Money may not be at the center of all workplace disputes, but it certainly plays a role in many of them. Employees want their paychecks to accurately reflect their take-home pay, and they want to get paid for when they work.

Seems simple enough, right? Not always.

QI have been working for my employer for six months. I had not once seen money for benefits taken out of my paycheck, but I figured HR knew what it was doing. Well, last pay period I noticed my check was $50 less than usual and so I talked to HR about it. It seems someone forgot to take benefit payments out of my check, as well as for a few others in the company. Now HR has told me that I owe the company nearly $800 and have to pay it back by the end of the year. Is this legal?

ADebra S. Katz, a Washington lawyer who represents employees in workplace disputes, said the resolution of this "really depends on what the agreement was when this person was hired" -- whether, for example, the company agreed to pay for certain benefits it now is trying to get the employee to pay retroactively.

But Katz said that "clearly if the company has overpaid the salary, then the employer can reasonably ask for it back."

But she said that even assuming the payroll deductions should have been taken out of the employee's salary, "I'm not sure that the unilateral request [for a lump-sum payment] is appropriate. The company does not have the right to garnish wages" without a legal proceeding.

Katz suggested that if the worker knows she cannot pay back the lump sum by year's end, she should try to work out a payment plan.

Can an employer hand down disciplinary action for not attending a meeting when an employee is paid on a commission basis? I start work at 3 a.m. and finish at 2 p.m. But my employer has scheduled a "mandatory" meeting at 4 p.m. that will last about two hours. Since I'm paid on "commission," is it legal for my employer to demand that I attend with no compensation?

Bill Bethune, a Tysons Corner lawyer who represents corporations, said that "if this person is not being singled out as having to attend when others are excused on a non-discriminatory basis, then there could be some disciplinary action."

"If the person is paid on commission, there's no requirement that the employer pay straight or overtime pay" for attending the meeting. Bethune said that if the worker is deemed to be an "outside salesperson," then he is exempt from the overtime provisions of federal salary requirements.

Conversely, Bethune said that if the worker is not classified as an outside salesperson and partly paid by salary, the worker would be entitled to time-and-a-half pay if he works more than 40 hours in the week in which the mandatory meeting occurs.

But rather than fighting over a couple of hours' pay, Bethune suggested that the worker "ought to be asking for a rescheduling" of the meeting or for an additional meeting to accommodate workers like him with unusual schedules.

-- Kenneth Bredemeier

E-mail your workplace questions to Kenneth Bredemeier at Discuss workplace issues with him Wednesday at 11 a.m. at