Q. I have been working for my employer for six months. I had not once seen money for benefits taken out of my paycheck, but I figured human resources knew what it was doing. Well, last pay period I noticed my check was $50 less than usual and so I talked to HR about it. It seems someone forgot to take benefit payments out of my check, as well as for a few others in the company. Now HR has told me that I owe the company nearly $800 and have to pay it back by the end of the year. Is this legal?
A. Debra S. Katz, a Washington lawyer who represents employees in workplace disputes, said that "clearly if the company has overpaid the salary, then the employer can reasonably ask for it back."
Katz suggested that if the worker knows she cannot pay back the lump sum by year's end, she should try to work out a payment plan.
Q. Can an employer hand down disciplinary action for not attending a meeting when an employee is paid on a commission basis? I start work at 3 a.m. and finish at 2 p.m. But my employer has scheduled a "mandatory" meeting at 4 p.m. that will last about two hours. Since I'm paid on "commission," is it legal for my employer to demand that I attend with no compensation?
A. Bill Bethune, a Tysons Corner, Va., lawyer who represents corporations, said that "if this person is not being singled out as having to attend when others are excused on a non-discriminatory basis, then there could be some disciplinary action."
"If the person is paid on commission, there's no requirement that the employer pay straight or overtime pay" for attending the meeting. Bethune said that if the worker is deemed to be an "outside salesperson," then he is exempt from the overtime provisions of federal salary requirements.
Conversely, Bethune said that if the worker is not classified as an outside salesperson and partly paid by salary, the worker would be entitled to time-and-a-half pay if he works more than 40 hours in the week in which the mandatory meeting occurs.
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