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5 Creative New Ways Businesses Are Screwing Over Employees

Ask any old person and they'll tell you that the best way to learn a business is to work your way from the bottom up. Want to be a professional dolphin wrangler? Start by applying for the job of underwater shit shoveler. Think you'll be a great CEO? You're going to need to work your way up from AEO to BEO first.

But what no one tells you is that the jobs at the bottom of the totem pole aren't simply the crappiest jobs in the workforce. No, the totem pole itself is rigged to steal everything it can from the guys on the bottom. Don't believe us? Here are five new ways companies are exploiting their lowest level employees.

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"Technically, this counts as your tip."

#5. Guaranteeing Commissions for Sales That Will Never Happen

Like everyone else selling big-ticket items, music supply chain Guitar Center has been losing business to online sales. Guys walk into a music store, try out the harpsichords, then buy them cheaper on HarpsichordsRUS.net. Unfortunately, that means Guitar Center's salesmen are forced to survive on $800 a month because they just can't earn any commission.

The weird thing is that Guitar Center's biggest online competitor is Musician's Friend ... which is owned by Guitar Center. The company is hiring salesmen by promising commissions on sales that they know they'll never make, because everyone's going to get their gear online, from them. Guitar Center still gets their money, the customer gets a better deal, and that unlucky schmo who plays "Welcome to the Jungle" for non-committal customers gets minimum wage.

Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images
"It's OK: The cost of living really drops when you realize pigeons are perfectly edible."

#4. Avoiding Benefits by Only Hiring Temps

Have you ever broken up with someone just before their birthday so you wouldn't have to get them a gift? Of course not, you're not an asshole. Retail giant Walmart can't say the same because they're pretty much doing the equivalent of the avoid-a-gift breakup in their hiring practices. Here's why: During the holiday season, most stores, including Walmart, hire temporary employees to soak up the extra work. It's also a great way to give college kids something to do during Christmas break.

The Washington Post / Getty
Walmart is also the leading employer of Posterboard-Americans.

Lately, however, Walmart has decided to make every day Christmas by hiring temps all the time, which means they get to sidestep benefits and health care for new employees. So if anything happens in that employee's life -- like they need to care for a family member or if they get sick -- Walmart can just fire them and hire someone else. Plus, they can use temp workers to cut the hours of their full-timers. Win-win! Coupled with the fact that their employees are specifically forbidden to talk to the media about their jobs, the retailer looks more like an extra-low-rent James Bond villain every day.

#3. Paying Their Employees With a Debit Card (Packed With Hidden Fees)

One McDonald's in Pennsylvania has brought payroll into the next century by paying employees through a convenient debit card. On the surface, it sounds like a decent deal -- the paycheck is deposited onto a JP Morgan Chase Bank debit account, which you can then spend on cigarettes and denim and other products that regular humans like to buy. No pay stubs, no signatures, no awkward drive-through bank conversations where you pretend to have eight kids in the car to get nine lollipops. Everything is streamlined and simple.

Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images
Trading eight hours of your life for chicken and beer has never been easier.

That is, until you look at the fees attached to your card. Want to check how much money you've earned standing over a hot fryer? That will be a dollar. Want to take out cash for a night out? That's a $1.50 ATM fee. Want to pay your bills online? Seventy-five cents. Want to take out cash from your bank? FIVE FUCKING DOLLARS. When you're probably only making $7.25 an hour. At McDonald's. Good luck getting ahead in life, sucker.

#2. Blackmailing Undocumented Workers into Employment

Unless you're talking about architecture or actual crops, nothing good is going to come from attaching the phrase "plantation" to your place of work. So when 7-Eleven was accused of recreating a plantation system for its workers, you know it's going to be bad.


"As long as we don't call them slaves, it isn't terrible."

In this case, owners of 10 7-Eleven franchises smuggled illegal immigrants into the United States with a promise of jobs, which was partly true. What they didn't tell their future employees was that 7-Eleven would provide a fake ID, pay them $3 an hour, and force them to live in substandard housing owned by the owner of the store, and that their rent would come out of their tiny, cash-only salary. And also the workers would put in 100 work weeks, and if they complained, the owners would have them deported. Again, that was partially true: A sting operation finally caught and indicted nine guys involved, and the 50 illegal immigrants caught up in the case are now facing deportation. U-S-A! U-S-A!

#1. Goodwill Pays Their Disabled Employees Pennies an Hour

For the most part, nonprofits are pretty rad. Usually you can expect them to focus less on making money and more on their mission statement, like "providing housing for homeless puppies" or "protecting wildlife" or "setting up six-figure salaries for their CEOs while paying their disabled employees just pennies an hour." Wait, shit, how did that last one get in there?


"Nonprofit" doesn't mean "non-douchebag."

Thanks to a law written in 1938 (back when we still thought eugenics might not be such a bad idea), nonprofit organizations are allowed to pay their disabled employees "according to their abilities," basically meaning that there is no minimum wage. And in Pennsylvania, some workers' "ability" is apparently worth 22 cents an hour, which you'll notice is roughly a metric tittyload less than is necessary to survive.

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
"I just dumpster-dive so I can afford to support my passion: Holding down a full-time job."

And it's not just people working at nonprofits: The "certificate holders" for Section 14(c) can place workers at for-profit organizations. The Helen Keller School for the Blind in New York has placed workers in Applebee's and Barnes and Noble, where they were paid as little as $3.80 an hour.

The reason the numbers fluctuate so much is because of "time studies." The employer will time how long it takes for an abled person to complete a certain task, and then time the disabled employee performing that task once every six months and adjust the salary accordingly, because obviously when a company is conducting a "How little can we get away with paying you?" test, there's no incentive to rig the whole thing in their favor at all.

Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images
"This week, we're only paying the coal miners who kept their faces clean."



J.F. Sargent is writing The Wreck of the Joanna Ng, a sci-fi adventure serial novel you can read for free. He's also on Twitter and Facebook.

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