What About Pay Owed To Me, Now That Boss Has Passed Away?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how to get a final payout from a job.

Question: I am doing construction and assisting a sub-contractor and our boss had a heart attack on the job site and passed away. What do we do? We’re having a hard time getting paid.

Response: We specialize in workplace communication issues, rather than employment law or business continuity. However, we will make some suggestions about your concerns and perhaps it will help you find some other resources. I can imagine how upsetting this is and hope it is settled soon!…..

An obvious first option is to consult with an attorney about it. You might only need one meeting or even just a phone call. Find out what it will cost you for an opinion or advice, so you don’t spend more than you will be making. Look for an attorney who specializes in labor law or, in a small town, any attorney who has a general practice.

When you talk to anyone about this, be prepared to provide proof that you did work on the days for which you say you need to be paid. If you have an email or text requesting your work, that might be proof. Or, if there is something specific you did that can be clearly proven, that might be enough. If you’ve been paid in the past, you could use those records or check copies to show what you were paid by the hour or for similar work. Your bank would have the check copies, since most of us don’t get copies back anymore.

You could also communicate with his survivors on your own. If your deceased boss had only a small sub-contracting business, his family or work partners will be responsible for either keeping the business going or closing down. They will also be responsible for paying salaries out of the estate. If you haven’t already done so, send a formal letter to the executor of his will, in care of the senior survivor (a spouse, older son, brother, etc.) and state your monetary claim and when it was owed to you. Say that a check can be sent to you at a specific address. Give your phone number and ask that they contact you if there are any questions and to let you know when to expect the check.

If you don’t know if he had a will or not, just send it to the survivor you know about, saying the same things. You can say you are sorry to be communicating about business at this time, but you depend upon the money you are owed and you need to get it without delay. You may already have talked to someone about it, without any good results. (I base that on your comment that you have having a hard time getting paid.) If so, say in the letter that although you have communicated about it verbally, you want to make a formal claim in writing, for their records as they settle the estate and for your own records. Be sure to say that you would like a response to tell you when they expect to pay you.

Also, check online for your state’s Department of Labor. Almost all states have regulations about Final Pay or fair practices regarding payment of salaries. Someone there may be able to assist you or provide further information. This kind of situation probably happens more often than we might realize.

The contracting company which sub-contracted with your boss only has a legal obligation in relation to him. However, if you know someone at that company, you may find it useful to talk to them and find out if they know who the legal representative is, now that the owner, your boss, has passed away. They have probably been in communication with someone who is trying to figure things out.

I wish I could provide a certain answer about your concern, but this is not our area of expertise. However, as with every workplace issue, you will benefit by communicating clearly and courteously, while being firm about your claim and your expectations that you will receive your owed money immediately or receive an explanation about what is happening to process it.

Best wishes to you.
Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors