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Wage Issues? Tip #10: Avoid Signing Documents You Disagree With

This post continues my series of tips, or things to consider, for workers with unpaid wages.

Tip #10 is this: Don't Sign Documents the Employer Presents That You Disagree With, or Believe to Be False.

If you have unpaid wages, and an employer approaches you with a document to sign relating to the unpaid wages, chances are that document benefits the employer.

I am aware of employers who asked workers to sign off on:

  • Timecards or payroll documents with underreported wages. For example, some employers make automatic1/2-hour pay deductions for a lunch period everyday, despite the worker having to work through the lunch period many days. Such documentation should reflect your actual hours and pay before you should be made to sign off on it.
  • Settlement agreements that pay significantly less wages than the law requires. Some employers, to their credit, self-identify wage underpayments and approach workers with settlement agreements in which the employers agree to pay the workers if the workers agree to waive potential legal claims. However, employers' initial settlement offers (especially if the employees do not have attorneys) usually offer significantly less than the legally-required wages and/or damages. If it's possible to have an attorney review and advise about a proposed settlement before applicable deadlines, this can be of assistance in potentially negotiating or winning a larger payment and avoiding potential pitfalls.
  • An arbitration agreement. These agreements (if signed by the employee) take away the employee's right to go to court for an employment dispute, and in some instances take away the right to participate in a class action lawsuit. The employee must participate in arbitration, a process which lacks the full rights available in court, and often involves an arbitrator hand-selected by the employer, who has routinely dealt with the employer's matters. Employers' ability to impose one-sided arbitration agreements became even more severe due to the Supreme Court's AT&T Mobility v. Concepciondecision, which allows arbitration agreements to (1) limit employment disputes to an arbitration forum (and prohibit court as a forum); AND (2) take away an employee's right to participate in a class action, whether in court or in arbitration.
  • False documentation, such as false work-leave forms, that serve the employer's benefit. This type of issue is common with H-1B workers, where some H-1B employers will try to get H-1B workers to sign forms indicating the workers took leaves of absence they did not in fact take. The H-1B employers who do this are often trying to cover up their "benching" of the workers and failure to pay the required wage. If you are an H-1B worker (or employee of any kind) whose employer is confronting you with a false form, you should not sign the form and seek legal counsel before considering signature of something you know to be false and against your interests.

Please give careful time and thought to such documents before you sign them. If an employer is rushing or pressuring you to sign such documents, that is an even worse sign that the employer wants to act against your interests and not allow you a fair opportunity.

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