Monday, August 11, 2008
Help Me Howard: Can't Get Paid
If you work for a living and more than a few of us do, that paycheck every week or two is one of the highlights. Now what would you do if it was a few days or a few weeks late. We are hearing more and more from people who can't get their checks, which is why we turn to Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- The building sits in Liberty City. Not much to brag about, but the work done here is.
Lisa Summerset: "It is minorities that are overcoming the virus through spirituality and education."
Patrick: "Helping people with HIV?"
Lisa Summerset: "That's it, that's it."
Lisa works for an agency called Movers Inc. A non-profit organization funded by the county and federal government to help 200 people in the Liberty City area with HIV. An agency doing great work, but after they had to repay the county $62,000 for double billing, clearly not a well run agency.
Lisa Summerset: "In the beginning it was OK, everything was fine until maybe February of 2008. That's when everything started coming downhill with our payment."
For the employees, the mismanagement problems this year showed up in their paychecks or, rather, lack of checks.
Patrick: "How far behind were they at one point in your paychecks?"
Lisa Summerset: "Oh, boy, a month to be exact, a whole month and a half."
Lisa says, in February, both of her paychecks were a week late. In May, a month late, and, in June, two weeks late.
Patrick "What kind of hardships did that cause you?"
Lisa Summerset: "My car is down. I already lost one place behind this, my condo. That's the reason we ended up having to move here."
Of course she could have quit, but Lisa says she could not walk away from the people battling HIV.
Lisa Summerset: "Ever since I got into this field, really, Patrick, it has really touched me."
But she couldn't work at the government-funded agency without her paychecks, so she let her boss know she was going to call Help Me Howard.
Lisa Summerset: "She got on the phone, she called the board and said, 'Listen, Channel Seven is coming up in here, we have an employee who is very upset about her pay. We need to get together and have a meeting.'"
Lisa says they had a meeting and they took care of her all right, they laid her off.
Lisa Summerset: "Oh, they said, 'We need to downsize, we need to downsize the agency because we don't have the money to pay you all, we don't have the money to pay everybody.'"
Three people were let go, but when they were shown the door, they were not handed their final paychecks.
Patrick: "Did she give you any severance?"
Lisa Summerset: "No."
Patrick: "And they still owe you money? How many weeks?"
Lisa Summerset: "It'll be two weeks, it'll be two weeks."
Late checks and now no check, but legally what can you do, Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "It's illegal to not pay someone money they are owed. Whether it's a private business or a government agency, you can report them to the Wage & Hour Division at the U.S. Department of Labor, and, in this case, you can go right to the County because the County funds this agency."
The director of Movers Inc. would not talk to us. I was referred to the head of their board William Perry. He didn't return my calls.
We stopped by Movers, no bosses were around. Then I contacted the County, which disperses the money to Movers Inc.
We found out Lisa was not being picked on when she was let go. In this document, Movers said because of funding problems, they could no longer treat HIV patients.
In response, the County declared that because of Movers' financial insolvency, they were in breach of their agreement. As a sign of how Movers was run, I was told the group did not even request any money for June to pay its employees.
The county blamed Movers board for being unwilling to plan to keep the group going. The County then gave the agency $19,000 to pay its employees.
A few days later, Lisa got her final check, and Howard says for anyone battling to get money they are owed it's tricky.
Howard Finkelstein: "If you start to notice things like a shortage of office supplies, late or missing paychecks, odds are the business is in trouble. History shows you most don't recover, so you have to make a decision, get out now or try to recoup the little that you have lost or stick around and lose a lot more."
For Lisa, it's bittersweet. Missing paychecks made her life miserable, but missing the 200 HIV patients is painful also.
Lisa Summerset: "I'm relieved in a way because whatever is going to happen I don't want to be in the pitfall of the mess, but I'm hurt in a way because I love what I do, and I love my clients, and I'm going to miss them. I'm going to miss them."
Patrick Fraser: "The good news for the HIV patients, the County has told Movers, before they shut down, get their 200 HIV clients into other programs in the Liberty City area. If checks start showing up late, and you decide to quit, give them a few days to pay you. If they don't, in addition to filing a complaint with the labor department, take them to small claims court. You can do it yourself, and, if you win, get your fees paid by your old company."
Laid off? Trying to get money you are owed? Ready for some payback? Check with us, we'll work with you, and, hopefully, you will get compensated, and we won't.
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