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Employment Law/Temporary Agency claims I owe them $2000

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Question
Hello,
I have been working through a temp agency for a major French bank in NJ. I believe the temporary agency is located in NY (all my dealings with them have been via email or phone). I began at the bank at the end of August as an administrative assistant for a back office operations team. The bank loves me, they want to keep me. They’ve extended my contract with them which was supposed to end to October, till December and now till June (with a major promise to hire me fulltime then).
My temporary agency just called me today and apologizing, that somehow they made a mistake, rather ADP apparently, made a “common” mistake; just noticed that they’ve been over paying me. My hourly wage is supposed to be $18.50. Apparently, (although nothing has been shown in writing) they’ve been paying me the billable rate the temp agency should have been receiving which is ($25.00 per hour.) With all my calculations including tax, I have found that to be impossible. If anything I have been over paid two to three extra dollars an hour not $7. Regardless, the agency is now saying I owe them $2000.00 and I can pay them in six months gradually (they will deduct a certain amount from my pay check biweekly). I am completely distraught. I make so little as is for the work I do. I live 2 and half hours away from NJ, my daily commute costing me over $400.00 a month and 5 hours daily. I was told by the agency if I quit the job, as in break my contract, the agency will have to take the $2000 as a personal loss.
I am so angry that I am suppose to pay for their mistake. Why can’t the agency pay for their mistake?! $2000 is a lot of money.  Am I liable? Do I really have to pay? More importantly are they allowed to take money out of my future paychecks to compensate for this mistake? What are my rights?
I know I can quit and go through another agency that will allow me to work at my current job, but it is so complicated. I do not know what to do.
-Temporarily, helpess.

Answer
Oriana - You should ask for a breakdown of the alleged debt to satisfy yourself that the amount they say you owe is accurate.  Yes, you do have to repay the money.  If you don't care about your reputation with the agency and, probably, the bank, you can tell them to sue you and obtain a judgment before they can recover the money, which would be the legal way to authorize their recoupment of the debt.  

If you overpaid for something, you would expect the seller to give you back the difference.  The agency is not behaving unreasonably.  As long as they agree to a small amount each week, you keep the job until the bank hires you, and everyone goes away happy.  If you choose to fight the agency, you lose the job with the agency and likely with the bank.  Your choice.

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Margaret M. deMarteleire

Expertise

I can answer most questions about employment law, federal or state. I am an attorney, not an HR professional, so questions about HR careers, coursework, prospects, etc. are not within my scope.

Experience

Attorney for 20 years, currently working exclusively with employment law - FLSA, FMLA, federal contracts, pay, etc.

Education/Credentials
Temple University School of Liberal Arts, BA, Rhetoric & Communication, 1982 Temple University School of Law, JD, 1990 Certificate in HR, Cornell University ILR School, 2006

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