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I had one in-person interview yesterday at a small law firm. An hour after the interview, they called to tell me that I got the job. After I negotiated my salary, they told me that I should start working the next day. They did not give me my salary or benefits in writing. I was not worried because of the abbreviated schedule. I thought they would give it to me in person the next day.

Today I showed up for my first day. They did not have my written offer letter ready, so I asked for it. They then reprimanded me and told me that I did not need it. They refuse to give it to me.

Is this common? And if it is not common, are there any ways I can protect myself. Given the economy right now, I cannot afford to lose this job.

Further info:

  • I confirmed on the state Bar website that these lawyers are licensed.
  • So far I have filled out a W-4, I-9, arbitration agreement, and direct deposit information. I haven't filled out any paperwork on benefits or sick days.
  • This is for an entry level position.
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    Are you sure you actually have this job? As in, you feel certain that they'll actually pay you on pay day? Have you done any of the typical new hire paperwork like getting set up for benefits, etc. – BSMP Jun 30 at 19:30
  • What is the position you are supposed to be taking in the firm? Have you checked of this is even a legit company? As this is law firm, they should have some ties with your state bar association, and you can check registries online. At the very least the lawyers there should be findable. – Tymoteusz Paul Jun 30 at 19:31
  • @TymoteuszPaul I checked the state Bar website. I can't find any disciplinary actions against them. – Rafterman Jun 30 at 19:36
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    Did they ask you to fill out a w-4 or w-9 form? – TTT Jun 30 at 20:00
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    @Lilienthal They told me that I would get more information about PTO/sick days after my probation period. They also said that there was no dental or vision insurance. I would have to find my own health insurance, but they would reimburse me for every doctors visit. I'm assuming that I'm an employee because I filled out a W-4 form, but I'm not sure how to check. – Rafterman Jul 1 at 19:31
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As a compromise between working a pay period and seeing what happens and refusing to work until you have a written offer, consider the following:

Write up your understanding of pay rate, benefits, etc., all the terms you would expect in an offer letter. E-mail to your boss, saying "This is my understanding of the terms, please correct anything you disagree with.". Send a copy of the e-mail to your personal address, in addition to any work address you have been given.

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Do it yourself. Ask lots of questions.

Figure out your pay, probation period, vacation time, benefits, ask if they have an employee manual, etc.

Then, email them, state that you've already started working for them, summarize what they've told you, throw in a couple of assumptions about paid vacation time/sick leave, the starting dates of your benefits, etc.

And ask them to confirm your summary. Either they'll confirm it, or they won't. But either option will be better than you just waiting on them to see what they give you.

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I don't know about law specifically, but this is most definitely not normal. I've never had or been offered a job without an offer letter in hand, in writing. I've had verbal offers that I have had to accept before receiving a formal offer letter, and then signing it was more of a formality, that has happened, but I've never not had the offer letter before my first working day.

Do you know your salary, and do you know when payday is? If you are serious about working at this place despite how illegal that work may or may not be, my recommendation would be to work until payday and see what happens. On payday, see if they pay you. If they pay you, then great; you should still get the letter in writing but at least you know they're not scamming you. If they don't pay you, then quit on the spot; you said "I cannot afford to lose this job", but if the job is not paying you then you most certainly can afford to lose it and you should find a job that is going to pay you.

In addition to getting your paycheque on payday, you should also ask for a pay slip. Without a formal contract, you don't know what your employment status is, e.g. if they've classified you as a contractor or part-timer or something else in order to e.g. not pay payroll taxes on your salary. So you should ask for your pay slip so you know what deductions have been made, e.g. with respect to local income taxes, pensions, and so on, to make sure you don't get a nasty surprise on your next tax return.

Of course, in general, my suggestion would be "don't work without a contract, just quit now and save yourself the hassle". But if that is not an option for you, then work for a single pay period and see if the company is legit; the worst that can happen is you work for free for 2 weeks before you quit (and also report them to the BAR or other legal oversight organization if you can!), which in the grand scheme of things there are worse things that can happen in life.

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  • This is probably the best OP can do. Although this is apparently a real law firm I still wouldn't be surprised if they pay OP less than the rate they negotiated over the phone. – BSMP Jun 30 at 20:33
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Is this common? And if it is not common, are there any ways I can protect myself. Given the economy right now, I cannot afford to lose this job.

It is not common at all. The way to protect yourself is to refuse to do any work without a written agreement. Without a written agreement, there is no job for you to lose as you have not been formally hired. Any work that you perform is essentially for free and there is no legally binding agreement for you to be paid for your work.

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    The OP has filled out W-4 forms - that means they have a job and will be paid. Not all jobs do have written job offers. – thursdaysgeek Jun 30 at 20:26
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As you confirmed in the comments that this company is legitimate, we can move to the meat of it (honestly I expected it to be a scam).

Today I showed up for my first day. They did not have my written offer letter ready, so I asked for it. They then reprimanded me and told me that I did not need it. They refuse to give it to me.

Is this common? And if it is not common, are there any ways I can protect myself. Given the economy right now, I cannot afford to lose this job.

This is weird and alarming, but apparently not unhear of in the US where you can be employed without a written contract. In many countries that is unacceptable, but in some states of USA that is apparently a valid way to do employment at will.

What you need to do to protect yourself is to collect all the proof you may have about what you've agreed to; copy of the original job advert, take your own notes of how the call went, the interview, anything that relates - put it down together as text and email it to yourself which will give you quite reliable way to date when the notes were written down. Literally try to make the notes as specific as you can recall, but also do not embellish - if you do not remember something - note that down too. Ideally you will have relatively close transcript of all your exchanges.

This may not sound like much but having those notes taken down and properly dated goes a long way if there is a dispute down the line regarding the employment and estabilishing what was, and wasn't agreed to. Besides that, as you say, you cannot risk the job, so you just have to keep working and hope for the best. Maybe keep looking for another job if you can find the time, just in case.

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