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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

Chimney sweep must clean — and sell — to get wages

A company can't withhold an hourly worker's wages

A company can't withhold an hourly worker's wages for failing to meet a sales quota. Photo Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto / Bill Oxford

DEAR CARRIE: My fiance cleans chimneys for a local company, and for some time I have questioned the legality of the employer not paying him unless he meets a quota. When he shows up to do a $50 chimney sweep, he also has to sell customers at least $850 of hardware for their chimneys such as liners and caps. If he doesn’t, the owner refuses to pay him a single penny for the day.

This would be understandable if my fiance had signed a contract or been told that his job was “commission only.” But he was never told anything like that when he was hired.

I believe the owner should pay him for the hard, not to mention dangerous, work he performs. He has worked from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m. because some out-of-state travel was involved, and did not receive anything for the day because he didn’t meet his quota. Am I crazy or is it illegal to refuse to pay your employees for their labor? Is there someone we should talk to to make sure my fiance gets paid? — DIRTY WORK

DEAR DIRTY WORK: If your fiance performs the work, the company has to pay him. It’s just that simple. And if he is an hourly employee, he has to be paid for all the time he works, including some of the travel time. And he has to earn overtime when he works more than 40 hours a week. Withholding his wages when he doesn’t make the big sale is flat-out illegal.

Your instincts are right about the company not being clear from the outset about the terms for wages. New York’s Wage Theft Prevention Act, which was passed in 2010, requires employers to notify new hires in writing about such things as how they will be paid — by the hour, shift, day, week or by commission, for example. I would advise your fiance to call the state Labor Department at 516-794-8195.

DEAR CARRIE: My husband was just let go from his job as a driver for a propane-delivery company after 14 months. The surprise dismissal came two months after he received a glowing review, which was followed by a raise.

At the time of his review he was told that his performance was excellent and received a nearly 100 percent rating. And at one of the company’s meetings for drivers, they were told that they would be entitled to a performance bonus — 60 to 80 hours of pay — because of their records as drivers with no incidents or accidents. This bonus was scheduled to be paid to them in December and would have amounted to $1,500 to $1,800 for my husband. Unfortunately, he was laid off in late November, and much to our dismay, we saw in some paperwork that he wouldn’t be eligible for the bonus if he wasn’t working for the company on Dec. 1. So he missed the deadline by a matter of a few weeks, through no fault of his own.

He worked hard and did a good job, only to hear the company say “no” in the end. It’s kind of disgusting. What’s more, my husband is a veteran, and the company talks about giving vets opportunities, only to yank them back in the end. Is this legal? — Bonus Denied

DEAR BONUS: The company has an odd way of showing its appreciation for veterans. Still, its action may be legal if the rules were made clear before your husband became eligible for the bonus. Companies can set the terms for bonus programs, but they can’t monkey around to cheat employees out of bonuses after they have earned them.

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