Monday, April 15, 2013

MONEY MATTERS: Know Your Employee Rights! It could pay off big time


Tax day. What does that mean to you young people? I’m not sure. For me, I started working a real job (so not cleaning or babysitting where I was paid in cash) the day I turned 16. 

March 15, 1996. Minimum wage was around $4.50 and hour and I made a whopping $6.00 and hour much to the envy of everyone my age.

I had been volunteering as a gymnastics coach at the YMCA in Des Plaines, IL for 5 months and knew all along I’d be able to become a real employee at 16. I loved that job more than anything else I did at the time and couldn’t believe that I would get paid. My mom worked full time, we only had one car and hadn’t been able to afford driver’s ed for me until the summer after I turned 16. So my journey to work, even before I got paid, took 1-1 ½ hours and three buses from Skokie to Des Plaines. Many days my mom was able to pick me up in the late evenings after work so I wouldn’t have to take the bus home. The drive was only around 20 minutes. 

The summer after my sophomore year, I worked the Y day camp from 7:30am to late afternoon and then hopped on a short bus ride from the camp site to the Y building and then taught gymnastics classes until 7pm or 8pm. I was in teenage heaven, just living on the high of independence, of making my own fortune, of taking control of my life. And I truly loved my job so that helped a ton. Originally, it wasn’t my boss’ intention to have me working such long days. I remember my punch card (yes we had punch cards!) getting so full in the two week pay periods, I’d have to go onto another card. I never took breaks. I ate lunch with the campers and ate dinner after I got home at night. No one schooled me on the label laws and I hadn’t noticed until late August that in every pay check, 2-4 hours had been taken out each day, five days a week for the entire summer to account for my “breaks.”

Once I realized this, I went into one of the Senior Director’s office and mentioned to him that I hadn’t been taking breaks and that was very clear in looking at the classes I’d been teaching. It’s not like I could’ve snuck out during a preschool gymnastics class to grab a cheeseburger at McDonalds. Being the fair YMCA work environment that they were, in early September, I received a check for $900 to compensate for the break hours and coincidently, those break hours had kept me from overtime pay and they gave me that as well. 

So I guess today my advice ended up being not so much about taxes as it was about first jobs and knowing your employing rights. And I’m not saying that these will be violated intentionally because I don’t believe that’s what happened in my case and I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I quit my full time job to write full time in August 2011. But the four years before that, I was a program director at the YMCA. I managed staff, approved all their time sheets every two weeks, took care of preparing and turning in employee paperwork. Even though I made everyone’s work schedules, we did them by 7 week class sessions and instructors would call other coaches and get substitutes and this would sometimes throw someone into overtime before I could catch it. When I had staff working for multiple departments it was very easy for them to end up with a 12 hour day and no break scheduled. 

When you are hired for your first job and you get that big pile of paperwork, my advice is to take some time, read it through, ask questions and then keep asking questions about what’s legal and not legal. You’d be surprised how easy it can be to have your employee rights violated without anyone being aware of this happening. 

Also! I highly recommend having a higher number of deductions taken out of your pay check and getting a bigger return later, but financial experts will tell you it’s smarter to save that money and let it grow interest rather the government collecting the interest. The question you have to ask yourself is will you actually save that little bit extra in your pay check? Your employee should be able to change your number of deductions at any time, though some will tell you it’s decided when filling out your packet. I’m open to any and all financial related questions you may have!


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