30 Ways Your Employer Could Be Cheating You


View as:

Boss sitting with hands folded at a desk with a resume in front of him
Photo credit: ijeab/istockphoto

Ideally, an employee does a job and an employer pays them for their work. But employers frequently want more of a worker's time for the same amount of money or less, and some will go to any length to minimize the cost to their business. There are myriad ways an employer can cheat you, but the following are just a handful of examples.
Filling out a time sheet
Photo credit: designer491/istockphoto

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that wage theft costs workers -- especially low-wage workers -- roughly $50 billion a year. Companies commonly do this by adjusting time sheets or clocking out workers for breaks or lunch even if they don't take them.
Closeup of clock
Photo credit: daneger/istockphoto

If you're "on call" and aren't being paid a salary or overtime, your free time is now your company's. There are lawyers who will fight to get that time back, but the law generally isn't on your side. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Amazon didn't have to pay employees for time spent in security screening lines to get to their jobs. That case inspired Clarence Thomas to espouse the virtues of collective bargaining, which typically requires a union.
Tip jar at a cafe
Photo credit: Steve Debenport/istockphoto

There are many ways to steal tips. Employers can skim from the tip jar, pass on fees for credit card tips to employees, pull tip money to pay off-the-books employees (chefs, dish washers, etc.) and even take a share of tips for a friend or relative in a no-show job. Keeping your own record of tips helps, especially around tax time, but taking collective action against employers through a state or federal labor board is more effective. Currently the federal government is attempting to legalize tip theft.
Senior man holding onto his piggy bank while someone is trying to take it
Photo credit: SIphotography/istockphoto

Why pay a former employee their promised pension when you can boost profits and give yourself a bonus instead? According to one Wall Street Journal reporter and author, some companies steal their workers' pension and retiree health-care insurance to enhance profits and dole out bonuses. Since they can declare savings from reducing benefits as "income," companies have been less shy about freezing or gutting pension plans, slashing benefits, and switching to lump-sum plans.
Boss standing with arms folded in a conference room
Photo credit: MangoStar_Studio/istockphoto

Former Federal Bureau of Investigations deputy director Andrew McCabe was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year, just 26 hours before he was scheduled to retire and receive his pension. Though McCabe disputed allegations he had lied under oath, his firing put hundreds of thousands of dollars of his pension in jeopardy. If your employer decides even a day before retirement your efforts weren't up to snuff, your benefits could be similarly imperiled.
Woman working overtime in a dark office at night
Photo credit: Morsa Images/istockphoto

Amazon warehouse managers have to sue for overtime, despite working well beyond the time they're paid for. Congress has tried to allow employers to trade compensated time for overtime, which is illegal when you're entitled to overtime. If you're an hourly employee and the bosses are wondering if you can "just stay a little later" without compensating you, they're stealing your time.
Minimum wage in U.S. money
Photo credit: IcemanJ/istockphoto

If you are an independent contractor, farm worker, salaried worker, commissioned worker or worker in a tip-based job, an employer can pay you less than minimum wage without any legal repercussions. If your job doesn't fit the descriptions above, however, you are entitled to either the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher.
Independent contractor agreement
Photo credit: SchulteProductions/istockphoto

Whether you're a janitor or tech worker, life as an "independent contractor" can be ideal. But when companies take 40 hours out of your week or more, but classify you as an independent contractor just to duck Social Security, Medicare taxes, and unemployment-insurance taxes, they're labeling you "independent" while giving you no independence. While the Government Accountability Office said in 2009 that misclassification costs the federal Treasury about $3 billion a year, it's also costing workers when it comes to benefits, unemployment, and other protections.
Pizza delivery driver
Photo credit: YinYang/istockphoto

Delivery staff for sandwich chain Jimmy John's sued for their delivery expenses on the grounds that, without them, they made less than minimum wage. Employees are often entitled to reimbursement for certain business expenses. However, the new tax law has limited deductions for travel, uniforms, and research -- eliminating employees' last option for reimbursement.
Female employee looking out of office window
Photo credit: fizkes/istockphoto

There is no federal requirement requiring employees be offered vacation days, and any time off is negotiated between the employer and employee. Unless you are covered by a collective bargaining agreement or belong to a union, your vacation exists at your employer's whim. However, while states don't always require vacation days, states like California have stringent laws stating that any vacation days you receive can't expire and either have to be rolled over to the next year or paid out.
Sick employee with his head on the desk
Photo credit: PeopleImages/istockphoto

Just as the government doesn't require vacation days, it doesn't mandate paid sick days, either. While it does protect up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, the government can't compel a workplace to give you paid sick days. That said, both California and Connecticut require employers to give employees paid sick leave. For everyone else, unless there's a collective bargaining agreement in place, it's up to the employer.
Businessman on an airplane
Photo credit: izusek/istockphoto

You can't bill an employer for your commute, but if they have you traveling anywhere on company time, the federal government says they should compensate you. Still, some employees have had to take employers to court to follow the rules.
Calendar with pages flipping
Photo credit: in-future/istockphoto

This is another area where the federal government offers few protections, mostly because shifting schedules have made weekend work a norm for many employees. However, if you're working 40 hours during the week and are being forced to work on the weekend, you're entitled to overtime pay unless you're an independent contractor.
Bathroom in an office
Photo credit: Stratol/istockphoto

Federal law isn't all that clear about bathroom breaks, but does say that if an employer allows breaks, employees need to be paid for them. In 2016, a federal judge ruled against a Pennsylvania company that forced employees to clock out when taking bathroom breaks.
Scissors cutting a $100 bill
Photo credit: Pogonici/istockphoto

Personal leave, unpaid family leave, unpaid sick time, jury duty, military leave, safety violations, missed time during a first or last week of work, and workplace conduct violations are all legal reasons to dock pay. However, home and garden store Menard's is already facing class-action lawsuits for allegedly taking liberties with those requirements, among other labor laws.
Senior man waiting for a job interview next to a younger candidate
Photo credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/istockphoto

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 40 percent of people ages 55 and older were working or actively looking for work in 2014. That number is expected to grow , but research by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that the callback rate for jobs is uniformly lower for older applicants, despite the Age Discrimination in Employment Act being around for over 50 years.
Employee writing his ideas on a white board during a meeting
Photo credit: bernardbodo/istockphoto

According to a poll conducted in 2015, 1 in 5 bosses regularly steals ideas from employees. Almost all bosses polled have done so at least once. It isn't exactly illegal, but it's unethical. Start documenting instances like this -- as well as your ideas -- and build a case for the HR department.
Business people having a secret meeting
Photo credit: FangXiaNuo/istockphoto

In Silicon Valley, companies agreed not to recruit each other's software engineers. That drove down their potential earnings and resulted in lawsuits against Apple, Google, Intuit and other large tech companies. Antitrust laws are in place to prevent things like this, but big money has a habit of silencing workers' concerns.
Man looking over a laptop as if he is spying on someone
Photo credit: Xesai/istockphoto

While state laws vary, companies have broad rights to monitor employee internet usage, keystrokes, social media usage, email, and just about any use of a company device or equipment -- including the use of GPS devices in company cars. They also have the rights to record employees via audio and video and to monitor medical records and off-duty activities.
Woman being discriminated against at work
Photo credit: MachineHeadz/istockphoto

The gender pay gap still sits at 20 percent, with women making just 80 percent of what men are paid for the same job. At the current rate, women should reach pay equity by 2116. That divide varies by state, but it also varies by race, with Latina women making just 54 percent of what male counterparts make.
Employees with their hands together in collaboration
Photo credit: Rawpixel/istockphoto

A fair workplace often doesn't exist without collective bargaining, yet some employers continue to ignore employees for the sake of the bottom line. While companies can expose themselves to lawsuits while trying to fight unions, it's often easier to communicate with employees and make sure they're paid and treated fairly. Docking them for going to a doctor's appointment is a small step toward having a union local on your floor.
Filling out a background check
Photo credit: AndreyPopov/istockphoto

According to BackgroundChecks.com, companies in 43 states can legally ask you to pay for your background check or drug test. Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Vermont all have laws that either limit what tests a potential employee can be asked to fund or prohibit companies from passing on that cost entirely.
Woman with tape on her mouth to represent censorship
Photo credit: solidcolours/istockphoto

While the First Amendment protects citizens from government censorship of their speech, which the Supreme Court noted in a decision protecting public employees, a private business has every right to discipline or fire an employee based on their speech in or outside the workplace. Freedom of speech isn't freedom from consequences, at least in the private sphere.
Someone scanning a Facebook page on a mobile phone
Photo credit: bombuscreative/istockphoto

According to a CareerBuilder survey, 70 percent of all employers check a job candidate's social media -- and 54 percent found reasons not to hire a candidate after viewing their social media. Complaints about old bosses and photos documenting bong rips can come back to haunt you.
African American man being discriminated against during a job interview
Photo credit: fizkes/istockphoto

The Economic Policy Institute notes that in 2016, the median black worker earned 75 percent of what the median white worker earned in an hour. Meanwhile, the median black household earned just 61 percent of the income the average white household earned in a year.
Man with his hand out asking for money
Photo credit: Milkos/istockphoto

Employees who accused McDonald's of firing them for supporting the Fight for $15 labor movement were prepared to take their battle to court. The National Labor Relations Board settled with McDonald's, but kept open the possibility that another group could sue a corporate parent as a "joint employer" or franchise workers. No ruling was made to prevent similarly motivated firings in the future.
Woman whistleblowing
Photo credit: MargoeEdwards/istockphoto

JetBlue, Lucky Strike bowling centers, and Wells Fargo are just a few of the employers who have been accused of firing whistleblowers. All of the fired employees were either reinstated or paid back wages, but the threat of that action prevented none of them from firing employees for doing the right thing.
Woman getting a medical scan
Photo credit: laflor/istockphoto

Employees have been fired for having hemophilia, not getting a flu shot, and being obese, to name just a few. Employers don't mind cutting costs, and if they can save on health care or sick leave, it may be worth the occasional discrimination suit.
Pregnant woman at the office
Photo credit: Zinkevych/istockphoto

We have laws to protect pregnant women, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) still receives upwards of 6,000 complaints a year connected to pregnancy discrimination. Seeing an opportunity to cut costs, some employers appear willing to flout the law.
Mom holding her baby
Photo credit: Weekend Images Inc./istockphoto

In 2016, high-level female employees of Qualcomm sued the company on behalf of 3,000 female employees who felt they were passed over for advancement for, among other reasons, parenting their children. But it isn't just women taking action. Fathers have filed discrimination suits against companies after they felt harassed or passed over for assuming parenting duties.

Cheapism.com participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you choose to purchase a product through a link on our site. This helps support our work and does not influence editorial content.