Q: For three years, I have been working for a company where I am paid a base salary and a commission on what I sell.
My problem is that every January my employer treats my base salary as regular compensation for tax purposes, but handles my commission as if I were self-employed. My employer pays all my expenses and gives me an office. I have consulted my tax advisers and they agree with me that this is wrong. So, I have confronted my employer -- several times -- but he keeps telling me that what he is doing is legal and right.
Well, he informed me that he will be changing his policy for 1991: Starting with that year, he will treat both my salary and compensation the same way -- as regular compensation.
I am delighted, but what about all the money his policy cost me? What should I do?
A: As a practical matter, you have two alternatives.
You can accept the reluctant capitulation your employer has offered and write off the extra taxes you have paid or you can declare war: Sue your employer for mishandling your compensation and demand that he restitute the extra taxes.
In the latter case, your circumstances at work will certainly take a turn for the worse, and you can probably assume any recommendation you'll get from this boss will not be as good as you'd like.
Not knowing the amount you have at stake, it's hard to offer a recommendation, but you should be realistic about the cost of the second approach even though it may be more appealing emotionally.
A few weeks ago, I told a young woman irritated by her business associates who called her by her first name that I could see no polite solution to her problem. I saw her only alternative to correcting these people, most of them older men, as accepting her predicament.
I received quite a number of reader rebuttals:
"Consciously or not, I surmise this woman's superiors are using her first name to show their rank and to put her in her place. She shouldn't stand for it."
"I was very disappointed in your response. I see nothing wrong with this young woman responding with a courteous and pleasant smile, saying: 'I really prefer to be addressed as Mrs. Smith, please.' If that doesn't work, she should stop responding to her first name."
"I am a woman medical doctor. I never liked the practice of my male colleagues who like to be called 'Doctor' but address their secretaries and nurses by their first names. I always have done differently and in the office insisted that we all use last names, with titles where appropriate."
"As a customer, I resent being called by my first name by business personnel, whom I often haven't even met. Whenever this irritant persists, I try to take my business elsewhere. I bet the amount of business lost because of such thoughtless discourtesy is larger than anyone will ever know, since few people complain directly about this sort of annoyance -- yet it is there."
You are preaching to the converted here -- I don't like this inappropriate chumminess any better than you do. It's just that setting it straight is likely to turn the air sour. For me, the solutions you propose are worse than the problem. For many of you, it seems to be the other way around. I hope they work out.
Andrew Grove is president of Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif. Please send questions to him in care of the San Jose Mercury News, Business News Department, 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95190.