Still waiting for that last paycheck

Reader TS writes: “I return to the U.S. next week and I was supposed to receive my final pay check from a really bad ALT company . . . last week, but did not receive payment. I’ve called them but the secretaries say that the people in charge are not in the office. I called my direct contact and he has yet to call me back.

“I’ve read on the Internet that with your last pay check this company will try and avoid paying you since the pay date is so close to when you have to return to your home country, and that when you return they will try and avoid all contact with you. I’m going to keep calling them, but somehow I worry that it is futile.”

It is not unusual for a last paycheck to be withheld. Often there are expenses that an employee has incurred, such as rent from a company-provided apartment, health insurance, pension premiums and so on. Often these are deducted from a final paycheck. At the same time — especially in these economically tight times — some companies will try to avoid paying for that final month.

This can also happen when leaving an apartment. Landlords will sometimes add on a number of dubious expenses to avoid having to return key money and deposits.

Louis Carlet, executive president of the Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union (Tozen), suspects that in TS’ case the company is simply trying to dodge making that last payment.

“I have bad news for you,” he writes in an e-mail. “As a union rep for six years, I can honestly say I have received more complaints about your company than about any other in any industry. Unpaid wages is the most common grievance, while the No. 2 is that they are difficult to contact. Investigators from the Labor Standards Office and other government agencies have told me personally that they cannot get hold of management even to investigate the many unpaid wage claims.

“Currently, seven of our union members have sued the company [JALSS] for unpaid wages. We have other members and potential members waiting in line to join the suit.

“If you are leaving the country, it will be hard to get your money back since the ordinary process involves first going to the LSO and then perhaps taking the employer to court. The reality is discouraging, but if an employer knows you are leaving Japan, he or she can usually get away with taking your last pay. The LSO and courts move at a glacial pace and nearly any victory requires patience, dedication and concentrated determination.

“You could join our or another labor union and ask to have the case worked out after you are away. But there are difficulties for us to fight a case for someone not here and there is no guarantee you will ever win. This is why building a strong labor union is essential to prevent such abuses before they happen.”