We all talk about bad places to work with toxic cultures and awful bosses. I agree that these are bad places to work. However, there are even worse places to work. These places don’t just make your time at work hell, they sink their teeth into other parts of your life causing significant hardship out of incompetence or ignorance. Let’s go through my favorite example of such a workplace.
Welcome. Your bail is set at twenty thousand.
I started working at a company and naively trusted the company to do all the invisible administrative things correctly. Setting up payroll, depositing my paychecks via direct deposit, paying me the correct amount of money – you know, things you don’t usually think about with a Fortune 500 company that’s been around for decades. Having never had a problem with pay prior to this, I was not prepared for what happened.
I set up direct deposit my first day and happily awaited getting paid. After two paychecks did not show up, I started asking around where they might be. Human resources directed me to the mail room. No paycheck. My manager started making inquiries with administrators. Nothing. Finally, one week into the investigation, someone overheard me talking about this in the kitchen. This stranger let me know that the first few paychecks have been known to go to the front desk of the building. Really? Whatever. I got my overdue paychecks and went home.
I had my money, direct deposit verified, and all things looked as they should. This is where I made a mistake. My previous job was a monthly pay schedule and I calculated the expected paycheck for a monthly pay period. Unfortunately for the heroine of this story, this company was bi-monthly. So, if you expected one paycheck per month and instead were getting two, doesn’t that mean you were accidentally being paid double?
Yep, the company was accidentally paying me double. They caught it before I did but not before I owed them in the neighborhood of twenty thousand dollars. Notice how I wrote this out to make sure no one mistook the number of zeroes in that.
We’ve corrected your pay and we’d like you to pay back that money now.
What are the options to pay it back?
All at once or a regular paycheck deduction until it has been paid off.
Well, since tax deductions mean I don’t actually have all the money at the moment, I will have to go with the paycheck deduction.
Wonderful, how much would you like deducted from each paycheck?
This sucked. I knew I couldn’t just keep that much money and I also didn’t have that much floating around since I had taken a “sabbatical” prior to starting this job. I had to ask myself how much I could afford to give up each month and how long I could handle being chained to this company?
I named my price and then knew how long my sentence was with the company. I counted down the days and never let a paycheck slip by unexamined again.
One of the interesting things about this incident is that none of my coworkers or managers knew this was happening unless I told them. My managers didn’t know that I had an unusual financial interest in getting good performance reviews. I wonder if they would have treated me worse had they known it would cost me to leave. For performance, getting a bonus or raise helped offset the amount owed and sped saving bail. I preferred the raises though. The double edged sword of the bonus was that it counted as a paycheck so the deduction applied. It sucked not to get my full bonus but it also meant my sentence was shortened by a pay period.
But wait, there’s more! I hope you’re thinking it can’t get worse. Sorry: it can get just a little worse. About halfway through this debacle, the company decided to change their pay schedule. Does this mean I would get one less paycheck a month and then a longer period to wait? Or would I be paying more per month with more paychecks and have a shorter time to stay? I personally would have preferred the less frequent paychecks but when did my preferences ever matter to this company? They made a seemingly minor change from bi-monthly to every other Friday. I think most people at the company didn’t care about the change or even notice it. I cared, though, because it meant that some months I’d have 50% more taken out of my pay for the extra paycheck. Yes, some months have five Fridays and, when the stars align, that is three paychecks in that month.
While thinking about whether or not to do anything about this change, I decided to look up the people I interacted with on this pay fiasco. All gone. Of the three people who had less than a year before set up this stupid ball and chain, none had stayed at the company. Can’t blame them.
Benefits are for us, not you.
I often approach job interviews with the attitude that managers have to make their teams sound good but ultimately are going to have to lie about something. I try to ask questions to figure out what they’re hiding and then decide if I’m okay with it or not. Never have I had a reason to question how human resources worked until the above payroll incident. I developed what I felt was a justified level of contempt and paranoia towards this company’s human resources department. Having a flexible work arrangement, I wanted to make it clear that I would get the benefits advertised. Of course, they said. I’ll never know if they were lying or if they were ignorant of how benefits worked. Either way, I couldn’t find them to follow up on the bullshit that followed since they’d left the company by that time.
Once day, I got a letter in the mail. You are no longer eligible for medical benefits. Your coverage will end on X date.
If that doesn’t that send you into a panic when living in the United States with a chronic health issue, I’m not sure what will.
I called up the benefits people. They explained that there’s a requirement for me to work a certain number of hours per eligibility period to qualify for benefits. For my flexible work arrangement, I worked part-time hours. What I found out later was that a this was “unofficial”, yet another Molotov cocktail into this dumpster fire of a human resources department. Not only did I find out that I can’t get benefits which I was promised, but also that my work arrangement didn’t go through the proper channels so there’s nothing I can do about it.
Luckily, at this time, I was covered by another health insurance policy for a short period of time. No sweat, let’s just make sure I’ll be eligible when that one lapses. Point blank question: will I be eligible for enrollment period on X date? Yes, you will.
Time passes. The enrollment period begins. Not eligible.
Again, upsetting and panic inducing. Human Resources can’t do anything. It’s the law. We can’t change it.
Screw you, too. If I hadn’t had that stupid debt to pay, I’d have been gone. But, as misfortune would have it, I decided to stick it out until my debt was below a certain amount.
By the way, do you want to know by how many hours I was short? 12. If someone had told me ahead of time, I could have bumped my hours for just a couple days. Then again, with the body count of people leaving the human resources department, I don’t know who would have told me.
If you don’t know, health insurance covered by employers can be up to $600 USD, something I had to pay after this incident. Something my employer advertised as a benefit. Something my employer screwed me over by 12 hours they could have easily told me were needed. Assholes.
Honestly though, given that I was planning to quit less than a year from then (when my debt was guaranteed to be gone), having my own health insurance was actually beneficial. I don’t need my company for benefits so they’ve made leaving that much easier. Thanks?
In the end…
This company cost me a lot financially. Life-wise, the timing was bad, resulting in poisoning the rest of my life with financial and emotional strain. I was hoping this company would crash and burn. Wall Street did consider their demise imminent at one point but alas, they managed to pull themselves out of a slump. Too bad.
If you want to learn something from this…
- Check your paycheck regularly. Full stop.
- Identify the actual people responsible on any administrative issue: payroll and benefits are not the same as the generic human resources department.
- Any and all agreements must be documented. No verbal agreements for flexible work arrangements allowed.