Help Wanted: When to disclose a debt
Carrie Mason-DraffenCarrie Mason-Draffen
Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
DEAR CARRIE: I have been underemployed for a long time and my debts have piled up. I intend to repay them when my economic status improves, and I want to avoid bankruptcy.
In the meantime, I am wondering how to handle a potentially sticky situation with an employment agency that sends me out on jobs. It has arranged an interview for me with a company that, unfortunately, is one of the creditors I owe money to, and the account has been taken over by a debt-collection agency.
Is it unlawful or unethical for me not to disclose this information to my agency? If I got the temporary job, I would be an employee of the agency, not the company. The agency, though, could find out about my money woes if the company's application requires information about my debts. I know I would have to answer truthfully, and what I write could cost me the job. What should I do? -- Truth and Consequences
DEAR TRUTH: Your dilemma, no doubt, will resonate with many other unemployed workers on Long Island who are struggling with debt because they can't find full-time jobs. Some haven't had full-time work for more than two years.
These words from an employment attorney should help put your mind at ease:
"I don't think there's any legal or ethical conflict, or any obligation to disclose the debt," said Richard Kass, a partner at Bond, Schoeneck & King in Manhattan.
And there's more:
"By working for the creditor, the reader is making it more likely that (s)he will be able to pay off the debt," Kass said. "Therefore, the creditor's interests and the reader's interests do not conflict; they are in harmony."
If a prospective employer found out about your debts and dropped you from consideration, the law would be on your side.
"From the creditor's point of view, it would be risky to discriminate against prospective employees who have debts," Kass said. "The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has recently stated that discrimination against debtors may be illegal, because it has a disparate impact on the basis of race and ethnicity."
DEAR CARRIE: I have worked for a small company for about two years. Two months ago, the owner informed me that his son will be taking over the company at the end of the summer. He also told me that his son is a perfectionist and that he and I would not work well together. So the owner advised me to start looking for another job. He also asked me to train my successor. And said that if I hadn't found a job by the time I finished that training, I could apply for unemployment benefits and he would honor the claim. If that situation does come about and I apply for benefits, would I still be eligible if he changes his mind and fights my claim? -- Whose Benefit?
DEAR WHOSE BENEFIT? Don't quit if you want to collect unemployment benefits. While the father might remain true to his word, he obviously has no control over his son. If the owner did, he might not have asked you to look for a job in anticipation of his son taking over. If you resigned and applied for benefits, the son, or even the father, could contend that you quit and therefore didn't qualify for benefits. One of the chief criteria for unemployment-benefits eligibility is that you lose a job through no fault of your own. You don't meet that criterion if you quit.
So bear up until they give you your walking papers. When and if they lay you off, unless it is for cause, you will have a better shot at qualifying for unemployment benefits.
And good luck with the training. I have always found it strange when companies basically throw employees on the dung heap and then ask for their help. It's unfair to both the departing employee and the new person.
For EEOC guidelines on credit checks and prospective employees, go to http://1.usa.gov/LvwM4A;
For more on unemployment-benefits eligibility go to http://bit.ly/KwZw9G.