Solution Saturday: They’re Paying Him Under the Table
I have been with a company for over 18 years. I was the “Jack of all trades” for a very long time. I did everything from managing to marketing. I have a post-secondary undergraduate degree. I have made my career in business management as an Executive Assistant to a large firm to a COO of my current firm.
The job has added 3 or 4 more people since my first day but not enough to talk about. I am the only woman in the company. There are 16 of us. I actually hired the accountant. He was hired a few years ago. His salary was lower than mine by about $5,000.
I just found out that the accountant is getting paid part of his salary under the table to the tune of $15K more. Funny thing, I do the payroll. So my boss doesn’t want me to know that he makes more than I do. It’s a smoke screen.
He’s even come to me during reviews and asked me to give up the payroll and let him do it! I told him that it would feel like a demotion to me. Here I’ve worked for years taking care of the company and doing all kinds of personal things for him to picking up dry cleaning, shopping for his girlfriend, etc. Now he is asking me to hand over a privileged part of my job to someone I hired!
So the accountant gets tax free money all year and the two of them have a big secret. The extra he gets does not go onto payroll. Are they sparing me? What!?? I’m a big girl but I also know that my job description should make as much as his does.
Why does his “extra” have to be a big secret? Gosh, I am the COO, I can take it! It makes no sense to me at all.
I feel that I’ve waited long enough to ask for more money. The going rate for what I do is about $20K more than what I am being paid. Am I a sucker? I love my job and care about the people I work with/for. I do payroll, all the HR, Asst. Project Manager, Receptionist, mail, COO, Marketing, Business Development, do all the Facebook page, maintain and built the website, order business cards, order the lunches, clothing with embroidery, all the cell phones and WiFi jet packs, iPads, laptops, plan parties, flight travel, customer service, cleaning, etc., I could go on and on and on and on.
I’d like to hear what others feel about this. It’s really bugging me. It’s making me feel like not doing as much work or as good. It’s really a crappy thing to find out. I guess you gotta be in charge of the $$$$ to rate here.
My boss is really a nice person and is nice to me, just a bit for the guys I think. It’s just not fair in my eyes. What irks me the most is he is getting paid privately and not on payroll.
Thanks for your insights,
Your situation, for the most part, is beyond my area of expertise. I feel safe to ask questions and bring up issues. I’ll begin with some observations.
Before doing anything, confirm your suspicions. It’s possible you don’t know the full situation. I doubt it. But we’ve all made decisions based on wrong assumptions. It would be sad to make important decisions and find out you had wrong information. Let’s assume your current perspective is accurate.
You wrote, “My boss is really a nice person and is nice to me, just a bit for the guys I think.”
Nice people don’t defraud the government. Nice people don’t take advantage of employees. Nice people don’t pay the COO less than an accountant.
- If your boss gave you an appropriate increase in pay would you stay?
- If your boss gave you an appropriate increase in pay would that re-establish trust?
- If your boss gave you an appropriate increase in pay would that make you feel respected?
I suspect your answers to the above questions are, “NO.”
I generally suggest people stay and work through their issues. In this case, I suggest you sharpen your resume’ and quietly look for a new job.
It’s difficult to bring your best when you feel disrespected, but you must. Continue bringing your best to your organization because it’s who YOU are. It serves you well.
You strike me as a person who is nice to a fault. You might want to read Give and Take by Adam Grant. You may be a Giver who is being taken advantage of by a Taker.
You enjoy your relationships at work. You can kiss them goodbye if you act on this inequity. If you leave and your friends stay, they will be loyal to the company.
“One of the most commonly reported forms of discrimination focused on earnings inequality. One-in-four employed women said they have earned less than a man who was doing the same job; just 5% of men said they have earned less than a woman doing the same job.” (PEW Research)
There are reasons why two people doing the same job would be paid differently – experience and education, for example. A 20 year employee should make more doing the same job that a 5 year employee does.
If anything, your experience suggests you should be paid more than the accountant. I’m not considering the difference in job title.
You might want to get some legal advice.
You have my best,
What suggestions do you have for What-to-do?
*I relax my 300 word limit on weekends.
If they are paying somebody under the table, with cash in brown bags, I think you should walk away right now. If you bring your best self to an organisation that’s bent like a corkscrew, It sends the message that you are complicit in, and approving of, the behaviour of the organisation. Get out.
What would you do if your boss told you that the accountant was delivering more value that you and he would be paid a higher salary? I’m going to set aside the behavior from your boss and the fact that being the only woman contributed to the situation. You can’t change those things. You can change how you present yourself to new opportunities.
It sounds like you never made the transition from the job as an Executive Assistant to being a COO. The achievements you describe are mostly tasks that needed done and not big picture strategic leadership in the company. If your intention is to be a COO in a new opportunity, some coaching on making the shift to that level would be a worthwhile investment. The accountant may have been delivering the strategy leadership that your boss was expecting from you.
When you are a generalist and do everything you dilute your value. Going forward, if you could pick one part of your job(s) that you both really enjoy and are great at, what would it be? Make your resume and job search targeted at that one part and leave off the list of all the things that you have been doing that are not related to that. Showing that you can do everything doesn’t get you more credit.
The length of time you have been in the job is no longer the primary criteria for higher pay. Some tough reflection around how you can grow personally around the type of value you create is probably the most effective way to find a great match for next opportunity. That could involve being really honest with yourself about whether you desire an executive assistant position or leadership position.
All the best to you!
Rebecca’s comments & suggestions may be difficult to implement well, a part from some expert coaching.
Please do so, anyway, as you sound like a wonderful, productive, even exemplary person in a far-less-than-adequate situation.
I also noted the list of “tasks” you mentioned. Funny because I had been feeling underutilized in my position and underappreciated. I have been at my present company for over 18 years. I am well known and well liked. Respected for my talent and contribution? Maybe, to some degree, but not enough somehow.
Less than 2 years ago I got a new boss, someone hired from outside the company. He spent months listening to me and coaching me. His primary office is in a different location than mine so we didn’t have a lot face to face opportunities. This resulted in him “seeing” me differently. On one occasion, he was working from my office and it was a day we were having an office celebration. It was not my job, or my party to host. However, when I see someone that needs help I am usually first to volunteer. I had offered to pick up the cupcakes on the way into work. I came into the office that morning, got a cart and proceeded to get the cupcakes from my car, then help with the setup. The celebration was a huge success, everyone had a good time. During my next coaching session with my boss, he told me to avoid being the “cupcake lady.” I was flabbergasted! It took no extra effort for me to do it, really. I enjoy being helpful to others. I didn’t see the big deal. He let it sit awhile. I kept thinking about it. Am I not supposed to be nice? Courteous? Decent even? Frustration set in big time. What happened was interesting.
I started to see all the little things I was doing, that were just tasks and did not drive performance. If I wanted the higher leadership role I had been after, I had to change how I was “perceived.” Whether that perception was right or wrong was irrelevant. People “saw” a pleasant person who was capable and willing to do a variety of things. I have a hard time saying no. I am humble. I lead by example. There is little I am unwilling to do. What I had to learn was, the executive team members did not cart in cupcakes, however, our CEO is always ready and willing to cut the cake and serve everyone. He is well known and also well liked. Is it harder for me to say no because I am a woman? Do people only ask me to help with things because I am a woman? I don’t think that is the differentiation. It is what I have led them to believe through their experience with me. If I want them to see me differently, then I have to change their experience. This has taken time. There are things I don’t volunteer for that I used to, it hasn’t taken anything away from the value I bring. Quite the opposite. I am still nice and I will still help but now instead of “doing” everything, I pay attention. I make observations and suggest possible solutions and suggest others who might benefit from the task. I have been able to delegate tasks that might fall to me to others, so they gain experience. In the end, we all are learning and we all win. I am now working on a larger scope of organizational leadership change. I have plenty to do and there wouldn’t have been room to even think on this level if I hadn’t started to shift.
I would ‘give up the payroll and let him do it’.
I have not read Give and Take, but Dan’s recommendation sounds like a good one — to start with a bit of study and self reflection and to help you consider not just your boss’s behavior, but also yours. This by no means should create any type of moral equivalence between sketchy, off-the-books behavior and your amazing work ethic and intentions. It’s just to encourage self reflection to look at where you also may be participanting in giving more than the scope of your job (which in theory is typically a good thing) or perhaps is more than your boss is capable of appreciating.
I would consider some of the following:
1. Ask questions and be proactive. i.e. have you received a formal review to discuss what’s working and what your boss feels needs attention? We often don’t know what’s inside someone else’s head because they often don’t know how to deliver honest feedback and they default to taking an “avoid” approach. Paying the accountant off the books to save your feelings is a huge indicator that this could be at play. Ensure there is nothing going on in his own mind that is different from how you perceive your own performance. This doesn’t mean he’s “Right,” it just may shed light on any gaps between your thinking and his.
2. Advocate for yourself. Ask for what you want and feel you need. Make sure the timing is right. Consider exploring what other roles and jobs are available before you do this to get real data about what your role, in combination with your education and background, pays and what other options are available to you outside of this company. We all like to think that we should be fairly compensated by the proactive goodwill of others. But often it happens based on our own initiative by asking for what we want.
3. Consider the famous quote by W. Edward Deming: “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” Or… said a little differently (which I learned from the sage management consultant and executive coach, Marsha Clark), “if you have a good person in a bad system, the system will win every time…” You might just be in a bad system, however much you’ve grown there and love it. Decide if you can still work within it and feel fulfilled and happy. If not, it might be time to explore other options and continue to grow all those wonderful skills and gifts you have in a place that will appreciate it and pay you fairly. Just a few ideas to “try on.”
This quote/saying (don’t know who said it) guides me daily: “The problem is not the issue, it’s how we deal with it that makes the difference.”
You will never know if to stay the direction your on.
There comes a time to sit down and have a one on one with the Boss.
If you dont ask the questions of under the table and who is responsible for fraud? May help you create your path?
Only you know in your heart is what is right for you!
It sounds like you have a great deal of duties that should have been given to an executive assistant to do and enable you to have appropriate time to be able to function as a COO. Your boss may be nice but will you ever be able to trust him even if he were to increase your salary. He is not showing you respect for all that you do and it is difficult to work when you don’t feel appreciated even if compensated correctly. Lastly, the payments under the table are concerning from a labor law perspective and now you are aware of them which puts you in a difficult position. I agree you should look for another job. I have a neighbor in a situation where she had been waiting years to feel appreciated at her job and tell her the same thing that it is unfair to get and she needs to look for something else. Be true to yourself.
Best of luck to you
I feel your are at the wrong place! The organisation culture speaks of unwarranted practice as adopted by the seniors. Discriminating employees based on a gender or work unofficially is an unfair practice! It proves that you are being neglected despite everything good in your performance.
You may please leave the organization to avoid the likely disturbances in future.
1. Find yourself a better place to work!
2. Paying your colleague under the table is deceptive on so many levels and this organization should be held accountable-for the cash payments and for discrimination against women. Your boss knows this is wrong otherwise he would simply pay your colleague via payroll. On behalf of the women coming after you, hold this organization accountable.
If your suspicions are true then make an exit plan now. Any organization that is paying someone under the table is trouble. Because if they are willing to do that, then what else might they be doing? If the owner is paying the accountant under the table, what might the accountant be doing under the table?
You’ve provided wonderful guidance in your questions & observations. She sounds like she has terrific breadth of experience. Her boss is not going to change his way of running a company. As hard as it is when you’ve given your all to an employer (I know, I’ve been there), it’s time to move on.