Michael Martini voluntarily quit his job as a driver, but he still may be able to collect unemployment benefits. Why? The company violated the law, in this case, not guaranteeing a minimum wage.
As a long-haul driver, Martini was paid by the mile for transporting railroad work crews to job sites. He was paid for some of his waiting time, but not for cleaning, fueling, inspecting and maintaining the vehicle. As a result, he could earn as much as $10.40 an hour or as little as $3 an hour.
When the company told Martini that he would be required to pay for a pager, he said he couldn't afford to keep the job. In filing for unemployment compensation, he cited the fact that his employer required him to pay for employment-related expenses.
A court decided he was entitled to benefits because his reason for quitting, he couldn't afford a pager, was directly related to the employer's illegal payment of a subminimum wage. (Martini v. State of Washington, No. 44262-7-I, Ct. of App., Wash., 2000)
Advice: Review your nonhourly compensation systems to make sure they comply with state and federal minimum wage and. The laws can be complex. And while you generally can't make payroll deductions that cut into the minimum wage, federal law does allow some deductions even if they pull pay below the minimum.
Another key point: You can be held responsible for violating a law even if the employee doesn't point out the violation. In this case, the appeals court made the connection that Martini's stated reason for leaving, that he couldn't afford a pager, was related to the illegal subminimum wage he received.