My husband, Jim, and I live full time in a travel trailer and work in campgrounds for a living. We have been doing this for more than six years and really enjoy the work we do.
We subscribe to a magazine called Workamper News (WN). It is a listing of jobs in campgrounds, resorts, marinas, national parks, and other places for people who live in RV’s. We had seen an ad in WN for several years for a campground on a river in Virginia. Their ad offered wages for every hour we worked, a free full hookup site to live on while we worked there, and a completion bonus. To qualify for a completion bonus, you make a commitment to stay a certain length of time on the job, and once you complete your commitment, they pay a bonus equal to 50 cents for each hour that you worked while you were there.
We applied for the job, and went for an in person interview, and were hired for the job in March of last year. We loved working there. In the years that we have done this type of work, that job was the best job we have ever had. We loved the campground, we loved the people we worked with, we loved the people we worked FOR, we loved the people who came there to camp. It was a fun, beautiful place to be. We made an agreement to stay until November 13, 2007, which we did.
While we worked there, I kept a spreadsheet of the hours we worked each pay period, because our bonus was to be calculated based on how many hours we worked. My husand and I used that spreadsheet as a morale booster. Whenever we were tired, or had had a bad day, we would look at the spreadsheet to see how our bonus was adding up. We left on November 15 headed back to Georgia for the winter. We fully expected our bonus to be paid with our last paycheck. It was not.
In December, I called to question when we would receive our bonus. The general manager said he would check on it and call me back. He called me on January 12 to tell me that our bonus would be paid “on the next pay period”. So, we expected to receive it by the end of January.
January 31 came and went with no check received or direct deposit made to our account. I called several times, leaving word each time for the general manager to call me back. No one ever returned the phone calls I made. I was concerned that maybe they had mailed the check and it was lost in the mail. But, we HAD received our W-2 forms from them, so I knew they had the correct address.
I continued to call every so often, always leaving a message for someone to call me, and making sure whoever took the message knew that I was calling because we had not received our bonus check. In March, we were on our way from Georgia to Pennsylvania for our next job, and stopped in Williamsburg so we could visit our daughter and some friends for a few days. We arranged to have dinner with a couple we had made friends with whom we had worked with at the previous job.
Of course, the subject of the bonus came up at dinner. My friend, Lynn, said “You should compare your last paycheck stub with your W-2 form amount.” She did not say why I should, but because she put that little bug in my ear, the first thing I did when we got home was look at the two documents. Yes, the amounts on them WERE different, and the amount of the difference was exactly the amount of the bonus we never received. So, now we not only had not received the bonus, but the employer said we did by showing it on our W-2 form! This fact opened up a whole new problem for me, as I was not going to pay income taxes on money I had never been paid. I was more determined than before to collect that bonus!
The next day, we had breakfast with two other couples we had met while we worked there. I purposely did not want to talk about work with them. I wanted to have a fun, enjoyable breakfast with friends. One of the girls brought up the subject, though, and asked we had ever received our bonus. I said, “No, we have not, but I am not going to give up on this. We worked for that money, and I intend to get it.”
After we got to our new job, I got a Cingular Wireless Aircard so I could have internet access at my travel trailer. I searched the internet for information on employment law in Virginia. At the Virginia Department of Labor website, I found that if you were promised a bonus before you began the work, the employer is legally obligated to pay it. There was a form there for you to fill out and send in, with whatever documentation you had, showing what was owed you, and the state would help you collect the money. I downloaded a copy of the form and saved it on my computer.
However, first, I had to send a demand for payment letter by certified mail. I wrote the letter, and sent it along with a copy of the ad from WN showing a bonus was offered, a copy of our work contract showing a bonus was offered if we stayed until November 13, a copy of our last paycheck stubs, a copy of our W-2 forms, and a copy of my spreadsheet. I advised them in the letter that they had until March 30 to make payment or we would take further action. I received the signature card back from the post office showing that they had indeed received the letter.
After they received the letter, I got a phone call from the general manager. He asked me “So you are saying that your W-2 reflects that we paid the bonus but you never received it?” I said, “Yes, that is correct.” He told me he would forward the letter to the downtown office. I never heard another word from them. On April 5th, I filled out the forms from the Virginia Department of Labor and mailed them in, along with copies of all my documentation, which now included a copy of the letter and a copy of the green card that I got back from the post office. My husband and I were very hopeful that we would have our money soon.
I got the froms back from the Virginia Department of Labor on April 12th, with a form attached that said “Your claim for unpaid wages has been received and reviewed. It is being returned for the reason noted below:
“You had a written employment agreement in place with your employer. Although we are unable to assist you, you may have recourse through the courts”. What? I thought the website said they would help us! What a bunch of crap!
Jim and I discussed this some more. I searched the internet some more, looking this time on the IRS website. I was sure there was SOMETHING we could do that would not involve us actually going to Virginia to file a claim in small claims court. After a lot of research, I found some information on the IRS site about what to do if you have received a fradulent W-2 form. So, the next time we had a day off, Jim and went to the IRS Service Center in Frederick, Maryland, which was the closest one to us.
When we arrived at the service center, I showed the clerk all the documentation we had and explained to her that we felt we had received fraudulent W-2 forms from our former employer. She looked over the contents of my folder, listened to my story, and finally agreed with me.
She went into another room and called the place we worked last year. We don’t know exactly what she said to them, but when she returned, she told us we would hear from her if she had any news for us. That was one week ago, today.
Yesterday, I had a message on my cellphone to call George, the manager of the IRS Service Center. The message said “We have some new information that sheds new light on your issue.” When I called him back, he told me that he had our bonus checks in his hand and we could come pick them up!
So, after only 5 and half months, 14 unreturned phone calls, a certified letter, 2 forms with copies of everything sent to the Virginia Department of Labor, and two sixty mile round trips to Frederick to the IRS Service Center, we received our long overdue bonus checks today.
When we arrived at the IRS office, all of the employees there came out to the lobby. They were all smiling, and all of them shook our hands. They said it is not very often in the course of their jobs that they can actually make people happy. They usually have to deal with people who were fleeced out of money by their employer and the person had no documention to back up what they were saying.
The clerk who had handled this for us told me that it was my legwork that helped them help us. She said that if I had not had so much documentation she probably would not have been able to collect the money for us. She said that after talking to us last week they knew that we were honest and were right that our former employer owed us the money. It was so fun to talk to those people. Then we went shopping!