Workplace Navigator: I Work at a Nonprofit and I Want My Money

Workplace Navigator: I Work at a Nonprofit and I Want My Money

Question: I am a day care teacher for a nonprofit that serves limited-income families.

Every two weeks, we receive our pay by paper check and can cash the checks only at the bank used by the nonprofit. However, there is not always enough money in the nonprofit’s account to cover all the checks. Those who delay getting to the bank may have to wait up to an additional week to receive their pay.

I still live at home and will soon be leaving to pursue a master’s degree, but other staff rely on their check for rent and food. I believe the nonprofit exploits some workers who come from outside the United States and are surprised when they learn that other companies pay their employees regularly. What can we do about this?

A: Nonprofit organizations that depend on external funding sources often contend with unpredictable income fluctuations, according to Paula Brantner, senior adviser at the nonprofit Workplace Fairness. Annual grants and end-of-year surges in charitable donations have to be made to stretch through the lean seasons.

But whatever the reasons, floating paychecks is unacceptable from multiple angles.

To start, federal employment law requires wage payment on a regular schedule; most state labor agencies have rules about what constitutes a regular payday. And “you have to actually pay (employees), not hand them a worthless piece of paper,” said Declan Leonard of law firm Berenzweig Leonard.

From the banking angle, it’s illegal to knowingly issue bad checks. And it appears your employer requires workers to take their checks to its own bank because it is aware the account may have insufficient funds and, if so, the bank will decline to pay, protecting your employer from overdrafts and penalty fees.

Finally, your nonprofit employer’s board of directors has a fiduciary duty to ensure the organization is managing funds properly and not committing labor violations. Many boards have a whistleblower policy to protect workers who report such issues, Brantner said.

Local workers’ rights centers can provide guidance and help employees take action, such as filing a complaint with the state labor agency, reporting bad checks to law enforcement or notifying the governing board. And a soon-to-be-departing colleague may be just the person to help organize and encourage vulnerable co-workers to seek out that guidance.

Of course, ratting out your employer may mean disrupting the valuable services you provide. But consider that even in the for-profit sector, child-care workers in the United States are famously underpaid for their crucial labor — with a median salary of $21,170 a year, according to 2016 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — and many rely on public assistance to help support their own families. Turning them away empty-handed on payday is a service to no one.

Q: I’m 14. My older siblings are in their early 20s, yet they don’t have jobs. They supposedly have social anxiety and can’t talk on the phone except with close friends. We all live with our parents, who are divorced but still living together. Money is a pretty big issue, and there is conflict. My mom tried to make the family go to counseling, but it didn’t help. I’ve tried finding work at places that offer positions for my age, with no luck. Sometimes it feels like if I don’t get a job, we won’t even have a house anymore.

I’ve tried motivating my siblings by telling them how many jobs there are and how much it’d help, but they are stubborn. This may sound strange for my age, but I’m concerned about them. Do you have any motivation or ways to get them to work?

A: First, if it helps to hear this, you are not alone. Your situation — money tight, jobs scarce and emotions high — reflects the challenges many families face in the current economy.

It’s been well-documented that millennials, the generation your siblings are in, are facing a tough job market. And though it’s hard to find exact data, experts in the field are increasingly hearing of couples who have children and have decided that though the marriage is over, “financially it makes sense to continue to live together,” according to Mindy Scott, who studies family relationships for the nonprofit research organization Child Trends.

You’re clearly a caring, perceptive person who wants to do your part. Unfortunately, there are limits to how you can or should help.

Supporting your family financially is not your responsibility. Right now, your main job is to focus on two things: school and self-care.

Author: Karla L. Miller

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