update: my boss is verbally abusive and won’t pay me

Remember the letter from the person working for a start-up where the founder wasn’t paying him and was being verbally abusive? Here’s the update.

I’m happy (and relieved) to let you and your readers know that I have finally quit my job! Here’s what has happened since the last time I emailed you.

I honestly cried after seeing the supportive comments on the post. I felt like I had been denying what a horrible boss I had for a long time, and I finally snapped myself out of it. My coworker had a similar reaction and we both resolved to leave.

We met with our boss a few days after emailing you, and he promised to do better in terms of how he treated me and our employment status. We initially decided to stay until we both found new jobs, and he started to do a little better (he was only a few days late with pay and he gave us a few Saturdays off). But his effort came too little, too late. He still treated me the same way and still came in late to work all the time. Sometimes we’d be unassigned for the entire day. I was so mentally drained at the end of each day that I couldn’t gather the wherewithal to work on my resume and related documents. My coworker’s health was slowly deteriorating and I was getting constant headaches and stomachaches.

Things came to a boiling point at the beginning of this week when he messaged us frantically at midnight on Monday trying to wire us our paycheck before a deadline he set for himself. At the beginning of the next day, the money still hadn’t gone through. He didn’t show up to work until five minutes before we were preparing to leave. We stayed for an additional half hour past normal work hours to discuss possible solutions, but all he offered us were promises that we didn’t feel he would (or could) follow through with.

This morning, my coworker was so sick that she had to stay home from work. I got there fifteen minutes early, waited for him to show up, and then immediately told him that I was done and I couldn’t work there any longer due to the stress I was under. I’m not sure he’s gotten the hint, since he told me to take the day off and discuss it tomorrow, but I’m writing and sending in a resignation letter effective immediately. I’m currently jobless and scared, but I know that no job is worth more than my mental and physical health. My coworker is also quitting with me once she feels better. I’ll write another update when the job situation is resolved!

{ 70 comments… read them below }

      1. Christine*

        Does back pay come with interest if delayed beyond a certain point? more than a month, etc.? I’m wanting to say there are also penalties for non-payment of wages. I also recommend that the OP contact social security & IRS and make sure the funds was actually credited in her name. Had someone I know where they filed their taxes to have both the IRS & SS come back to notify them that their boss deducted their taxes & social security but didn’t pay into either.

        1. TCO*

          Given that OP was (incorrectly) classified as an independent contractor, the boss wouldn’t have been deducting or paying these expenses. The OP could certainly pursue that misclassification as part of the wage claims.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes; backpay is usually subject to statutory interest (this varies by state, but most states I’ve seen do it this way).

        3. The Friendly Compensation Manager*

          Yes. The employee can be entitled to more than just the overtime. However, if OP is going to make a claim, DO IT SOON! There is a statute of limitations of 2 years, so the sooner you file (if you’re going to), the more overtime you will be able to recover.

    1. jaxon*

      This is not a comment on the OP, but I have a very good friend who is a bit of a doormat and found herself in a somewhat similar situation a while ago. I gave her advice similar to what Allison said. But it’s very hard to get my friend to stop thinking that her boss would be doing her a favor by paying what she was owed. My friend would never even consider, even in the most general terms, filing a complaint with any kind of governmental organization. I eventually stopped engaging with her on the topic because I was getting so frustrated.

      1. paul*

        I’ve started to kind of weed extreme doormats out of my social life. Part of me feels badly about it, but I can only take so many “woah is me” stories where a person absolutely refuses to stand up for themselves at all. I feel for ’em, because learning to stand up for yourself is hard, but jeez.

        1. LSP*

          In some cases that “woe is me” thing seems more like an inflated ego or cry for attention than anything else. If someone is genuinely non-confrontational in a way that often has them taking the brunt of another persons rudeness, etc. I can live with that. Someone who refuses to see the bright side of anything or take responsibility for themselves is something else entirely.

          Of course, this is a bit of a digression. I don’t feel any of this applies to OP, since he was just starting out in the working world and I think just needed some guidance on what to do with a boss operating so outside of normal boundaries.

        2. LBK*

          It can be draining to constantly hear every detail about those kinds of things even when they are doing something about it. I really, truly understand that when you’re going through something so exhausting, stressful and frustrating it consumes your whole life but for the love of god, sometimes you just want to talk about anything else. It’s one thing to get the latest update on what’s going on, but having to reiterate the whole miserable history of it every time gets tedious. I can only say “wow, that sucks” so many times.

        3. Biff*

          I kinda feel bad about having recently started weeding people out, too. On one hand, the economy is bad in places, and it’s very hard to get established elsewhere. But on the other hand, I know people whose lives have been one decade of bad, worse and indifferent. At some point you have to accept that they are the common denominator and aren’t learning.

        4. Nic*

          I used to be that person, and now I weed them out as well. Not immediately; I do what I can to give them access to the tools that helped me. It is when they’ve shown repeatedly that they are uninterested even attempting that I begin to write them off.

          We can and do get better! Sometimes it takes that last straw of getting really messed over before it starts, though.

    2. Mints*

      Yeah, OP, I’m really glad you got out! But please report him. It’s illegal and it’s wrong. You’ll be protecting any future employees who might have less courage. You’ll also be helping yourself. It’s possible you won’t get back pay but this is the best way to try. Internet well wishes!

      1. Luc*

        OP – I’m planning on it, but honestly, between quitting, job hunting, and all the emotional highs, I’ve needed a lot more time to recover than I expected. Rest assured, I’m not going to just let things go – I just need a little more time to get myself together.

        1. Oh no, not again*

          Self care is important and completely understandable. You have a lot on your plate and are doing what you need to do. : )

        2. OlympiasEpiriot*

          Best of luck! And very glad to hear you’re not going to let that slide. But, take care of yourself first.

    3. Luc*

      OP here – I’m planning to do it either today or Monday. I’m gathering all my documentation together in case it’s needed!

  1. Murphy*

    That whole thing sounds like a dumpster fire and good for you for getting out of there. I hope you get all the money you’re owed!

  2. mockingbird2081*

    I can’t wait to hear your update a few months from now where you tell us about your new amazing job! Your great new boss! Your stand-up co-workers. And not only better pay but pay that comes on time. I know you feel overwhelmed now but I know this will work out. Hang in there.

    1. tara*

      And especially with this job to compare it to, almost no matter what job she gets it will definitely be all these things!!

  3. Daba*

    I am an employer. Please report him.

    It hurts everyone – including other businesses – when employers abuse employees.

    1. M_Lynn*

      I completely agree. Even if you’ve been fully paid and are now out of there, this guy needs to be dealt with. This is why we have laws about this sort of thing. He can’t continue to operate like this, so even if your situation ended ok, as a society, we don’t allow businesses to operate like this. And OP, since you’re out, you can’t face any repercussions now!

      1. TootsNYC*

        repercussions: well, it would probably tank any recommendations. And this is her first job.

        But I think the penalties and back taxes that Alison lists on the other post ought to make up for that.

        And she can certainly find other fellow employees to serve as references.

        1. RVA Cat*

          I know you’re not supposed to badmouth former employers, but…this guy wasn’t paying her on time. I think that would make “reason for leaving” self-explanatory, and also mean he next to no credibility as a reference.

          1. LBK*

            Agreed – I think “After several months of not being paid, it wasn’t financially feasible for me to stay there” is a pretty cut and dry explanation for why you left that most hiring managers will understand.

            1. Mookie*

              Yes. “Consistently incapable of making payroll” is a complete sentence (and everyone’s nightmare). People will understand.

        2. fishy*

          Let’s be honest, someone who regularly verbally abuses OP probably wasn’t going to give them a good reference no matter what. This is not a reasonable or fair-minded boss.

        3. Misclassified*

          He may not owe back taxes. I mean, he may OWE them. He just may not be required to pay them. Employers who misclassify workers can sometimes make use of section 530 relief. Section 530 relief is available if the employer
          (1) Consistently treated the workers (and similarly situated workers) as independent contractors;
          (2) Complied with the Form 1099 reporting requirements with respect to the compensation paid the workers for the tax years at issue; and
          (3) Had a reasonable basis for treating the workers as independent contractors.

          Assuming the boss met the first two prongs (which is a very big assumption since he didn’t pay them), it relies on the reasonable basis prong. And, unfortunately, the courts have interpreted that VERY broadly. It can be as much as showing that a significant portion (not even a majority) of your industry in your geographic area misclassified the same type of workers. If the employer gets 530 safe harbor, then the employer doesn’t owe back taxes or interest, but the worker is still treated as an employee. Basically, half of the back owed payroll taxes disappear into thin air. Lovely system.

        4. Observer*

          What recommendations? You really think that the OP and co-worker would get anything resembling an honest recommendation from this guy?

          All they need to say, when asked bout their last job is to say “We were working for a startup that could not afford to pay our salaries.”

    2. hbc*

      It’s true. I’ve had my mind blown several times when I’ve had to clarify that, yes, we’d pay them for their time at the off-site meeting or, no, I wasn’t going to fire them because they just found out they have cancer. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to tell people that I really don’t want them to work off the clock and that it’s not a wink-wink-I-have-to-say-that-now-get-to-work situation.

      And that’s before you get into trying to compete with companies who slash their labor costs by breaking the law.

    3. Candi*

      I see it as good employers have to deal with -counsel and rebuild- employees these bad employers break.

  4. Jaguar*

    Jeez, Alison. This wasn’t a happy update at all.

    Glad you’re out of there, OP. There are few things worse than a job that drains you of your vitality, let alone ones that also give you little or less in return.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think that’s a reference to my comment earlier this week that happy updates were coming Thursday and Friday. I ended up moving some around — sorry!

        1. 2 Cents*

          Boo! (just kidding … kinda. At least the OP is out of there, but I want justice from the state labor department! This guy is why those laws were passed!)

    2. Is it Friday Yet?*

      That’s what I was thinking. I mean I’m glad that the OP is getting out of there. That in and of itself has to be a relief.

    3. Honeybee*

      Well, it sort of is. OP took Alison’s and the commenters’ advice to realize that she was being mistreated and has made the decision to leave.

      I’m uncomfortable with all the classifying of updates as “happy” and “unhappy,” because with that comes a lot of positive reinforcement and praise for the happy updates, and personally I’m worried that people with less happy updates may not want to send them in. There was already a comment to that effect in one of the updates that didn’t have as positive outcomes (I think OP said something like “I’m really sorry I couldn’t send a happier update”).

      Frankly, sometimes not everything works out, but I think there’s real value in hearing both.

      1. Violet Fox*

        I agree with you, and to add to it, I think the truth is that life isn’t so simple in that things don’t tend to neatly fit into a happy or not box.

  5. Cucumberzucchini*

    Just chiming in to say, that with that level of mismanagement from the owner, the Stock Options are probably worthless since the company is going to fail for 99.99999% certainty.

    Please get your back-pay and the difference between minimum wage and what you earned if you can get it from him!

    1. TootsNYC*

      Also–get to the Department of Labor as your VERY FIRST step. Monday. Absolutely.

      The faster you act, the more likely there will be money to get your hands on. And you’re owed it.


  6. Miss Displaced*

    Oh OP, I am so glad you are out of there! But you should report him. It is likely he was not taking out taxes.
    A few years back I was in a similar situation at a startup, with an abusive boss who couldn’t run the company and didn’t pay us. I once went over a month without being paid! He also didn’t pay vendors, some of whom would become abusive and nasty to us on the phone as he refused to take the calls.
    Eventually, it worked out, I did get my pay (though my taxes were royally screwed up), and the company eventually went under (I got unemployment) but it was a difficult two years of putting up with that crap.

    There are better things for you I hope.

    1. Violet Fox*

      One of my coworkers worked for a tech startup around 2000(right when the first tech bubble was bursting) that was a lot like that. He ended up with a tax audit for his troubles and for all of the weirdness with non-paid wages.

      The person who ran the company always thought that the big payoff for what they were doing would be right around the corner, and managed to convince a lot of the employees to stick around for much longer then it made any sense to because just a bit longer and it would pay off for them. It never did. The company ended up being sold for pretty much nothing to a big random conglomerate for bits of the IP, which got bought by someone else a few times over since.

      Said coworker got out earlier then a lot of the rest since he got offered a full-time job sysadmining at the university , hasn’t looked back since, and has vowed to never ever work for the private sector again.

      They have some serious interesting stories from around when the first bubble burst.

    2. LBK*

      I think the massive availability of venture capital has made this more common. Investors are willing to dump money on any smart person who has an idea or product that seems like it will make money with no regard for whether that person will actually be any good at running a company (I mean, we have a whole TV series about people who through hundreds of thousands of dollars at entrepreneurs after knowing them for roughly 30 minutes, if not less).

      Many of those entrepreneurs also very smart people whose egos prevent them from letting someone else take over and actually manage the company after they expand (or who feels like they shouldn’t have to give up control of something they created just because they have zero experience in or talent for management). So you end up with this booming startups with horrendous management because the CEO is a techie, not a manager.

      1. Violet Fox*

        The worst bit with this company my coworker, Crimson, worked for is that the person who ran the company was an “entrepreneur” not a techie, or at least that is how he saw himself. The guy was never very successful, but kept on latching to one shiny new idea right after the other, looking for the big payoff. He did manage to get funding for the company in particular, though I have no idea how.

        Then again he never figured out part of why things didn’t work was because he had a tendency to approach people in a somewhat to rather insulting way. I’ve known Crimson since they worked for the “entrepreneur”, which included an incident where the entrepreneur offered me a job during the time he was having issues paying people (which I knew about from Crimson). I turned the guy down on the spot, not just because of the pay thing, but also because I didn’t trust to work for someone who would hire a 22 year old university student whom they mostly knew was a good friend of one of their employees.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      Everyone, you are so right! The person I worked for kept thinking and saying the big payoff would come. SOMEHOW he kept getting investors to give him money… until then he didn’t. He even spent some of that investor money on a new car for himself and his girlfriend (who also worked there). UGH! It was just so bad sometimes.
      About the only good thing I can say of that experience is that he did “square up” and pay us all what we were owed, plus a bit extra bonus for waiting. All I can say is to beware when you take a job in a situation like this.

  7. Captain Radish*

    I can very much sympathize with not getting paid on time. My previous company (which I left at the end of April, finally) was failing and I got a lot of “don’t cash this right away”s from my boss. My new company actually has direct deposit! It’s wonderful!

    1. Artemesia*

      One thing about direct deposit thought, they can reach into your bank account and ‘undeposit’. I have had that happen to a couple of friends. In one case they over paid her and so she notified them and send them a check which they cashed and then someone else undeposited the overpay amount leaving her to bounce checks all over town.

  8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP, I’m so glad you felt empowered to leave and that you’re taking care of yourself! I’m also so glad you’re planning to file your paper work for back pay, unpaid overtime, etc. I’m sorry your first job experience was so lousy, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the next gig is fantastic.

  9. LeRainDrop*

    Three cheers for OP Luc! I’m so relieved to hear that you dumped this employer! He treated you and your co-worker so poorly, it was just beyond the pale. I’m also glad to read your comments that you plan to file a claim with the proper governmental agency. It may help you and your co-worker to move past this crap environment to really stand up for yourselves and expose the employer’s bad deeds. Please send Alison another update when more of this shakes out. Good luck!

  10. Less anonymous than before*

    So per the fist letter Alison pointed out:
    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.

    So, OP, aside from high-tailing it out of there (I hope you are able to really use the advice on this site to tailor a great cover letter and new resume. And if you were being paid less the min wage before, I’m sure even taking a retail job (which most of them pay above min wage these days) in the interim will be okay until you land back in your field) what are you and co-worker doing about all the back-pay you are LEGALLY owed?

    I really hope you pursue the pay you are owed, it is yours after all.

    1. Mreasy*

      In my experience with being misclassified and not paid/paid late (and in my case, to top it off, not reimbursed for business trip expenses), a small company may respond to a letter from a lawyer, or perhaps even a letter from you letting them know you’ve consulted one. (I was much younger and my “lawyer” was a college pal who had literally just passed the bar.) If you make it clear in writing that you know your rights, you may be able to get him to pay your back wages out of fear of reprisal. My verbally abusive, paycheck-withholding first boss did, at least! Good luck out there. And I join the chorus of folks who recommend reporting him regardless, once you’ve had the chance to get your back pay.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I love the “owe YOU” parts of some of those!

      That means our OP would end up with that money, not the state. Some fines are indeed paid to government, but some of these are paid to the person being wronged. Yay!

  11. Anonymous Commiserator*

    I just read your last post and I thought you could have been working the for the same person I worked for a few years ago. It was almost an identical situation. I was told I would be paid X, and for almost a year, I was paid about 50% of X, with gradual increases to 60%, 70%, etc, but I never got paid X. I worked over 40 hours a week at less than minimum wage with no overtime for someone that sounds just like your boss, verbal abuse and all, because I believed in the mission of the company.
    When I left, I didn’t want to burn bridges, so I let it go, but now I worry all the time about other people getting into the same situation as I was in, but there’s nothing I can do at this point.
    I wish that I had the knowledge back then about how to file complaints with DOL. My ex boss never learned that he can’t treat people like that, and now there are always others to take my place and get screwed. Do the next person that he hires a favor and take action.
    Congratulations on leaving, and good luck finding something better!! Leaving my situation was a fantastic move, and I hope everything works out for you!

    1. TootsNYC*

      “I wish that I had the knowledge back then about how to file complaints with DOL.”

      I just want to say–this is not knowledge you need to have.

      Nobody “already knows” how to file complaints with the DOL.

      We all learn it ONLY when we need it.

      You just get their phone number adn call them up and say, “My company isn’t paying me my full salary. How do I file a complaint?”
      They will tell you. They will help you.

      This is how you “know how to file complaints with the DOL”: You just call and ask somebody.

      I think so many people don’t do things because it seems daunting, or they think “I don’t know how to do this.” I just want to reassure you–the way I’ve been reassuring my fledgling adult kids: Grownups don’t know how to do this already. Most of us don’t know how right now. And if we did, it’s just because we once did something sort of similar–which we ALSO did not know how to do before we did it.

      Just call them and ask them what you do. Then follow their directions.

  12. Ann Onimous*

    Oh wow, this all sounds so horrible. I hope you’ll find a better job soon.

    I was actually wondering about the last paragraph though. I’m also hoping to quit my job, if an interview I have pans out. And I’ve been mentally thinking about what to say if I’m asked about the reason to quit. Truthfully, the reason is an absolutely horrible burnout. But somehow I don’t think that would come across as a particularly bright idea. Not only am I more susceptible to stress, but it looks like I’m the only one (in my team) suffering so much from it. The rest of my team seems to be (more or less) fine. Add to that the fact that I’m much more senior than the majority of the team… so I’m also lugging around a hefty dose of guilt.

    Long story short, wouldn’t it have been better to just come up with a generic reason of different opportunity? Especially, since (in my case) the company is aware of the amount of stress it placed on the team.

    1. Pineapple Incident*

      I think you should stick to wanting to learn new skills, take on a slightly different kind of client (which this organization specializes in, or something), expand into chocolate teapot transportation instead of manufacturing, yada yada. You’re getting in too deep with an interviewer if you go into the reasons for your burnout, who is interested in talking with you about the future and wondering what’s pulling you toward their company/position rather than what’s pushing you away from your old one. If a comment of that nature comes across as ragging on your old company (which it likely will) the interviewer might not remember anything else about you other than the subtle/not drama you brought into the conversation.

      Good luck with your interview!

      1. Ann Onimous*

        Oh, sorry I wasn’t clear. Of course I told all that at my interview. :)
        I was referring to my current boss/HR, with the mention of being stressed out. That’s why I mentioned the OP saying that. Then again, even if I don’t come out and spell things out for my current boss, they are likely going to know the reason.

  13. AFRC*

    Echoing others: Please call the Dept of Labor where you live to report this clown! Also, for yourself – you are likely eligible for unemployment because of the horrible work environment – if he didn’t pay you, you had a legit reason to leave. Best of luck to you!!

  14. ECHM*

    This is a slight tangent, but I just had a friend who was working at a small shop tell me today that before Christmas her boss called to say she was letting her go. My friend’s partner told her that the boss was not allowed to do that without cause, and that she should return to work the next day. So she did, nothing was said, and she worked for a week before quitting — now the boss apparently is not planning to pay her for that week. Not sure that it would be worth pursuing, or that she’d even have a case — ? but it’s odd that the boss would let her work for a whole week.

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