Can My Boss Do That?

by on March 11, 2009

(Ed note: The always creative Interfaith Worker Justice has launched a new Worker Rights Website to help workers during this economic crisis. It is described below.)

Every day, there is relentless bad news for American workers. More than 4 million jobs have been lost since the current recession began in December 2007. Even in good times, unethical employers cheat workers in myriad ways. With every sector of the economy reeling, workers find some employers cutting more corners, often breaking wage payment and other employment laws and dishonestly preventing workers from collecting unemployment and workers compensation benefits.

Can my boss close the business down without notice? What should I do to protect my rights when leaving my job? Can I be fired for no reason? How can I get my final pay? To get answers to these and other questions, Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), a national organization that mobilizes the religious community to support the struggles of workers, has launched a powerful online tool that provides information on rights in the workplace in easy-to-read, accessible language. Workers can advocate for themselves with tools and summaries or state-specific information at the website Can My Boss Do That.

“Employers in Ohio are only required to give pay stubs to workers under 18 years old,” said Anne Janks, creator and director of Can My Boss Do That. “In Florida, there is no state Department of Labor to ensure workers are paid the last paycheck after you lose your job. Even if the federal Department of Labor had enough investigators and lawyers to enforce federal wage and hour laws, which it doesn’t, it will only enforce the federal minimum wage–currently $6.55 per hour–not the worker’s actual wage rate,” said Janks.

Joe Buczek worked at a high-end grocery in Tampa, Florida. In December, Buczek’s boss told him the store was closing that day, and that “My services were no longer needed. He told me he couldn’t pay me my last paycheck, that I could take my pay in groceries-charged at the high prices the customers paid, $13.99 a pound for sirloin steak, for example, not at cost.” Joe was lucky that his friend, Anne Janks, told him his rights and sent him a letter to demand his last paycheck. “We have forms on the website that can be downloaded, such as the letter I sent to Joe,” said Janks. “Joe didn’t think he was eligible for unemployment because he only worked 20-30 hours per week, but with good information, he applied and received his benefits. Workers need to know how to get the benefits they have earned. They also need to know if they don’t have rights. In most states, you don’t have a right to a rest and meal break (but you do have the right to go to the bathroom) or the right to see your own personnel file,” Janks continued.

Rev. C.J. Hawking, associate pastor of Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church in Oak Park, Illinois, spoke about the power the website can have for congregations that are helping their members cope with the economic crisis. “Places of worship are seeing a lot of workers in isolation. When they lose their jobs, workers feel devastation, shame and righteous anger. They feel downtrodden,” said Rev. Hawking. “The faith community wants to empower people to know their rights. ‘Can My Boss Do That’ is easy to understand and accessible.”

For more info, contact Anne Janks, or Ted Smukler,

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