Don't get robbed by your employer!

We hear and read it everyday. The economy has problems, banks record huge losses, as demonstrated by Wachovia and Washington Mutual for the 2ndt quarter 2008. We read that companies, especially in the banking and real estate industry, as well as building contractors, are cutting jobs in large numbers.

With all this noise in the marketplace and some politicians, like John McCain's economic advisor, calling the concerned public "Wimps", we have to ask ourselves: What else can happen?

We have tightened our belts, we don't go out to restaurants as much anymore, we now have "staycations" (vacation staying at home), drive as little as possible to avoid $4/gallon gas, and wonder if we will be able to refinance our house again (if its not yet in foreclosure), as interest rates climb due to the Fannie and Freddie mess.

Other than the loss of jobs in industries affected by the current downturn, we haven't really heard much about direct impact at work. President Bush even suggested taking a deep breath and looking at the positive signs for exports of goods to other countries.

Based on my own experience I like to make you aware of one phenomenon that has increased in recent years and is a larger threat now than it was for a long time. It's the possibility that your company can rob you. How would that work, you ask?

Well, think about all the things which occur and are part of your work that aren't directly covered by a paycheck. Here is a list of possibilities you might be able to identify with:

- You have a company credit card you use for travel expenses

- You have a cell phone that your company subsidizes because you partially use it for work

- You have unpaid travel expense reports that you are waiting to get paid

- You have made sales and are due commissions that haven't been paid yet or will be paid as a bonus at the end of the year

- You participate in a stock option plan. (most of your options haven't vested yet) When did you check the actual value the last time?

- You have a 401K plan and your company promises to match your contribution to a certain limit at the end of the fiscal year

This is just a small list of things that could easily apply for an employee. Do you know what happens when the company folds, goes bankrupt, or otherwise closes its doors? I have been there and I can tell you this:

You are often liable for any items and unpaid amounts on the credit card your company gave you. Your cell phone company will come to you for payment of open bills. Your matching money for your retirement and any stock options will be worthless. Unpaid travel expenses, bonuses, salaries or regular pay, will have to be awarded by the bankruptcy court.

That's a pretty bleak picture and some would call it robbery. You might take the silver lining and depend on the courts to at least award you the money you earned since the last paycheck, and anything that qualifies as an equivalent to your regular pay..... and you are right.

The catch here is, that you are competing with all the other organizations that your company owes money to. When you look closer, you will find that any unpaid taxes, which is a likely case for a company that folds, have a higher priority than your unpaid salaries. Should you make it around the IRS, you might be lucky to reach the maximum priority amount of $10.000,00. That tells you that you should never have your company owe you more than that amount.

But here is the worst thing of all and the reason why I call it robbery: To go through this process and hoping that the courts will do the socially responsible thing and give you what you worked for is not a seamless and quick process. It can easily take 3-4 years, and if there are enough complaints, it might even take longer.

That means the money that would have bought you 100 gallons of gas 3 years ago will buy you 25 gallons (if you are lucky) by the time you get what's due to you. The same is true for food, energy, etc.

What should you do? Don't let your company rob you in the first place. Let them pay you every two weeks and ask for an advance whenever you have to do anything for your employer. Advances have to be paid in cash or check and you can put it in your bank account right away.

The environment is rough and we probably haven't seen the last collapse or heard all of the bad news yet. Please don't make the mistake to think that your organization cannot be affected. Remember when Enron was called the greatest gold mine ever, when Countrywide was seen as the mother of all mortgage lenders, when GM was admired for being the largest car manufacturer in the world...

It's never too early to be careful. Times are challenging and you should do whatever you can to keep your family and your hard earned money safe - so, don't get robbed!

Axel Meierhoefer is a performance coach, author, and the founder of Axel Meierhoefer Consulting (AMC LLC). His motto is" Helping others help themselves achieve success". If you'd like to get on his E-mail list for more articles, or like more insights, goto or email

This article was published on 23 Jul 2008 and has been viewed 648 times
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