Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
DEAR CARRIE: I work for a private company. We went without pay for about 10 weeks, and then we started to get paid again. The checks were regular but every once in a while they would be late. It seems the company is trying to pay us every three weeks instead of two. Is this legal?
I would also like to recover the six paychecks the company owes me. Some of my colleagues are owed even more. We have been in a state work-share program for over a year, meaning that we get two days of unemployment benefits a week because our company can't afford us full time.
But I feel it is taking advantage of us because we have nowhere else to go for a job. So first our paychecks shrank and then some disappeared. What can I do? -- Frustrated
DEAR FRUSTRATED: Your company is breaking the law on so many levels by paying you infrequently or by not paying you at all.
First of all, it is breaking the state's frequency-of-payment law, which requires employers to pay most employees at least twice a month. So paying you every three weeks instead of two, is most likely illegal.
And then by not paying you at all, the employer is breaking federal and state minimum-wage laws, which require you to be paid at least $7.25 an hour, not zero.
And if you and any of your colleagues have worked long enough during your three-day weeks to tote up more than 40 hours, your company could be on the hook for overtime violations.
It's unfortunate when a company runs into financial problems, something that has become increasingly common in this tough economic climate. But if a company wants to use your labor, it has to pay for it and in a timely fashion. That's the law.
DEAR CARRIE: My husband has been a self-employed plumbing contractor since 1978. With his encouragement and guidance, one of his young employees got his master plumber license. That person has since left the company and gone out on his own. Because of COBRA laws, he has continued access to our small-business group insurance rate. He pays for the premium, but we send the payment to the insurance company.
Here's the problem: He is consistently late with his payment to us, up to three weeks at a time. My husband does not know if he is responsible for paying the employee's premium when it is due, in the hope that the ex-employee will eventually come through with the money. Or my husband wonders if he should just wait until he receives the guy's payment and then forward it to the insurance company. I am under the impression that late payments to insurance companies can affect a company's credit rating -- and possibly my husband's personal credit rating.
In fact, the insurer told us that we must send the premium in for him; so we cannot leave it up to him to cover his own. It is very frustrating and a little nerve-racking, as we are not sure whether he will be paying each month. What are our rights here? -- Payment Nightmare
DEAR PAYMENT: I spoke with the state Department of Financial Services and it suggested that you first fully explain to the former employee what is at risk for you when he pays late.
"That would mean explaining that his late payments are causing them a problem and that they cannot afford to make the payments for him," the department said.
If the problem persists, you have a right to cancel the COBRA arrangement. "If he continues to be very late, they do have the legal right to stop providing him with COBRA," the department said.