Salesman caught in payment dispute

March 5, 2009 9:20:25 PM PST
When you quit a job or get laid off, your employer is required to pay you in a timely manner. One San Francisco man who struggled to get what the law said he was owed.

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Getting laid off is a real threat these days, so knowing your rights is important. This report is an opportunity to learn from someone else's problem.

Ken Jones of San Francisco has stacks of paper work documenting his work at the beginning of last year for J&M Enterprises.

The company, located in South San Francisco, sells vacuum cleaners and advertises on Craigslist.

"And I'm thinking I can try this for a month. Yeah, this feels good. Yeah, I'm good with people. I can do this," said Jones.

Jones went through formal training at J&M with a dozen other people, and learned everything there was to learn about Kirby vacuum cleaners.

Eventually he went door to door selling the vacuums. He quit a month later, but the promised $2,000 pay check never came.

"Because of this $2,000 check, I was that close to homelessness. Fortunately my church paid my rent. My 82-year-old mother had to buy groceries for me," said Jones.

Jones filed a complaint with the California Labor Commission.

"If an employee resigns voluntarily, then wages must be paid within 72 hours," said California Labor Commissioner Angela Bradstreet.

Bradstreet says that includes any accrued vacation pay. She adds if a worker is laid off, that employee must be paid in full the same day.

The more time that goes by, without that pay, the greater the potential penalty levied against the employer.

"The penalties, the waiting time penalties that they're exposed to, often exceed the actual amount of back wages owed," said Bradstreet.

In Jones' case, the Labor Commission ruled J&M Enterprises owed Jones $4,900. He received two and a half times the original amount owed a year ago.

"And I went yes, there is such a thing as justice," said Jones.

But the victory was short lived. Despite the ruling, a month later, Jones had still not been paid. He contacted 7 On Your Side and they called J&M three times, but owner Jared Morales did not return our calls.

So 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney decided to pay the company a visit.

J&M had moved, but we tracked it down to its new location in Burlingame.

"I'm Michael Finney from Channel 7. Is Jared Morales here?"

"He's not here," said an employee.

Employees promised to give our message to Morales. A day later, 7 On Your Side received a call from the Kirby Company. Kirby explained that J&M is an independently owned distributor of Kirby Vacuums an it promised to mediate the complaint. A week later, 7 On Your Side received a fax signed by Jared Morales. In it, Morales promised to send Jones $1,000 a week to satisfy the $4,900 judgment rendered against him.

"What a relief, what a relief. I feel like I've been through a little mini hell," said Jones.

The Kirby Company tells 7 On Your Side it will now conduct a comprehensive audit of J&M Enterprise's business practices.

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