Labor and Employment

Money for Nothing: The Case of the Non-Employee

It was a dream job: A steady paycheck, generous pay, excellent working conditions, and flexible hours. So it seemed for five years for an Illinois man who had accepted a job with a large telecommunications company.

Then payday came, and what was once a long line at the Personnel office had turned electronic and invisible. The convenience of "direct deposit" payroll made those long lines a thing of the past. The man learned how to work the system, getting himself to the head of the line even though he had never worked a day for the company that paid him.

Report Payroll Errors Promptly

In this case, the "employee" had actually turned down the job offer, and never worked for the large company at all. Somehow, the company's payroll system didn't get the notice, and sent him more than $470,000 in pay over three years. When someone caught the error, of course the company asked to be paid back and, of course, the man had spent most of it.

These results are to be expected, although people may wrongly assume that in a large company the dollar amounts are absorbed. In reality, however, someone who was knowingly "unjustly enriched" by such errors is expected to return what isnt rightly theirs. This could put you in a very difficult position such as jail - if its already been spent and cant be recovered.

Criminal Prosecution May Occur in the State Where the Money Originated.

In this case, the "non-employee" lived in Illinois, but the company was in New Jersey. The man was charged and sentenced under New Jersey law. He was sentenced to a six-month prison term and ordered to pay back the entire $470,000.

Going to court in another state can be intimidating and frightening, and quite expensive. The judge or jury likely will not be sympathetic to an "outsider" who, it might be viewed, wrongfully deprived one of their own of time, money, or resources. In addition, you'll need to find and retain the services of a local lawyer to work in unfamiliar terrain.

Report Suspicious Circumstances Using Appropriate Channels.

If you learn of fraud in your own company or elsewhere, carefully consider the right way to report it. Whistleblower laws can protect employees, but only under certain circumstances.

Before reporting, however, check the accuracy of your facts. If you have only second-hand, non-verified rumors, you may be putting your job and reputation in peril by reporting something that turns out to be OK.

At worst, you could be putting yourself at risk for a suit for defamation, which is a "false statement of fact".

Seek the advice of an attorney who'll speak with you confidentiality about the positive and negative aspects of reporting troublesome activity. You may choose instead to contact the local Attorney General's office, Better Business Bureau, or prosecutor.

Question for Your Attorney

  • I've been accused of fraud in my company, but its not true. What can I do?
  • How can I find out my company's policy regarding whistleblowing; if I believe someone is committing fraud or using company money inaccurately?
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