I was getting interviewed last week by a podcaster who asked me what was interesting to me about labor and employment law. I am sort of a nerd about my field of practice.
The ways that folks interrelate with each other interests me. The ways that people react and constrain themselves according to law is fascinating. The emotions associated with work relationships always intrigue me.
Often disputes at work are similar to disputes among family. I have never practiced divorce law, but divorce lawyer friends tell me stories that make me understand that a work breakup is as emotional, frustrating, and painful as a family breakup.
So I was not surprised when I read a story in the news last week about an employer who paid a former employee his last week of pay by dumping 91,500 oil-slicked pennies in the former employee’s driveway.
The penny dump happened after months of acrimony following the employee’s ending of the employment relationship. The employee had been hired to work at a high-end automotive shop.
According to the employee, the deal was that he would be able to leave work at 5 p.m. each day so that he could pick up his son from daycare.
The mixture of work and family is often a combustible cocktail, and this case was no different. Work is important to most folks. Family is typically more important. And when an employer seems to be interfering with family, sparks can tend to fly, even with the best work relationships.
You have probably seen it yourself during your work life.
Anyway, after COVID hit, according to the reports, some friction started to grow between the employer and the employee over the employee’s need to care for his son. That issue led to other disagreements and finally the employee decided to quit the job and gave notice. The situation deteriorated further and the employee left before his notice time had expired.
The employer was angry at losing the employee along with the hard feelings that had built up over the last several months. He refused to give the employee his last paycheck as a result.
The employee then went to the Department of Labor for assistance. The DOL reached out to the employer multiple times to no avail.
To be clear, there is no excuse for an employer to refuse or fail to pay an employee the employee’s last paycheck after the employee quits. The payment has to be made in Connecticut no later than the following business day. A failure to make the payment in a timely fashion can subject the offending employer to fines, penalties, prosecution, and multiple damages.
Finally, after the DOL had sufficiently reminded the employer, the employer decided to make payment. And the penny dump followed.
So the question is, was the penny dump illegal? Is there a prohibition on paying employees with 500 pounds of pennies. I’d say there is. Implicit in the law is that payment be made by an expected and reasonable method.
The payment to the employee was intended to harass and annoy. I would argue that the payment was insufficient and that the employer should still be subjected to potential civil penalties and fines.
Breakups can be difficult. There is really no need to make them worse with immature behavior to simply make a point. If the immaturity is required to satisfy one of the parties, then there should be a legitimate price to pay for the satisfaction.