DEAR CARRIE: I have friends who work at a large local stadium as hourly security guards. I am mystified by the stories they tell me about not being paid overtime when they work more than 40 hours a week. They are warned not to work extra hours, and when they have to in order to finish an assignment, their employer refuses to pay the overtime. As far as I know, this practice is illegal. What should I encourage them to do? — Penalty Box
DEAR PENALTY: The employer should know better. Even if a company warns hourly employees not to work more than 40 hours a week but allows them to do so, the employer has to pay the overtime. This concept is known as “suffering to work,” in federal labor law. Here is what a U.S. Labor Department Fact Sheet says on the topic:
“Work not requested but suffered or permitted to be performed is work time that must be paid for by the employer. For example, an employee may voluntarily continue to work at the end of the shift to finish an assigned task or to correct errors. The reason is immaterial. The hours are work time and are compensable.”
So not paying workers overtime when they work more than 40 hours a week is a flat-out violation of labor law. And if an investigation determines that the employer’s actions were deliberate, or willful, the company could face steeper fines.
So what should you encourage your friends to do? Have them call the Labor Department for more information at 516-338-1890 or 212-264-8185.
DEAR CARRIE: I am applying for a $30,000 community housing grant that a metro area nonprofit is offering to qualified first-time home buyers. To qualify, I need to submit employment and income verification. Since I work for a major retailer, I didn’t expect any problems with getting the information. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I asked the human-resource department for the information. Someone there gave me a number to call. The number turned out to be that of a major credit-rating service. and the person who took my call said I had to pay for the two verifications. In the end the agency just verified my employment. It said the income details weren’t available and gave me a partial refund. Is it legal for my employer to refuse to give me income-verification information? — Give Me Shelter
DEAR GIVE ME SHELTER: Companies sometimes go overboard with policies that restrict what information they give out about employees. Out of fear of being sued for comments about former employees, some companies limit themselves to just verifying employment. I guess that approach has now carried over to current employees. It’s a shame your employer won’t make an exception with so much at stake for you.
But legally it doesn’t have to.
“The employer does not, by law, have to verify salary for the employee,” said Mary Simmons, director of human-resource consulting at the human-resource company Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates in Syosset.
But that doesn’t mean you should give up.
And Simmons suggests three strategies to that end: 1) Type up a letter to the nonprofit, include your salary and ask your employer if it will stamp or sign off as an indication that it is verifying the information; 2) use your W-2 to verify your salary; or 3) use your latest pay stub to confirm your income along with the employment verification from the credit-rating agency.
“I have to believe one of these options will work,” Simmons said.