Don’t Sell Yourself Short: Not Getting Paid and the Terrible First Paycheck of My Adult Life

Hello there. It’s been about a month, but believe me, I had a good reason for being gone. I’ve had a few big, stressful clusterf–k of a few weeks. Why?

I wasn’t being paid at my job.

Yup. You heard it. A simple concept, really. I was working, every day, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Then time came around for my first big paycheck in October. Paycheck date rolled by, and no new payroll funds in appeared in my account. Red flag. I asked why.

Guarantees flew around. “Oh. Later this week.” “Yup, we’ll execute on Wednesday.” “A check needs to be approved and then you’ll be paid.” Then finally, on Friday, “”It will happen next week.”

The next week rolled around. No payroll. I would ask, “Am I getting paid this week?”

“Yes,” my boss would say quickly before changing the subject.

Over the next few weeks this dance would repeat itself. No pay appeared. Stress started to build up inside me.

I liked my job, I liked my work, and hell, I even liked my boss. But I wasn’t getting paid. I underwent a transformation in personality in my workplace. My resentment grew. I stopped working hard. Why would I work when I couldn’t guarantee that I would be rewarded for the hours I put in?

It had been two months since I started in the job. I was owed thousands of dollars, and every day I went in to work without compensation I was digging that hole deeper and deeper. But I didn’t know what else to do. How could I? I was 21, I had a boss who would do nothing but guarantee I’d get paid “soon”, and had no “real world” experience at all.

A month passed, and the can was still being kicked down the road. Finally, on an early Saturday in late November, I e-mailed my boss with the following summary:

“While I enjoy working at [company], I cannot continue working here without just and timely compensation for my work.”

When I pressed send the knot in my stomach grew larger. “Why was this happening to me?” I would ask myself. This was my first job after graduating college, and I was being stiffed for two months pay. My bank account was quickly dwindling in the face of  I had worked hard to earn my degree, I was smart, so what had I done to deserve something like this to happen so early in my career? Even more, why was I letting this happen to me?

I’ll say it plainly – it felt f–ked up! I felt helpless and small, especially when I finally took it in my hands to speak up about it. Worst-case scenarios flew through my mind. What if I quit and he never paid me? Would I have to hire a lawyer? I didn’t have the money for that!

Minutes later, my boss responded:

You will be paid what is due to you on dates [X] and [Y] of next week for the months of September and October.

At the time, this message made me breathe a sigh of relief.

However, when the date rolled around, nothing showed up in my account. My boss didn’t execute payroll. Again. 

I couldn’t believe it. I was dumbfounded. I went into work that day with a grim face, and immediately spoke to my boss. I laid it out to him. I had little-to-no faith in him to pay me. I accused him of taking advantage of me because of my age. There was no trust in him on my part.  I was prepared to leave the job.

He sounded shocked and apologetic that things had gotten so out of hand. But he guaranteed that I’d get what was due to me, in full, the next day. I went home early to think about my job and whether I really wanted it anymore. Was it really worth it? I went to bed early that night.

When I woke up, all of the money was in my account. Usually young professionals like myself feel a sense of pride over their first paycheck. I had just received the paycheck of my adult life, and it tasted so, so bitter.

I am told I am guaranteed pay on a specified date every month now. I am continuing that this job with the tenuous guarantee that I will be paid-no excuses- on set dates from now on.

When I graduated college, I never would have thought I would be the recipient of treatment like this. I imagined I would get a good first job, move into my own place, and be happy that I was finally starting my career! But the stress of not getting paid consumed my life for weeks, and I felt so helpless and despondent about my situation. I had only just finished the job search process, and I dreaded going into it again with this kind of experience as my only job.

Through all of it, though, I have teased out a nugget of good. I learned to speak up for myself in the face of things that are just unfair. My time and effort are worth something in the workplace. I am selling myself short if I don’t speak up for what I know that I deserve.

And the same goes for everyone else.

You have worth.

So don’t let anybody sell you short.

 


 

I won’t dance around it – this blog post has been anxiety-inducing to write, to say the least. But it has also been cathartic and empowering to finally write down and share my experience with others. To anyone who is going through a similarly difficult situation – you have the power to speak up! You don’t deserve unfair treatment in the workplace regardless of your age, race, culture, religion, sexuality, and so on. The pressure to buckle under whatever situation you’re in and accept it is overpowering, I know this first hand.

But DON’T give up. Raise your voice and demand what you are deserved. I know it’s difficult. But you will be stronger for having done so.

Thanks for reading.

-Chandler

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A twentysomething who is living, working, and finding her way in New York City. Focuses on writing, cooking, fashion tremds, digital media, and sharing stories.

3 thoughts on “Don’t Sell Yourself Short: Not Getting Paid and the Terrible First Paycheck of My Adult Life

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Chandler! So proud of you for standing up for what you DESERVE <3 I had a similar problem with scheduling for my job and they were willing to go as far as to inform me just one day in advance when I should come in for work. It’s not easy to tell your new job that you’re not ok with something and stand up for yourself, especially in a different language, but it’s 100% worth it in the end. <3

    Like

    1. Caroline, I just came around to reading this comment, and honestly thank you for sharing. I guess we both have had things happen recently that spurred us to gather the courage to speak up for ourselves- though I can’t imagine how scary it was doing it in French!? Continue to grow grow grow with new experiences and become bolder everyday!

      Liked by 1 person

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