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I Let Him Walk All Over Me. . . Right Up To The Point I Called the FBI

August 5, 2013

Rodney! Dude, you let him him lay it on pretty thick!

What do you mean?

Frank. He was giving you the greasy used-car pitch and you were just taking it.

Yeah, but at this point, why not? I need this job, and I’m not going to do myself any favors by calling him on his BS. If I’m getting what I need, I don’t really care.

Three months later I cared and so did Frank. . .a lot.

I had just moved to the Tacoma, WA area and I was going to work for a small company that specialized in installing high speed internet connections via satellite dishes. In some ways it was a great job.

The people who needed our services typically had no other options. They were too far out for cable modems. The telephone companies hadn’t run wiring that would support high speed data out that far. Often they were in places where even cell service was spotty. These people lived out in the sticks. But, I mentioned I was living in Tacoma, WA. It’s about 30 miles south of Seattle, in Western Washington. The scenery is GORGEOUS.

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(Washington State Ferry Photo credit: travelerhubs.hubpages.com)

I would often end riding a ferry to one of the San Juan islands, or driving through the forests of the Olympic peninsula. Truly beautiful locations. And the drive there was often relaxing and equally beautiful.

The worst part of the job was that I was driving my Chevy Suburban, which gets 13 MPG and most jobs were at least 100 miles round trip. And they paid a flat rate for the job. I was pretty much working for gas money. At the time it was all I could find, and I was happy to get it.

The boss, Frank was . . .well, he was more interested in the bottom line than the employees. He classified all of us as contractors (1099 employees rather than W2, for you accounting types.) Not because we actually were. We didn’t really fit the description of contractors, but it saved him on taxes. On Fridays it was a race to see which employees could get to Frank’s bank first. The odds that everyone’s paycheck would clear were small. You wanted to get there first so you had your money for the weekend.

After a couple of months I was offered a position with a real consulting company working back at Microsoft as a Program Manager. Frank decided he needed to hold onto my last check. (Yeah, I know it’s illegal and so did he.) He always had an excuse for not having it available.

Weeks went by like this. In fact, nearly three months. I think Frank figured he could wait me out. It was only about $500, but I’d worked hard for that money and I was determined to get it back.

And then I got another job offer. Eight months prior, I had applied to work for a large non profit in Utah. It was the job I really wanted, and after months and months, they offered it to me.

Well, now I had a problem. If I left town, there was no way Frank was EVER going to give me my $500. And if he even knew I was planning to leave, he’d find a way to delay. So, I needed to force his hand.

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(Photo credit: cafepress.com)

My sister-in-law’s brother is a special agent for the FBI in the Seattle area. I called him.

Greg, I need some help with this company I was working for. I think they are violating the tax code by illegally classifying employees as contractors. Is that something the FBI would investigate?

Well, it depends on the size of the business. For a small business like this, we probably wouldn’t, but if we got a serious enough complaint we’d certainly have to look at the possibility.

I’m just trying to get them to give me my last check. Could you come with me when I meet with the owner tomorrow?

Not a good idea. If we do end up investigating, it would compromise the investigation if I did anything before a formal complaint was opened.

My next call was to the owner.

Frank, this is Rodney. Listen, I will be in your office at 10:00am tomorrow morning, at which point I expect you to hand me my final paycheck. I’ve talked to the FBI and they agree that you are probably mischaracterizing your employees as contractors. If they find that’s the case, you’ll be personally liable for all the past unpaid payroll taxes. If I don’t walk out of there with a check, I’m going to formally request they open an investigation, and I’ll be happy to be a witness.

Okay, see you tomorrow.

The shop was a little tense when I walked in. One of the sales guys called out,

Rodney, no FBI with you today?

I ignored him as I made my way to Frank’s office. He tried to talk about why he still held my check. I reminded him that legally, he can’t withhold an employee’s check. And if I were a contractor, he can’t refuse to pay for my services. I was right and I felt no need to argue with him about it. Finally, he reluctantly pulled out his checkbook.

I’ll be honest with you. I can’t give you the entire amount. I can write you a check for $200 and give you a post dated check for the other $300.

If the postdated check is before Friday, then we have a deal.

He wrote the two checks and handed them to me.

Rodney, do you really think we’re breaking the law with how we pay our employees?

Frank. . .we just concluded our business. Do you really want to reopen negotiations?

No, no. But, do you honestly think we’re doing something illegal?

Frank. . .we concluded our deal. I’m going to get up, walk out that door and never talk to you again. Do you REALLY want to reopen our negotiations?

No. . .I guess not.

I’ve often thought about the difference between that first conversation and the last one. I think I understood Frank from the first moment I met him. My coworker accused me of letting Frank walk all over me the first time we met. But, I was getting what I wanted: a job. I didn’t care if Frank thought he was being cleverly, or slick or what.

It’s like the boy who never learned to talk. His parents took him to doctors who said, “He’s fine. He’ll talk when he’s ready.” When the boy was 7, one day at dinner he said, “The peas are cold.” His parents were shocked, “You can talk! Why didn’t you say anything before now?”

“Up until now everything’s been okay.”

That was me and Frank.

At our final meeting, I still had in mind what I wanted: my check. Once I got that, I no longer really cared about Frank. He really wanted to know what I’d told the FBI. But, at that point, I had what I needed and our negotiations were over. I didn’t need to educate him on Washington tax law, or even tell him whether he might expect a visit from the FBI.

Fortunately, I was able to get what I wanted out of both our meetings. What Frank wanted out of them, I neither knew nor cared.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, blogger and IT Consultant. He lives a thousand miles away from the beautiful Puget Sound, in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and 13 children.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or contact him at (rbliss at msn dot com)

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