Help Wanted: Read fine print on commissions

A cut in commission pay may be legal

A cut in commission pay may be legal if it abides by your written commission agreement and by overtime regulations, providing you are eligible for overtime. (Credit: iStock)

Help Wanted occasionally focuses on a single topic. Today's column tackles commissions.

DEAR CARRIE: I work part time at a local pet store as a trained, professional pet groomer. My company advertises on television that if customers are not happy with their dogs' grooming they don't have to pay. So guess what? Many customers say they aren't happy and don't pay. When they don't pay, I don't get my commission. I don't think the company should do this. We groomers lose the most. Sometimes people bring in dogs with fur so tangled from a lack of grooming that we spend hours working on them, only to lose a commission when their owners say they are dissatisfied. Can the company institute a no-pay policy without consulting the groomers? -- Doggone Commission

DEAR DOGGONE: The answer will depend on whether your employer's action complies with your commission agreement. And you'll have to check the fine print to see if it does. Employers write those agreements, so they can take a lot of leeway with the terms as long as they don't violate labor laws.


STAY UPDATED: News alerts, newsletters | Twitter | Facebook


"Based on the information at hand, the company is in compliance if they are paying commissions as agreed and the minimum wage is covered," the New York State Labor Department said.

Here are some excerpts from labor law the department provided:

"A commission salesperson shall be paid the wages, salary, drawing account, commissions and all other monies earned or payable in accordance with the agreed terms of employment . . . The employer shall furnish a commission salesperson, upon written request, a statement of earnings paid or due and unpaid. The agreed terms of employment shall be reduced to writing, signed by both the employer and the commission salesperson."

The employer's policy seems unfair to you and the other hardworking groomers, but labor laws focus on what's legal, not on what's fair.

DEAR CARRIE: I work in sales for a medium-sized family business. I receive a set salary plus commissions on my sales. I made a decent-size sale last summer and received my commission on it before the customer finished paying in full. Unfortunately, the customer's unpaid bill was eventually turned over to a collection agency. The customer did wind up paying everything in full, so the company got all of its money, minus the collection agency's fee, of course. Despite that recovery, when my new commissions came due, the company took back the full commission I had earned earlier. I feel it unfairly penalized me because of the collections issue. Is this legal? -- Illegal Giveback?

DEAR ILLEGAL GIVEBACK: The answer, as was the case above, depends on what your commission agreement says.

"We will have to investigate the nature of the commission agreement to determine whether or not this was legal," the Labor Department said.

You should contact the department to press the point that the business got most of its money on your sale. Call the department at 516-794-8195 or 212- 775-3880.

UPDATE

A former taxi driver who responded to the "Granny's Tapped Out" question that ran last month said he doubted the cab-driving grandson's contention that he cleared just $25 a night, an amount that dismays Granny, who helps to support him. Here is what the reader wrote: "I drove a cab 25 years ago as a tree worker in the off season and never made less than $60 to $80 a night, sometimes a lot more. He must be doing something he shouldn't." For more on state law and commissions, go to http://bit.ly/16SVp5h.