As the money pie shrinks, some companies decide to cut their employees pay. Less scrupulous companies actually try to cheat their employees by not paying them what they owe them. South Carolina law provides a way for employees to get paid the wages, salary, and/or commissions owed to them. South Carolina Code § 41-10-10 (and the sections which follow) requires employers to pay employees “wages due” on their regularly scheduled pay day. If an employer refuses to pay you what you are owed, the law provides a remedy. First, you are entitled to collect every penny you have earned. Second, the law provides that unless your employer had a “good faith” reason for not paying you then not only can you collect the amount owned, but the court may triple that amount (“treble damages.”) In addition, an employee can recover her reasonable attorney fees.
One tricky issue involves commissions that are to be paid in the future: Some policies require that the employee must be employed when the commission becomes payable. There are cases that make the outcome depend on the particular facts of the case. For example, if you make a big sale, earn a large commission and your employer fires you for the purpose of collecting your commission, then you almost certainly have a claim. If your employer fires you because you come in late to work, then whether you are entitled to collect your commission will depend on the way the policy is drafted and whether there is any additional work to be done before payment. (There are several cases on this topic which I will review in upcoming blog posts.)
Another issue: What about accrued vacation or PTO? Let’s say you have accumulated 3 weeks of vacation, and you are fired before you get to take it. Whether you are entitled to be paid for it depends on the written policy. Without a written policy, you are entitled to be paid for vacation or accumulated paid time off. Sometimes the policy will provide that you are entitled to be paid, unless you are discharged “for cause.” Although there are some legal issues about whether an employer can enforce such a policy, at minimum, your employer would have to prove it had good cause if it decides not to pay you.
Also, even though an employer can cut your pay, the company must give you 7 days advance written notice of its intent to do so. Not a lot time, but it does provide some protection against an employer changing your pay after you do the work. An employer must put the terms and conditions of your pay and any deduction that will be made from your paycheck in writing. And, if your employer claims to be impoverished and unable to pay your salary, you can seek to collect what you are owned from the owner for the company.
It is hard enough to make a living without your employer cheating you out of your hard earned cash. Although the law does not protect workers from much, South Carolina law provides strong protection for workers who have earned their pay.
NOTE: Each state law is different, and this post only deals with SC law. Also, facts matter. The above is general information about the law, but if you need a legal opinion about a particular set of circumstances, you need to consult an employment attorney.