Are employers held accountable for repeated over payment of wages to employees?

This question, like others I have seen, involves over payment of wages after leaving the company. When I received what should have been my last paycheck from my previous employer, I noticed that they did pay me correctly. I left mid-pay period, but my employer paid me for two full weeks. I immediately emailed the HR department to tell them about the error and proposed that we call it even since I had accrued 41. 3 hours of vacation that, per the employee handbook, I would be paid for upon separation. I didn't care about the extra 1.3 hours I was owed, I just wanted them to stop paying me and I told them exactly that in my original correspondence. They replied within a day of my email and said that someone must have forgotten to turn me off in the system, that it would be corrected and that I would be contacted by another person to discuss the last check I received. The individual that was supposed to reach out never did.

Two months (four pay periods) later they finally stopped paying me. The fourth payment was reversed the day it was deposited. Four months after that (six months after I left) they contacted me to tell me that I owed them both the money they deposited and the taxes withheld. It is a rather substantial bill mainly because of the additional 45% they are adding on for the taxes. I am going to see if they would be willing to try to recover the taxes from the government bodies that received them (since, like me, they were given money that they did not deserve), but if my ex-employer does not agree, having to pay back the taxes will put me under substantial financial pressure through no fault of my own.

This is a $1.2 billion company that should not have a habit of overpaying people, but they do. I sat next to the Human Resources group in my office and one day they were discussing how one ex-employee had been paid for almost six months. They were taking as though it was the employee’s fault for not trying to have it stopped instead of it being the company’s mistake by not turning that person off. It was more of a blame the victim than a “Gee, why did this happen and how can we ensure that it does not happen again” conversation. When I mentioned to a friend currently in the finance department that I had been over paid for months, I was told that the over payment issue is “more common than you would think”.

I realize that I will have to pay the money back, but the question/concern I have involves the complete lack of accountability and concern on the part of my former employer and others like them. At what point, if any, does a company become responsible for total and complete negligence involving payroll? Do they ever have to suffer the consequences of their actions, or is it only the employee that does? Does the court ever say “Enough is enough. It is about time that you get your "blank" together”? Would comparative or contributory negligence ever come into play in a situation like this? I know that if they are never held accountable their behavior will not change and they will continue to do harm to more ex-employees.

1 answer  |  asked Aug 29, 2019 7:09 PM [EST]  |  applies to New York

Answers (1)

V Jonas Urba
You admit that you had advance notice that overpayment practices existed?

It also sounds like your paychecks were direct deposited. Did you inform your bank to stop accepting the direct deposits?

You could pay them back what they deposited into your account and then wait to see whether they sue you to recover the taxes on your behalf? You should consult a tax lawyer before doing that however since you were aware of their history and pay practices.

You also seem to be aware of your general duty to return overpayments.

You can always run for political office if you have a desire to change laws to mandate corporate responsibility?

posted by V Jonas Urba  |  Aug 30, 2019 02:57 AM [EST]

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