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I work for a consulting company as a developer in Italy. A month ago a major client demanded a replacement for a developer who worked there on a project due to concerns about the quality of their work. A week and an interview later I was put on their project and got a chance to look at the work I inherited, which was awful. I alerted the project manager and the client of the issues with the code that are putting the upcoming release at risk. They're understandably upset and have demanded a refund for the work performed by the previous consultant.

My management has agreed to refund the client for a full month but have informed me they'll be taking that money from my salary. They're saying that they don't want to start legal proceedings to get the money back from the previous consultant.

Now I enjoy what I do, but I obviously work for money and I don't see how I'm responsible for the previous consultants problems. How can I push back against this decision? Or should I be talking to a lawyer instead of trying to work this out?

As it seems relevant: I'm not a PARTITA IVA (VAT) employee; I have a canonical indeterminate-term contract.

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

  • 89
    This is so obviously illegal I'm surprised you even have to ask. – Dmitry Grigoryev May 8 '17 at 9:07
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    @DmitryGrigoryev: the point is not that it's illegal. The point is how to be suitably assertive and get out of the delicate spot without getting fired or blamed for previous consultant's work and reputation damaged. (Should never have parachuted into a disaster project 2 days before release). Even buying a few weeks' time might make a huge difference. Alternatively, it may be time to leave immediately. – smci May 8 '17 at 9:21
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    @DmitryGrigoryev: you're still missing the point. It's not about who's right or wrong, or even documenting that in writing. It's about how to exit the situation without getting stiffed or blamed or reputation damaged, or at least minimizing the stiffing/blaming/rep damage. Say they do withhold EU5,000, would OP really spend EU10,000 in fees or foregone income and 6+ months to recover it? – smci May 8 '17 at 9:46
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    Regardless of how this works out, you should be looking for another job. Best of luck. – Bob Jarvis May 8 '17 at 18:49
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    WHAT?? They want to dock your pay, for someone else's incompetence? And they think this will avoid legal issues? Wow. – PoloHoleSet May 8 '17 at 21:34
210

Given that you have a contract with your employer, deducting your pay in a unilaterally decision is obviously illegal. Your employment contract basically states that you do a certain work and in return get a certain amount of money for this work - So lowering this amount is a breach of the contract and therefore illegal. You should first talk to your boss (in company A) and tell them that you are not accepting any deduction of your pay. If they still insist, make them aware that this is illegal. If they still insist escalate the problem to HR. If there is still no solution you might want to talk to a lawyer and at the same time look for a new job.

Your pay can't simply be deducted because you are underperforming. Even more so if someone else entirely is underperforming.

It might not have been the smartest move to blame the problems on the previous consultant (who is your coworker), but instead you should have pointed out the problems with the code without blaming anyone. It is understandable when your manager at company A is unhappy about this mistake on your part and you might get a warning (or even get fired; although this is rather extreme), but they can not simply deduct your pay.

  • 114
    "at the same time look for a new job" seems the most pertinent line here. Employment is a relationship between two parties. If one party doesn't demonstrate respect it will necessarily result in a break in the relationship. – Crisfole May 5 '17 at 12:18
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    "but instead you should have pointed out the problems with the code" and with 5 minutes of looking at the repo everyone would knew the exact coworker is to blame - I believe this distinction is nonexistent, not really. Especially that OP just "alerted (...) of the issues with the code" - quite possibly it wasn't even OP who called names here. – Mołot May 5 '17 at 12:52
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    @Mołot as you understood, i did not tell the name of my colleague, but was pretty obvious who did the mess... – Anon May 5 '17 at 13:36
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    @IDrinkandIKnowThings whatever contract law exists in Italy - it's a very safe assumption that there is no provision in OP's contract which allows arbitrary pay deduction for the negative performance of others – Jeutnarg May 5 '17 at 18:07
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    Cleaning up a terrible developer's mess should cause them to pay you MORE not LESS. – corsiKa May 6 '17 at 2:12
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They'll be taking that money from my salary.

Hah. That's not how these things work. Italy's employment laws are pretty complex but there is such a thing as a "fair wage law". Employees have the right to a wage that at a minimum approaches the average for their industry and that average is probably not 0. Beyond that there's also the simple matter that an employer-employee relationship is universally considered to be a business transaction where you trade your time for their money and that's usually outlined in a contract that will include salary. They can't simply decide not to pay you. This is plainly illegal and will never hold up in court, though this situation should never get that far. In most countries there is a deadline by which you have to be paid for hours worked and if they let that pass the bureaucracy kicks into gear and the employer starts racking up fines and late payment fees. Often payment of salary will happen automatically, and Italy does seem to have a similar system to pay lost wages to employees.

This isn't legal advice as my knowledge of Italian labour law is limited. You'll want to contact your equivalent of a Labour Ministry or Department of Labour, or an Employee Advocacy group to get actual legal advice.

They're saying that they don't want to start legal proceedings to get the money back from the previous consultant.

And they'd have to do the same to get it from you.

Beyond legal issues, this is also completely nonsensical. You are not at fault here. The previous developer screwed up so even if they could then demand his salary back, which they legally can't. Demanding restitution for shoddy work is also usually considered unethical, in Western office cultures at least. Bad performance is grounds for being fired but never gives an employer the right to demand their salary back. That's just a cost of doing business and those should always be carried by the company, never the employees.

So now what?

Well, you should first respond to this mail in an appropriate fashion. Disbelief and ridicule would be the emotions I'd go with here. A sample script:

I can see why the company has requested a refund and why you have decided to grant one considering the importance of their business to us. But I will obviously not be giving up any of my salary for this. My work so far has been of a high standard and I've always gotten good reviews on that. The fact that the previous developer dropped the ball is concerning but not my fault and it's not my responsibility to shoulder this financial burden. I'm frankly stunned that you would even suggest such a bizarre arrangement and aren't aware that it would be illegal to withhold my pay for the hours/days I've worked.

Add something along the lines of "please confirm that I'll still be paid as normal". Some very direct language would be appropriate here but you should obviously remain professional in all communication here.

This should hopefully be enough to clear up any misunderstanding that might be at work or, if they're actually serious, make them realise that what they're doing is insane. If you get any kind of resistance it's time to bring HR into this, escalate to higher management or find a lawyer.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S May 7 '17 at 11:52
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    @Jane_S While a couple of those comments were off-topic, I don't believe some of those comments - the ones that pointed out that this approach is unnecessarily combative - needed to be removed. – ThatGuy May 7 '17 at 21:53
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    I don't believe the moderators can (easily) move some-but-not-all of the comments to chat. Moving all to chat is the normal thing to do in this case. – Joe May 8 '17 at 14:20
39

While I totally agree with the other answers that it would be illegal to withhold pay from you. I think there is another aspect that is worth looking at.

If you discover substandard work that has been done by your company it is generally a bad idea to start by pointing that out to the customer. It's much better to take the information to your own company in the first instance, and let them deal with the issue. I can think of a number of ways the company could have handled this that might have prevented the refund being needed. Note that I'm not advocating anything underhand or a cover-up, just allowing the company to manage how information is disclosed.

So in a sense you really might have cost your company that amount of money. I'm not going to repeat the other advice about how to respond to this.

EDIT: The timescale described by Anon in comments would have made doing anything different very difficult, but I'll leave this answer as a reference for others.

  • 3
    i thought that too, but release had to be like 2 /3 days after, and wasting time contacting my company and letting them take advantage or handling the news (note that the code being a mess was not something surprising), would led to a bad release and maybe also a worst image of my company. on the other side pointing out immediately the problem gava me time to reasonably put a cover on the code to let the release work – Anon May 5 '17 at 13:43
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    That timescale does make a difference. I presume you did keep your company informed as well? – DJClayworth May 5 '17 at 13:48
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    It may have been a mistake to badmouth the previous consultant's code to the client. But that's irrelevant. It is illegal and batshit insane to try to deduct the cost from the OP's salary. – stannius May 5 '17 at 14:56
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    Whether he cost the company money or not is utterly irrelevant. They owe him his wages regardless. – Jack Aidley May 6 '17 at 9:05
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    @DJClayworth: The company would have lost that money because they did a bad job. The fact that the client discovers the bad job doesn't mean they lose money because of the discovery, they lose money because of the bad job. So losing this money is not damage caused by the OP. – gnasher729 May 6 '17 at 11:49
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Contracts are very strict in Italy, and unless you signed a not standard one, they have specific minimum wage tables and hourly/monthly wages clearly defined.

There are very limited cases your employer can subtract any amount from it, and that is if you willfully cause economic damage to your company (this has to be very well documented) or if you suddenly quit without giving your notice.

Read your contract from start to end, and see if there are specific clauses that could apply, then verify with your employer if you're going to be paid as normal. If not, immediately contact a lawyer or your labor union.

It will take a while to get your money back and you will probably lose some as it's a long and costly process (Italian law for you). I'd also start polishing my resume, as your work environment will become toxic if you decide to sue your employer.

EDIT (thanks to luk32): it might be that your employer considers you telling the customer a direct damage to the company, so he might have some legal ground for deducting your pay, however what you did must be well documented and usually must be found to have been malicious beyond doubt.
There might be regulations for pay deduction due to willful damage in your contract.
If this seems to be the case, immediately contact a lawyer.

  • 10
    Very important to verify that you will be paid as normal or not. Something that comes across as this bizarre could easily come down to a miscommunication. – Myles May 5 '17 at 16:15
  • "However, the act must be well documented and should usually be malicious without doubts." -- Is that what you meant to write? – doppelgreener May 8 '17 at 13:45
  • @doppelgreener I've edited the answer, is it more clear? – BgrWorker May 8 '17 at 14:00
  • @BgrWorker Is "malicious" ("characterized by malice; intending or intended to do harm") actually the word you mean to use there, though? You're saying the action the asker took will usually be found as intended to do harm without doubts. – doppelgreener May 8 '17 at 14:19
  • @doppelgreener I made a slight edit to make that part more clear, I think it was obvious to me what OP meant but definitely not clear in an english language sense (due to the couple of missing words). Not implying the action was malicious but implying the action must be found to have been malicious in order to be actionable. BgrWorker, if this isn't what you intended to say I apologize and please revert. – Joe May 8 '17 at 14:23
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I agree with the other replies about the unethical behavior of your current company, and also about the fact that it is an illegal move.

As an Italian who has had some issue with previous employers, I may advice you to seek help from a union. Depending on the area where you live you could have different choices; however, if you live in a rural area (let's say a Southern province of the country), seek help from some big one like Cgil, Cisl or Uil; if you are in a city or something like that, Cobas are also fine.

Even if you are not part of their organizations, phone them, take an appointment and speak with them. They are usual friendly and knowledgeable, they will tell you your rights and the obligations of the company.

It is likely that they will suggest you to write to them referring to some law to defend your rights, and in case of a negative reply, they would ask you to join them (the annual fee is very low), and then they will defend you.

The situation you described could be one where the company is trying to exploit your lack of knowledge of the norms that regulate the law market. There is a huge probability that if you reach the point where the union will contact them, they will try to find an agreement immediately, because they will know that you are ready to fight.

Furthermore, as one of the basic rule of life in Italy, do all the communications about this issue in written form! For no reason accept an official reply without a written reply, if something is decided in a meeting, ask them to put it in written form, and then in case agree or not based on what is written. Never before.

Small edit, lawyers are also a valuable resource, but they are more expensive, and you should try first with an union, in my opinion.

  • Where I live some (all?) unions include optional insurance packages (at low rates) in their membership, among which is often insurance for legal fees ("rechtsbijstandsverzekering" in Dutch). – 11684 May 5 '17 at 17:02
  • In Italy, they will help you with legal issues that are work (or even tax and housing) related using internal resources, in case they have also legal teams that work for them. Companies know it and therefore are more willing to find an agreement with the unionist, instead of going to the court. – Pampa Nello May 5 '17 at 17:16
15

I've read through all the other answers, and there's just one important thing missing from all of them.

Don't act prematurely. In particular, don't suddenly refuse to work when a paycheck has not been missed.

Being told the money will come out of your pay is of course outrageous. But, if it has not come out yet, there is a chance that this outrageous action will be stopped before it actually is executed.

That doesn't mean you stick your head in the sand. It means you don't assume the information you were given was official.

If you assume that this nonsensical statement is nonsense and will obviously not take effect, and you communicate from that standpoint, you have a good chance to make that come true in fact.

In other words, respond to the email (I assume it was an email?) with something to this effect:

Hey, I understand your frustration with the financial burden imposed by refunding customer money for my predecessor's poor work. Obviously that wasn't due to my work, so as my work has been and continues to be of high quality, I will continue to expect my usual salary as according to our contract.

I'm sure I can count on the finance office to fulfill the company's duty to direct deposit my salary, as usual, on ___ date.

Please let me know any other technical requests/questions/suggestions regarding the cleanup of the XYZ code for our ABC client; I'm giving the matter top priority.

In other words, call their bluff. Downplay the issue. Even if the person who said you won't be paid is some high executive, there are many people who have to cooperate to actually cut off your pay. (The person who calls the payroll company, the person who signs the checks, so on.) And there is at least the chance that those people will query the matter. Especially if you continue to communicate in a positive fashion and address the issue.

Yes, you can blow it up into a big problem. But how about leaving that for them to do?

If your pay hasn't been late yet, just downplay the issue, laugh it off as obvious nonsense and illegal to boot, and carry on doing a good job.

  • Even dough I like your approach, keep in mind that legal ways in Italy "don't work", so if you may need some pressure from your side (like not to work anymore). I don't say that's the first thing the OP should do but I would still consider that as a (bad but probably necessary) option. – Mayou36 May 6 '17 at 10:35
  • @Mayou36 indeed, if the pay actually has been stopped, as in: no deposit by the time it should have occurred, perhaps plus two day margin, then time for a cheery "ciao" and a bland note to the effect that: "it doesn't seem like a likely way to keep or regain the customer's trust—and the money they pay—to let their work languish even further, but you wish the management luck in finding a programmer as good as you who's willing to work for free. And you remain happily ready to resolve the problems and save the day if they pay you, and you won't be in to work until and unless they do." :) – Wildcard May 6 '17 at 10:52
  • There are several problems with your suggested wording. First of all, "hey", no. Secondly, its premise is that you should get paid because your work is of good quality; no, you should get paid because that's the condition of employment. "I'm sure I can count on" Obviously not otherwise you wouldn't be writing, so that's just kind of snarky. "I'm giving the matter top priority" Your boss sets your priorities, not you – Lightness Races in Orbit May 6 '17 at 14:16
  • @Wildcard: There is no need to be rude. I have simply provided peer feedback, as is not only my right but also my duty. You can choose to integrate my feedback into improving your answer, or you can ignore it; entirely up to you. – Lightness Races in Orbit May 7 '17 at 0:18
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    @Wildcard: Being able to deduct payment due to lacking quality and value of work would be an open invitation for far too many unreasonable employers to purposefully downplay quality and value of the work of their employees to avoid or reduce payment. Even if that is damaging in the long run for the company, it will still be done. So the legal agreement must be the reason for being paid, and it is the safest argument to rely on. – Thern May 8 '17 at 8:17
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I don't see how I'm responsible for the previous consultants problems.

That's irrelevant. Even if you were responsible, they are still violating your rights by docking your pay. That's also why they don't want to start proceedings against the previous consultant: They can't.

The only thing they can do to get that money is to ask both you, and the previous consultant to give them the money, and hope you agree to gift them the money.

First, make sure you have written proof that you told them you do not agree to gift them the money.

If you have the funds to wait a few weeks, wait until you get your monthly salary* and if it's short, notify them of the outstanding balance they owe you.

If they don't resolve the issue at that point, contact a lawyer.


*Here I hope you have a monthly payment as part of your contract - if you agreed to a lump sum payment only after the end of a couple months of work, cut your losses and run.

4

One thing that hasn't been mentioned: Even if the company had a good legal reason to want money from you, they are not allowed to dock your pay. It's illegal, even if they could for example prove that you intentionally destroyed company property or something similar, and you owed them money for that reason.

The only way they could proceed legally in such a case would be to pay your salary, and then take you to court. It is highly illegal to try and take the shortcut of not paying your salary.

Another thing that hasn't been mentioned: Intentionally not paying your salary can count as constructive dismissal. It's bad enough if a company runs out of money, but it's worse if they just refuse to pay. You might discuss this with the client company and possibly with an employment lawyer, but there would be the chance to work as a contractor for the client company, which would likely be more money for you, and less money for them to pay.

0

This sounds like a toxic company. Do YOU think it is acceptable to have your pay reduced because of something someone else did? Absolutely not.

It was a bad idea to tell the client about the previous developers work - should have kept your mouth shut, done the work you are paid to do and collect your payslip. Let your superiors worry about deadlines.

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