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How to protect your company from a lawsuit tip #2: Do not pay your former employees in oily pennies

How to protect your company from a lawsuit tip #2: Do not pay your former employees in oily pennies

When a difficult employee resigns, it can be a great relief for a business owner or manager. While hiring a new employee to replace them can be tedious and costly, it is often more advantageous than keeping a difficult employee.

In most cases, it pays to let the employee exit in peace. If you’re an employer, it’s best not to take it personally. More importantly, you should avoid exacting revenge — it might just backfire.

Pay resigning employees what they’re owed

This should go without saying: pay your employee their final salary, regardless of whether they resigned or got fired. Include the employee’s regular pay from the most recent pay period, as well as bonuses and commissions. If you must withhold an employee’s final paycheck for any reason, there are rules you need to follow.

Did your employee fail to complete their job before they leave? Did they refuse to surrender their ID to Human Resources? Did they steal coffee mugs from the pantry before exiting the office? Even in scenarios where an employee pulls one last stunt, you may still have to pay them for services they’ve rendered.

Do not, as a final act of revenge, pay them in pennies just to show them who’s boss. This, sadly, is what Miles Walker, owner of A OK Walker Luxury Autoworks in Peachtree City, Georgia opted to do to his former staff, Andreas Flaten.

Resist the urge to coat employee back pay with grease

In January 2021, Mr. Flaten contacted the US Department of Labor (DOL) to report that he did not receive his final paycheck from A OK, his former workplace. Upon receiving the complaint, the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division reached out to Mr. Walker, who confirmed that he refused to pay Mr. Flaten.

But Mr. Walker had a change of heart. Sore about being reported to the DOL, he decided to pay his estranged staff anyway — in tens of thousands of pennies. To be exact, that’s 91,500 pennies for the final paycheck totaling $915.

Making matters worse was how the pennies were sent: dumped in Mr. Flaten’s driveway and slicked in oil or grease, which is on-brand as the company that sent the payment was an auto repair shop.

Pennies are US currency, which Mr. Flaten can use in a variety of ways. Having that many pennies means he’ll never have to worry about not having enough coins to use for vending machines while waiting in hospital hallways, schools, or malls. But that is assuming he spends a lot of time in hospitals, schools, or other places with vending machines.

The act was clearly retaliatory, intended to cause inconvenience and frustration. If the amount of the last payment was only fifty bucks, there probably wouldn’t be a case. Mr. Flatten might have even been grateful. But paying tens of thousands of pennies is just petty.

For employees: If you get paid in greased pennies, should you sue?

What Mr. Walker did was technically not illegal. But it sure was vindictive.

Thus, the Labor Department filed a lawsuit against him for retaliating against his former employee, violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. The DOL’s lawsuit also sought around $37,000 in back pay and damages for at least eight staff, accusing him of failing to pay overtime rates and failing to keep accurate records of employees’ work hours and pay rates.

If you run a business and want to get rid of a problematic employee and prefer to rid of said employee asap, just take the high road. Exceptions apply, such as when the employee trashed the coffee machine, jammed the printer on purpose, or leaked sensitive company information on the dark web. Otherwise, you’d be well-served resisting every urge to pay a resigning employee in oil-slicked pennies.

On the other hand, if you’re an employee who’s faced with a difficult boss, do your best to exit gracefully and with as little conflict as possible. But definitely draw the line with former employers paying you in pennies coated in power-steering fluid.

Related reading: How to protect your company from a lawsuit tip #1: Do not throw a surprise party for your employees

Meanwhile, if you are a victim of a slip and fall accident (whether caused by oil, grease, or any other slimy substance) in your workplace in Washington State, call personal injury attorneys Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams. Contact our law offices in Renton, Seattle, or leave us a message.