Boss can't delay a week's salary until employee quits company

CAN THEY DO THAT?

March 15, 2006|By CARRIE MASON-DRAFFEN | CARRIE MASON-DRAFFEN,NEWSDAY

I manage a physician's office that employs 17 people, and almost all of them are hourly employees. Because they are hourly, I want to make sure our new hiring policy is legal. When I hire someone, I ask them to sign a contract that clearly states that the first week's salary will be held until the person leaves the company. The agreement also says that to claim the money, employees who resign must give two weeks' notice orally and in writing.

If they don't comply with the contract, they will forfeit the salary. The office instituted the policy recently after several new medical assistants completed their training and soon after called in their resignations on extremely short notice. One person called 10 minutes before she was supposed to report to work.

Can I legally withhold some of the owed salary based on the terms of the contract? I'd like to avoid being left in the lurch. I haven't enforced the policy yet because of my concerns about its legality.

You'll have to explore other options.

You can't withhold the former employees' salaries no matter how irresponsibly they acted in giving notice. If they worked, you must pay them for all the time they worked. Otherwise, you will violate labor laws and risk a U.S. Labor Department audit.

I understand your frustration, though: You want to deter employees from quitting on a moment's notice. In a small office just one employee's absence can cause a staffing nightmare.

Fortunately, you have plenty of legal options. For example, you could offer severance pay to employees who quit, but only if they give two weeks' notice. Or you could allow employees to cash in any remaining vacation days if they give a proper notice. Clearly, you must tell them of the policies ahead of time and apply the policies uniformly.

I applaud you for trying to do the right thing even in the depth of your frustration. By exploring other options your frustration won't get the best of you.

For more information, call the U.S. Labor Department at 1-866-487-2365, or go to www.dol.gov and click on "Compliance Assistance."

carrie.draffen@newsday.com

Carrie Mason-Draffen writes for Newsday.

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