This is a common question for small businesses. I recently commented on a nation law board concerning this, and I think the question/answer is worth sharing.
QUESTION: I have an employee that I let go for bad performance. Her pay was mailed to her via USPS money order a few weeks ago. She contacted me claiming to have never received it. I placed an inquiry on the money order to find out of it has been cashed, and if so by whom and when. The inquiry can take up to 60 days. She has been made aware of this.
She contacted my clients claiming to have been defrauded and is threatening to contact the DOL. What can I do to protect myself at this point and my business as she is making false claims against me.
This is a mess! A few reminders — you never pay an employee with cash (or, in your case, a money order). It is very hard to track, and very easy to steal. Secondly, you never send important documents without tracking — certified mail.
In answer to your question, the employer is responsible for paying the employee. Period. Under DC law, payment should be made at the time of separation, or the next pay period at the latest. Federal law — controlled by the FLSA — requires payment of all hours. Failure to pay results in full pay, plus the amount being doubled, and possibly tripled, if bad faith is shown. Also, you will have to pay all attorney fees associated with the other side. Generally, a bad idea.
How to fix this? You need to provide her payment immediately. Get a signed release from her indicating she was paid. Have her come to the office for a company check and signature sheet. You can track prior money order to see where it went. If the money order was made out to her, and someone else cashed it, you can go after the check cashing location, or bank, for failure to verify signatures or ID. You don’t want a legal fight on your hands AND have to pay the amount again.
Information on FLSA can be found at 29 USC 201-219. DC wage and hour laws can be found here: https://does.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/does/publication/attachments/DOES_wage_hour_rules.pdf.