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I recently joined a startup, and I didn't like it all. To begin with the engineers in there think they're the world's best, where in reality all of us are pretty average at best.

However, the thing that I hated the most was that they lied to me multiple times:

  1. The founder told me they were profitable, but 4 weeks in the job I found out they do not make money at all. They have some revenue, but it's pretty minimal compared to the expenses. They survive on VC money.

  2. We agreed that I would work remotely, and visit the office once a month. When I went to the office, the founder pretty much was forcing me to sign a lease, so that I could move there ASAP.

  3. They told me they were pretty relaxed, and they only worked the hours required by law, and understood that family comes first, bla bla bla. First day on the job, the founder emails me, and tells me that the working hours are 9AM - 8PM every single day. But I can have weekends for myself (thank you?)

I'm pretty disappointed. I had many red flags and chose to ignore them. For instance, right before joining the company. The founder refused to give me an offer letter until I had officially resigned from my current company at the time.

I just quit because I can't stand it anymore, this was not the right career move for me. I gave the standard 2 weeks notice, and now the founder emailed me saying that since I worked less than 6 months with them, and I did not add enough value to the team. I should reimburse the company half of my wages.

Do they have any grounds to ask my wages back? It's not like I was slacking, I never missed a deadline, and I never signed anything, nor agreed to reimburse employer if I resigned within 1 year of employment (I had signed clauses like that in the past, when the company assisted me with relocation). It just wasn't a good fit.

What are my options? Can I just ignore his request?

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    comments removed: Comments are intended to help improve a post or seek clarification. Please don't answer the questions in the comments. These can't be easily voted on as the best answers, and they may inadvertently prevent other users from providing real answers. Please see How should I post a useful non-answer if it shouldn't be a comment? for more guidance. – jmort253 May 16 '15 at 0:50
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Run like hell.

You'll be lucky if they even reported your wages.

Keep your pay stubs handy. I have a feeling you're going to have to show the IRS that this company has your tax withholding.

I wouldn't count on seeing your last paycheck, either, seeing as they feel You owe them.

After this email, I'd just say, "No, we're done now." and bag it. I wouldn't count on these guys being around in 3 weeks, let alone 3 years to provide a reference.

EDIT - You say you were paid by direct deposit. That means you likely had something that said they can "correct errors." Move any money you have out of that account IMMEDIATELY. Your bank can help you with this.

Next - If you were paid by an agency like Administaff or similar, you will get all your info without a problem. If it was direct, save every bit of information you can find to prove that you had withholding on your wages, even if it's just your hourly rate, your deposit records, and your timesheets. I have a feeling this will get messy for you. Speak with an accountant as soon as you can, too. They can advise you on what you'd need to keep on hand.

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    What if I was paid via direct deposit? I do not have pay stubs, not even the first one. I still need to return the laptop. I don't feel like visiting the office, and I just want to mail it to the office and not seeing them anymore. I don't think they have an exit interview process or anything like that. – John Wellens May 16 '15 at 1:03
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    Unless im mistaken, a company cannot make you repay wages in return. Something about federal regulation via OSHA and what not. – Virusboy May 16 '15 at 3:01
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    OSHA deals with safety regulations. The department of labor deals with pay issues. – mhoran_psprep May 16 '15 at 3:27
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    "I wouldn't count on seeing your last paycheck, either" In the US employers are legally required to pay employees for all time worked (whether they're salaried or not) and are unable to withhold or otherwise touch your pay check retroactively (i.e. they can only change your compensation for future time worked). Pay schedules are defined by the state and can easily be found online. As I've been told, state labor agencies are quite good at forcing employers to pay overdue pay as heavy fines are usually involved. – Lilienthal Oct 13 '15 at 10:50
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    @Lilienthal...employers most definitely hold the upper hand, and one of the issues is that one must have the RESOURCES to battle a recalcitrant ex-employer. Often, they can simply out-spend or wait you out. Justice and correctness is one thing, legal pragmatics quite another. Often it's WORTH IT to an employer to spend more than they might have just to pay you, if it changes their unemployment compensation category. – dwoz Feb 4 '16 at 23:44
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If your contract was to "produce some specific item, for some specific price" which was paid in weekly increments, and you did not produce the specific item, then they have a point about doing a claw-back on the payments.

HOWEVER, it's almost certain that you were not in that situation, because the company exerted very significant influence on your workday hours and treated you in all respects as a wage employee.

Tell them that when your final paycheck clears, you're going to be eager to return the laptop

(and then close your bank account and open a new one.)

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    I'd move all the money out of the bank account they know about first, before responding to the wage demand. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 13 '15 at 3:22
  • Patricia...from your mouth to God's ear. ditto that. :) – dwoz Oct 13 '15 at 3:54
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    And don't return the laptop until you got all the money they owe you! It's always best if people have a interest to work something out with you. If you have nothing they want anymore, they won't care at all about your money. – Josef Oct 13 '15 at 12:15
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    It's actually kinda sorta not the way it works, to keep company property in lieu of owed wages. You basically need a court's "blessing" to do that. It's not just about the hardware...there's likely lots and lots of proprietary work product, trade secrets, etc. Just deciding that you're going to keep it has the stink of "ransom" and if THEY then bring it to court, you're in pretty murky waters. Never make it an ultimatum, always make it a clear understanding that you have every intention of returning the hardware. – dwoz Oct 13 '15 at 14:20
  • Holding the laptop until wages are paid may not be legal. They could easily cite you for left of company property if they can prove it is theirs. Having police show up at your door for that is not worth the wages I'm sure. – Jim Nov 23 '15 at 4:18

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