have an intern who does not require supervision or direction.

    As an aside, one of the criteria for unpaid internships is that there is no guarantee or offer of fulltime employment at the end of the internship. Internships are not a “try before you buy.”

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      Also, don’t you have to learn something useful about the business for an unpaid internship? (Besides how not to run one, which seems to be what the OP has gotten out of it.)

      1. Pwyll*

        The Feds use a 6 point test for unpaid internships. One criterion is that the experience “even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment”. So, the more particularized the training is to one specific employer (as opposed to skills generally in an industry) the more likely it is not an internship.

        1. Rafe*

          I have been kind of terrified wondering whether the OP has been/is an intern this whole time, and whether that changes AAM’s advice.

    2. sunny-dee*

      Yeah, it sounds like he was using “IC” to try to get around withholding and regular pay rates.

      Just FYI, OP, I was a contractor / freelancer for years, and there are two ways I had people pay me. One was a flat rate for a project (I’ll write a 15 page whitepaper for $1000) *or* an hourly rate for a long term project (I’ll work at $40/hour for 6 months to complete this software documentation). If I was keeping track of time, I was paid at my rate for every hour I worked. You don’t get overtime, but you cannot get less than your stated rate per hour. This guy is seriously screwing you over, and you do not need to feel guilty.

    3. Ella*

      I’ve been scrolling down looking for a comment like this. If OP’s job duties and description didn’t fundamentally change when they changed from intern to “IC,” could OP make an argument that they were never a valid intern and need to be paid for that time too?

      1. Luc*

        OP here. Technically he signed us up as independent contractors when we were interns, so I don’t even know how legal *that* was.

  14. Moonsaults*

    This hurts reading because it screams that you’ve been abused for so long and are internalizing so much, thinking that you’re going to come across looking rude for asking for your paychecks?!?! Holy cow.

    He’s breaking so many laws and what scares me is he’s not paying unemployment insurance on you, you have to let BOLI know and they can audit his books. He’s paying you as independent contractors but you don’t fit that. You are aware that the money that he’s been paying you straight means you are supposed to be paying taxes on it at the end of the year, right? You aren’t having normal withholdings. You’re going to get so screwed and so broken when the IRS comes to collect their 30% for assorted taxes in the end if you aren’t already planning for that. Considering he’s paying you so little..

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        And if there are enough employees, he might also be in violation of the ACA. (Since I doubt if he’s providing health insurance to the OP and her fellow victim.) So the HHS might also have an interest in this guy.

        The OP doesn’t state the industry, but I would not be surprised if there are other federal, state, and local violations going on here.

    1. Aurion*

      That’s what I was thinking too! And the chances of the IRS catching the oddity of an “independent contractor” being paid at minimum wage isn’t high.

      OP, skip talking to the boss, he’s horrible and you don’t want to work for him anyway. By the time you are pursuing (or threatening) legal action, the situation is no longer about correction but about compensation, because the relationship becomes adversarial (if it wasn’t there already) and doesn’t get better from there. If your boss treats you like this now, can you imagine how much worse he’ll become if you threaten to bring the legal hammer on him?

      Talk to the DOB, talk to IRS, and nail him to the wall. You deserve so much better.

    2. Natalie*

      There’s a procedure for handling this ar tax time. LW will have to fill out a couple of extra forms, but they won’t have to shell out the money.

      1. Moonsaults*

        It depends on how the IRS views it and how the 1099’s are filed.

        It will also depend on the state’s view on it as well. If they see a 1099 come through for someone who isn’t a known contractor, they will still send you the forms, stating you need to get set up for quarterly estimated taxes.

        They will have to shell out the withholding at very least, the IRS isn’t going to let you get away without paying income taxes.

      2. GG*

        Not quite accurate. There are forms the LW can use to shift the burden of the employER share of the taxes back to the boss. But the LW is still liable for the employEE share of taxes.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          The IRS can be pretty reasonable if you have to pay off something, however (gasp! but it’s true!). I’ve had to do it a couple of times–once when right after an election my taxes on a $5.50-an-hour job went from $1 to $200, and another time when I lost my day job right after doing some IC work. You can set up a payment plan with them. As long as you are trying, they will work with you.

          1. Moonsaults*

            Yes! I had to do that after taking my IRA out early. They have very low interest rates and just want it back within like 18 months most of the time, even then they’ll work with you but interest may go up a bit.

        2. Natalie*

          Oh, good point. I was thinking about them having to pay money they morally/legally don’t owe (the employer share) and forgot about their part!

    3. GreyjoyGardens*

      It was the IRS who brought down Al Capone. You do NOT want to diddle the tax people. I would definitely sic the IRS – as well as the Labor Board and anyone else you can think of – on Bosshole. People like this deserve a comeuppance.

      LW, on the other hand, deserves timely pay and decent treatment, just like anyone else. It is not rude or entitled or money-grubbing to want to be paid for one’s work, unless one is specifically taking a volunteer job that has been stated to be a volunteer job. I don’t expect a plumber, for instance, to fix my toilet out of the goodness of his heart.

  15. Evan*

    “What is the best way to go about this without coming off as money-hungry and/or rude?”
    OP hasn’t been paid in 2 months by an abusive and lying boss. I challenge everyone to come up with a way to ask for the money WITH coming off as money-hunter and rude. OP could march up to him and say “pay me now asshole” and I still think it would be basically justified. Obviously don’t do that, but that seems to be how he treats his employees. There’s nothing money-hungry about wanting to get paid (as required by law!!) for your work!

    1. Chickaletta*

      “Money-hungry and rude” describes the owner, not the LW, no matter what demands they make of the owner at this point.

    2. EmmaLou*

      She IS money-hungry! She is hungry for the money she’s earned to pay for her bills and other stuff. That’s why people work. To fill that money-hungry beastie. A definition says: wanting money, trying to get money, strongly desiring money. Yep. ALL those things because they are right. She’s owed that.

  16. Mike C.*

    OP –

    You are not in a normal workplace situation. The normal rules about “being rude” and “money-grubbing” and “wanting to keep a good reference” all fly out the window when something as serious as “my employer isn’t paying me” happen.

    Spend some quiet time documenting everything you can about what has happened – hours worked, wages paid (and not paid), basic work duties performed and so on. Get as much down as you can, and get your coworker to do the same. You’re going to need this when you start reporting this asshole of a boss to the authorities.

    Look, if this person had the power to blackball you from the industry, they would at the very least have enough money to pay you every two weeks. They have nothing, and you should file before they can avoid paying you back wages. You may also have to speak to a lawyer but in situations like these you usually don’t pay upfront.

    Best of luck and please update us!

    1. K.*

      “Look, if this person had the power to blackball you from the industry, they would at the very least have enough money to pay you every two weeks.”
      Exactly. Odds are excellent that he made up this blackballing. He has no leverage. None. At all. Get your documentation in order, contact the labor department to get the money OWED TO YOU, quit, and feel good about it. If you dropped a few curse words in your communication with him, I wouldn’t be mad at that. He. Is breaking. The law. Get your money. It’s yours. He’s wrong – and he knows it.

    2. JMegan*

      All of this. Get your documentation together and GTFO. You deserve to not be abused at work, and you deserve to be paid for the work that you do. If either of those things is not happening, you deserve to speak up about it, and also to leave!

      Also, now you can say that a couple of hundred internet strangers have your back on this when you go to the DoL. Good luck.

    3. Anna*

      And this is exactly why I cringe whenever the “bad reference” thing comes up in other letters. Commenters sometimes focus so narrowly on it, it can make other readers lose sight of some truly egregious stuff.

      OP, listen to Mike C. He is right. This guy does not have the power or the leverage to hurt your career. He is like a shrunken Daffy Duck or a Plankton from SpongeBob Squarepants. He is loud, but he is tiny. And he owes you a lot of money.

  17. Evie*

    I wouldn’t give this guy any kind of ultimatum, I’d walk out. If he can’t even give you the respect of paying you for you work and verbally abusing you on top of that, then why should you show him the respect of a 2 weeks notice? Normally I would not condone this sort of thing, but I don’t see anyone benefitting from doing right by this manager.

    1. addlady*

      Yes, if you are reading this, pack up your stuff and provide your resignation. The only thing I’m stuck on is whether to do it in person or over email.

  18. Sunny Days*

    This is bad enough that I would document everything you can, contact the labor board and/or legal services for people being mistreated in the work place, and then resign or stop showing up. I wouldn’t try to make things ok with this guy. Regardless of what happens, he’s not going to be a good reference. Just report him, get it on record that he was abusing his employees, and move on.

  19. lamuella*

    apologies for the acronym I’m about to use which contains the initials of some intemperate language.

    A relationship advice columnist I’m very fond of called Dan Savage coined the following acronym: DTMFA. While keeping my language work appropriate, this roughly means “Dump The [horrid person] Already”. This is to be used in situations where someone is in a relationship they are getting nothing out of and paying a lot into, as a way of saying walk away right now, there is nothing here to save.

    I’d like to say the work equivalent of this to you. If you possibly can, if you can get something else lined up, if there’s any way you can without it causing you hardship, DTMFA. Nothing good will come out of you staying. There is nothing here to save.

  20. The Mighty Thor*

    I see this is posted in Law Order, and Advice about your boss. Shouldn’t it be posted in Jerks as well?

  21. PoniezRUs*

    Woah! I had a similar situation when I was an intern. It was not a start up. It was a small company that had been around for some time. I did not know any better at the time but my boss was verbally and emotionally abusive too in many ways similar to how you described. Please find another job. You have lost perspective on what is normal and healthy in the workplace. File a complaint with the right people. Please make it know how he operates. The company I mentioned above blatantly underpaid women vs men because the owner, who was well into his golden years, firmly believed women work for pocket money and men work to support their families. My boss made awful suggestive comments to me and would get too close for comfort. Like I said, I did not know better. I was 19 and needed an internship.

    I was there a whole year! Please speak up and get out! You deserve better.

  22. Christine*

    Be sure to keep all documentation regarding your hours worked elsewhere …. not at the office. He could just fire you and it could be difficult to get make a claim for unemployment & the labor board. I would just go to the labor board, file the complaint & walk.

    He’s not worth dealing with.

  23. Christine*

    oops … meant to say could be difficult to make a claim for unemployment & the labor board without supporting documentation. If you have e-mails about work assignments from him; forward some to your personal e-mail account for the period you we not paid.

  24. Eddie Turr*

    With regard to unemployment benefits: It seems likely that OP hasn’t worked enough to be eligible for UI, if she’s only been on board for a few months. It’s probably still worth it to try, though, and of course the requirements will vary by state.

    1. addlady*

      She’s been on board for longer, hasn’t she? She hasn’t been PAID for a few months. I think.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Probably still not long enough, depending on her work history. I moved to another state and took a job, and then the company closed down after I was there about 6 months. The unemployment board there said I hadn’t been in the state long enough to collect benefits. That’s (obviously) partially because of the move, but if she has been listed as an independent contractor, it means that she hasn’t been paying into the state unemployment insurance pool, which means they won’t give her benefits.

        1. Kat S*

          The OP should apply for UI anyway and appeal if UI finds them ineligible initially. OP’s classification as an independent contractor is very suspect and the state can determine whether the employer used an improper classification, in which case they’d take any back UI taxes owed or of the employer’s hide. The OPvs wages in base period may be insufficient, but that varies state by state. Some have much lower eligibility thresholds, by quarters worked or by wages paid, than others.

        2. LQ*

          This varies based on state, so I’d really hesitate to tell the OP to not apply without knowing the state and a lot more details. In some states it can be a very small threshold to be eligible for benefits, even if the person wouldn’t get much. Some have other thresholds. But I’d really strongly encourage the OP to file.

    2. Moonsaults*

      She’s not being paid as an employee, so the owner isn’t paying UI for her at all. There are no Quarterly reports for them to draw their information from, they are going to be super confused at the very UI level. So that’s why they’d have to audit books and get back taxes, then possibly she’d be eligible for UI. That’s the rub here.

      UI is not for the self employed or independent contractors that this scumbag owner is trying to sweep his employees into.

      1. LQ*

        If she is not correctly classified then she may still be able to collect. (Even if the owner hasn’t paid, the UI may be able to go after him (depending on the state of course) for the amount he owes.) If the OP has time sheets and can show that she earned money that’s going to be very helpful. If the OP can show that they should have been classified as an employee then they may be able to collect.

        **Depends on the state for all UI things

        1. Moonsaults*

          Good point. This may also be a way to get the government on his trail to further audit his records.

    3. LQ*

      The OP should DEFINITELY file for benefits. It will depend on the state but they may be eligible even though they’ve only worked there for a few months. There is also a money earned vs money paid issue. The OP has EARNED that money and depending on the state, if they can show they have earned the money, even if they haven’t been paid it, the UI office may go after the company for that and the OP may be able to collect based on the earned money that is owed to the person, rather than the paid money. Please OP file for benefits. Do not assume you won’t get paid.

    4. The Strand*

      It is worth it to try. I know someone who was led on for 14 weeks by a confidence man setting himself up as an legitimate employer. At least 12 people, I think, were scammed by this walking piece of excrement. At least a few of them were able to get unemployment.

    5. Christine*

      Unemployment is based on time period worked, by quarter. It can be different employers; not necessarily the same one. We had someone that worked for us as an emergency hire for two months and got laid off from their next job. We got hit with some of her unemployment cost.

  25. Biff Welly*

    As others have said and I hope OP reads, no one should have to put up with this type of behavior from an employer. (start-up or not) As Allison said, it is in no way money-grubbing to expect to be paid for work. It makes me sad that people feel like this would be appropriate.

    I think the advice to try and work it out directly with the boss, but still working with the labor board is very even handed and fair (even too fair). I hope we get an update on this one.

    I know its hard out there, but at this point, it would even be better for your mental health to be unemployed and not harrassed.

  26. Audiophile*

    Oh my god.

    As much as I want to say run, especially if you’re not being paid, I understand the impulse to stay. You have a job, which I hope you’ve added to your resume. I would start applying for jobs immediately. I know there’s been AAM posts in the past about what to say in interviews when you’re not being paid by your employer. I can’t remember the exact script right now.

    I’m currently job searching, but leaving my current employer off my resume, since I’ve only been in the job a month and it’s not a large enough or well-known company, that I don’t think it would do my resume any justice.

    I’ve been asked by friends why I haven’t just quit my job and the best answer I can give is because (at least for now) they’re providing a paycheck and it’s holding me over since I have bills to pay. I’ve made it clear in a lighthearted manner, that I will leave if I’m not paid. Your job isn’t even doing that.

  27. I'm Not Phyllis*

    To be honest, I’m not sure I’d bother talking to him about missing pay again (I’m assuming you’ve done this already?). He knows he hasn’t paid you and even if he does under threat of Dept. of Labor action … what then? I’d be willing to bet that things will get worse instead of better. I’d probably skip that step and go directly to the Dept. of Labor with this one and let them handle it, because Alison is right – this isn’t somewhere you want to work. If you need the job (though you’re not getting paid so I’m not sure why you would), the dept. of labor may be able to offer you some protection while they investigate (maybe? I’m not sure how it works in the USA).

  28. Brett*

    This behavior by the startup founder is a pretty strong indicator that will be out of money soon, if not already out of money. Treat any promise of equity/stock as worthless until you see real numbers on the company revenue, investment, and burn rate.
    Talk to the DOL right away so you can get paid while there is still money to pay you.

  29. AFRC*

    I’m wondering if this company is on Glassdoor yet? It sounds like a small company, but when the OP gets out, it might not hurt to post something there. If there’s a big enough involvement with the state labor department, and a settlement is reached, it’s possible that word could get out within the industry and in local media, and he could lose business and potential future employees.

    Best of luck to you, OP, and please update us when you can!!

  30. HRish Dude*

    My theory is that if you’re not being paid and they refuse to classify you as an employee, you don’t have a job to quit.

    Don’t show up anymore. File a complaint with the labor board about the hours you’ve already worked and did not get paid, file an unemployment claim, and look for a sane employer.

    1. Christine*

      Agree with you. Just send documents to yourself to support working … contact both unemployment & the labor board. I had an employer that didn’t pay me for 3 weeks. It was a temp agency and you were paid weekly. I kept getting promises that they had mailed it (refused to use Direct Deposit). I called the labor board, they bought one check out and threw it at me at the job site. The accountant screamed at me. They didn’t pay for the 2 weeks; gave them 2 days to get it straightened out, they didn’t walked off the job site at lunch and didn’t return. Reached out to the Labor Board that morning.

      OP — some people who are in the wrong, take offense, and attempt to put it off on the other individual. Hoping that by getting ugly that you’ll back down. Apparently it’s worked for him in the past and he’s continued it.

      Your first responsibility is to your self not the horses &*(). When you fill out future applications you can say you left because the employer was not pay your salary. Alison will have a better way to state it. I’m leaning towards “Employer failed to meet payroll.”

  31. Lily Rowan*

    Oh man. I feel so bad for the LW + coworker, but I am SO GLAD I read this just now. I am having a crappy day at work so far, but at least it’s not bad like this! Yikes.

  32. James*

    OP: If you’re worried about coming off as money-grubbing, think of it this way: You are selling a product to your manager. You are selling your time, effort, and (as a knowledge worker) intellectual property.

    Your manager is taking that product without payment.

    Do you think your manager would give his product to someone without payment? Of course not. A good company would ask for payment, maybe give a little leeway in some rare cases, but generally demand the other party stick to the terms of the contract. That’s what the contract is for. The best client in the world, and the nicest person in the world, will demand what’s owed them and take legal action if necessary to get it.

    What your manager is doing is theft, from an ethical perspective (legally it’s something different and I make no pretense at being a lawyer). He is stealing your time, effort, and intellectual property from you. It is not “money-grubbing” to demand what is rightfully yours, particularly not when there’s a contractual agreement!

    I mean no offense here, but the fact that you’re even worried about coming off as rude and money-grubbing is a sign that he’s gotten to you. This is no insult to you–it’s nearly impossible to be with an abusive person without them getting to you in some way. It’s one of those things that’s a huge red flag to everyone outside the relationship (and yes, employer/employee is a relationship), but is almost impossible to see inside it. This environment has shifted your perspective of how these relationships should operate.

    Given this manager’s behavior, please don’t go to him alone. I generally prefer dealing with people directly, and handling issues at the lowest level possible, but in this case this guy has shown that he’s not going to take that well. As you said, he’s abusive, and abusive people are very, very good at turning you against yourself. Go to the state department of labor first. They have much more experience dealing with abusive and manipulative employers than you, and will be able (since they’re not an employee) to circumvent his manipulations.

  33. So So anon for this*

    OP, I have never commented before (professional lurker) but I had to for this, because what you describe fits what a few people I know went through, to a T. If this was written a few years ago I would immediately text my friends to ask which one of them submitted this question.

    If you are in the Boston area and are “interning” at a startup that is in the event management area, please know that you are NOT alone, and your reputation WILL NOT be damaged in any way. Everybody knows about this guy and nobody likes him (read: everyone hates him and no one has respect for him). Report him immediately and do what you need to do to take care of yourself. It’s worth also reporting him to whoever set you up with the internship (school, job board, etc.) they should have this information as well.

    Follow all of Alison’s advice,get all of your evidence now while you still can, report everything to the proper authorities, save all of your relevant emails, and leave immediately. The people I know who went through this same thing are in a much better place both financially and mentally after leaving their abusive employer. This dude will not get better, he will not learn – he will always be an abusive jerk and he will never do the right thing. There’s a total lack of moral compass.

    Also, Glassdoor his ass.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Look at this, OP, you are not alone. I bet you will find a few more posts from people who are pretty sure they know who you mean. The important thing to note is that poster or friend got away from the employer and did not suffer any damage to their reputation.

  34. Dzhymm*

    I once worked for a company that made everyone take a two-week unpaid furlough… RIGHT after I had bought a house. As with the OP this was my very first job out of college and I was made of nothing but insecurity, so I swallowed hard and let it happen and kept working for them for two more years until the level of dysfunction got to be too much and I bailed.

    Ever since then, I have an ironclad two-strikes rule: One missed payroll and I’m updating my resume and putting out feelers. A second missed payroll and I’m out of there, job or no job.

    1. LQ*

      An unpaid furlough isn’t a missed payroll though. There are plenty of companies that do unpaid furloughs well (and often to keep employees). Usually these are well known ahead of time. I can think of a few companies that do 2-4 weeks a year, and employees are usually able to collect unemployment for a part of that as well. You should not be working during an unpaid furlough, it should be a week or 2 off work, unpaid, but not working.

      A missed payroll is when you actually work and they don’t pay you. I’d not even give one of those if they don’t apologize and fix it immediately and promise it never happens again. An actual time period that you worked that you aren’t paid for is not even a little acceptable ever.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yes, we had to do that UI furlough thing during the recession at Exjob. Not the office employees (though they did say it might happen), but the shop ones worked less hours and got UI during the time they were off. It helped us keep people who were very well trained–some of the work they did was pretty custom. And unlike some of the other companies our global parent owned, the company did not have to lay anybody off.

      2. Dzhymm*

        Trust me, this was NOT well-known ahead of time. Basically my boss called me at home when I was settling in to the new house and told me not to come in for the next two weeks. This same company had a “tradition” of layoffs right after the company Christmas party. Given the required waiting period in Massachusetts before collecting unemployment, by the time you could start collecting you were back at work. For all practical purposes this was a missed payroll.

  35. animaniactoo*

    It is never money-grubbing to insist on being paid for the work you have actually performed. Nor to insist on being paid the *legally mandated* minimum amount for it.

    Honestly, right now you would be better off to see if you can grab a position at any place that pays minimum wage (retail, fast food, etc.) and report your current employer to the Labor Board.

    I once scared the crap out of an employer because we were on a “no unapproved overtime” status, and there was no one available to approve my overtime – which was necessary to meet the deadline for completing a project that was either “complete or don’t get paid – and lose all future business with established customer”. I told him the good news was that the project was completed. The bad news was that co-worker and I both had about 30 hours of overtime in to get it done.* He told me the bad news was that I wasn’t getting paid for those hours, I told him that if that was true I was quitting, right there on the spot. He looked *really* startled and said “Learn to take a joke!”. I strongly suspect it was not a joke until that moment.

    It bothered him so badly that I would on-the-spot quit over it that he had to ask me about why that was the next day. He didn’t get my mentality. I had to explain how standing up for myself was something I’d been taught, and how some things were too serious to accept even a small hit on. It’s not money grubbing. I’d done the work and I deserved to be paid for it. Anything else was theft on their part of what I was selling – my time and labor. Don’t let people get away with stealing from you.

    To be fair, I was pretty confident in my ability to find another job fairly quickly, but at this point – you’re not even getting paid for the work you are doing so you might as well be spending it jobsearching/getting paid somewhere else. Agreeing to work for someone does not mean committing your career to them until they’re ready to let you move on.

    *Standard for that company – which is why they were trying to institute a no overtime rule. Problem being that they overpromised for everything, so there was no way to manage the workload for in-progress deadline-is-tomorrow stuff without putting in OT. It wasn’t a situation where they could have had someone else work on it – everybody else was in the same situation, and would have also been putting in the hours as overtime if they took the job from us. They had no backup people the could call in to do the extra work. We’d both been there for at least 2 years, we knew there were no other options between screwing a customer out of having a tradeshow catalog and us putting in the time.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      As an aside, to all reading, teach your children this stuff. If you don’t have kids, maybe there is a kid around you that you can share AAM stuff with. My parents’ generation had no clue, they could not teach what they did not know themselves. It is up to us who do read and learn to show others.

  36. Abbi Abrams*

    It’s a completely different situation, but this post reminds me of how there are people who work for the federal government in Canada who have not received a paycheck (or are being underpaid or even overpaid) in months. Of course, nobody is quitting because of the promise they’ll get paid soon. Maybe by October, is what the govt is saying. It’s a mess.

    1. The Strand*

      (Is there a good overview article that you could share about this? I’m still trying to catch up on everything that has happened in the last ten years or so under Harper (even if this one is actually Trudeau’s fault).)

  37. MommaTRex*

    I’ll bet the business is under water and he’s having trouble paying the bills (after he gets paid, I’m sure), so he’s taking advantage of you.
    Report him, but don’t get your hopes up about ever seeing a dime.
    And RUN. Run like the wind. I will also bet his reputation in the industry isn’t what he thinks it is. I wouldn’t be surprised if a future employer sees your work history and says, “Hey! OP worked for Mr. Burns! OP will love it here compared to that place!”

  38. Cookie*

    In college I worked as one of three interns at a large bank. Something happened with another interns paperwork and he wasn’t paid for over 6 weeks. When he found out the other two were getting paid he still was reluctant to say anything, we pushed him and our supervisor had a fit and got him a direct deposit the next day (she was horrified).

    So I do get why this person isn’t pushing harder. She needs to get out….

  39. Camellia*

    Haven’t had time to read all the comments, so maybe this is covered: how do you document your employment if you don’t have pay stubs?

    1. Interviewer*

      In addition to timesheets – a W-2 or other year-end tax form. Screenshot of your bio or contact info on company website. Offer letter. Business cards or letterhead. Emails from your boss to you, asking you to do some work-related task, and your response back – both with email signatures, times & dates.

      Or someone could call HR to do an employment verification.

    2. Christine*

      E-mails directing you to do something, meetings, work calendar, anything with hours worked.

  40. LQ*

    In addition to the labor board, I’d also check your local unemployment office. It really sounds like you are not an independent contractor. He should have been paying taxes for you. You should be able to contact them and they’ll do an audit. (Your state may vary.) But you weren’t paid. You haven’t been paid. This isn’t a money grubbing problem. This is a he quit paying you problem. Everything else aside. He’s not paying for the services he is receiving. File for unemployment. Have the record of the money you have earned. And really do be clear this is money you’ve earned. (And it isn’t even minimum wage?!) You have earned this money. You are owed this money. All of the back pay.

    Please. You can and should expect and demand better than this as a bare minimum, and nothing -nothing- about that is at all money grubbing or greedy. Nothing.

  41. Christine*

    1 thought —- if your employer pays you, if possible take the check to the bank it’s drawn on. That way you’re paid if the funds are there; would be terrible to deposit the check into your account and have it bounce.

  42. Fooled Me Once...*

    I empathize with you, OP. Two years ago, I was in a similar, but milder situation. “Ex-boss” at least wasn’t abusive. In a bout of naivete, I got a “job” working for this start-up that involved both a business and a foundation (proceeds from the business would go to the foundation). I really believed in the work, and it was the only job in the area I had to move to that would take me. FoundationBoss and I had conversations about pay, to the point a salary was agreed upon. He said yes, he’d have the capital when I started on X date. Come to find that no, no he didn’t. And there’d be *no* money coming in, unless we won a grant from the city, which he was confident we’d get, but I knew we didn’t qualify, OR I could do a completely unrelated job to what I was hired for at lower pay until the business succeeded (the opening of which, btw, was delayed for six months). Um. NO. After two weeks of essentially volunteering for this guy, I emailed my resignation (because he could no longer afford the office space) and secured part-time work while I job hunted for something more stable.

    I didn’t contact anyone about the whole “You [verbally] said you’d pay me to do X, and now you’re not,” because there was no record of an offer, and he was definitely the type I can now identify as a gas-lighter. In one of my daily asks of “What’s the deal with my salary?” he intimated that basically there was no guarantee I would get paid, and I should have known that, and this is what you sign up for when agreeing to join a start-up.

    I tell you this long story, OP, in the event that he may try to use the same defense–especially if you have no paperwork about your employment and your previous pay came in the form of cash/personal checks/company checks that he claimed on taxes as something other than employee pay. He sounds so shady, I wouldn’t put it past him to somehow game the system to argue this was not a typical employer-employee relationship, so maybe he’s not subject to the same rules. Alison or a labor professional/attorney could better speak to if indeed he’d have case if there’s no paperwork or what the DOL would need from you to secure your money.

  43. GreyjoyGardens*

    I cannot *stand* the concept of it being “money-grubbing and rude” to want to be paid for one’s work! Think about it: when rent is due, do you tell your landlord, “Sorry, but it’s money-grubbing and rude to ask me to pay the rent.” Or how about taking your cat to the vet, getting him his shots and checkup, and then telling the front desk, “Oh, you want to be paid for the privilege of looking after my cat? That’s so money-grubbing and rude!” See how far you’d get in those instances.

    Asking to be paid for work done is not rude, it’s not crass, it’s not materialistic, and anyone who DOES tell you that or insinuate it is gaslighting you.

  44. anonanonanon*

    I had a job in college once where for some reason I didn’t get two paychecks or something. And we’re talking a $6.50/hr work study at best and it wasn’t like I had rent due but still, not ideal. And my Dad said to me, “go to work today and tell your boss you are not coming back until you get the money they owe you.” So I did that. And my boss asked me how much money I wanted and wrote me a PERSONAL CHECK to keep me working, and got whatever issue sorted (We FIXED…THE GLITCH). So not all bosses are jerks, but OPs certainly is, and he/she needs to GTFO ASAP.

  45. stevenz*

    Yes, go to the nearest Foot Locker and buy the best running shoes you can find. And document document document. Put *everything* down in writing and have your coworker do it, too. File a complaint with whatever state or local offices that have jurisdiction over working conditions, labor laws, etc. Meet personally with the one with direct authority, again both of you together if you can. This guy is a rat and a weasel and the true money-grubber. Anyone who works over time for two months without pay is hardly a money-grubber!! You just need to figure out if you should stay on the job until you get advice from the labor dept or a lawyer, or if you can leave now.

    Isn’t there something called “constructive termination” or words to that effect? Meaning, the working conditions are so bad that you have effectively been let go, or you’re forced to leave for your own good? I may not have that exactly right… But if there is, and it applies, you have a right to unemployment.

    1. aebhel*

      I think at least ethically, if you’re no longer paying your employees you have de facto terminated your relationship with them regardless of whether there was an official dismissal. Not sure how the labor laws figure it, though.

  46. jasmine*

    Hint: Don’t stick around because of the promise of stock options. There’s zero chance that a company run by such an incompetent founder will ever go public, so your options (if you even get any) will never be worth anything. Quit tomorrow and file a wage theft complaint with your state labor agency.

  47. Amber*

    Also if this guy is running his business this badly, I highly HIGHLY doubt he will actually have any stock options to offer you. He obviously doesn’t know how to run a business. A real business that offers you stock options will give the paper work to you right away when you’re hired. For example when I was hired I was offered X salary and 5000 stock options to vest over 4 years. The day I came in for my first day, when I signed everything for HR, in my hiring packet were my stock options.

  48. aebhel*

    Yeah, at this point slinging burgers would be an improvement, because you’d be getting paid. Or just leaving, because you wouldn’t be getting paid but you’d also have time to job-search. Working for no pay is called ‘volunteering’, and it’s something you do for causes you’re passionate about, not for a self-involved asshole of a boss who gaslights and verbally abuses you. There are no many better uses of your time. You’re not going to get a good reference out of him, he’s not likely to pay you (two months!!??), and there’s absolutely no reason to keep doing this to yourself. Document, report to the labor board, and get the hell out of there–and encourage your fellow employees to do the same.

    I’m sorry, OP, but this one isn’t salvageable.

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