A sticky contractor situation: no pay yet

Subject: A sticky contractor situation: no pay yet
From: "Chuck Martin" <cm -at- writeforyou -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 13 Jul 2003 22:31:07 -0700

I have found myself in a situation I've never encountered before, and I'm a
bit nervous. OK, more than a bit. I am sure there are those list denizens
well-versed in good business practices that will tsk tsk reprovingly, but
that will not help as I've already done enough of that to myself already.

Since getting laid off 11 months ago I've managed to snag a whopping 3
contracts. With the first 2, I had no problem getting checks--by asking
nicely, of course--within a week of submitting a time sheet or invoice. But
in my current situation, that's not happening. I am getting very concerned,
in large part because I simply need the cash.

Here's the situation. I was contacted nearly 4 weeks ago by a small company
who said they found my resume on dice.com. They were in a pinch, they said,
they had a contract from another company who needed a tech writer, they had
hired one, and that one literally disappeared after 2 weeks of work.
Apparently the tech writer sent email to the owner saying he had a family
emergency, they left, not responding to phone or email. They called me, I
came in for an interview, and they decided they wanted me to do the job, and
wanted me to start that very day. (That's how interviewing used to be: I'd
do well enough that I got the offer right off. Not these days--which has
been its own shock.) They weren't paying a great rate, but I needed the
money, and I could do the work: a User Guide for a web application that was
being written on the other coast. They wanted to sign me up Net 30, but I
said no, I'd do Net 15, and we changed the contract.

I turned in my first invoice 2 weeks ago; the 15th day is Monday. But last
week I was talking ever day with the owner, saying that I'd really
appreciate him cutting a check, and by mid-week, he was saying that a check
is in the mail and I should get it by the end of the week. I returned home
on Friday, no check. Not on Saturday either.

I realize that technically and legally, he has until the end of the day
Monday. I am concerned whether or not it will actually happen, and I am
wondering what my options are. What bothers me too, is that I don't think it
creates a solid, trusting relationship to wait until the last day to pay,
especially when you're promising (verbally) that pay is coming sooner.

So I have a number of questions. First, what options do I have if I don't
get a check by the end of the day Monday? Can I claim that this company
doesn't have the right to use the work I've created until they pay for it?
And what are the potential consequences if I can and do?

One scenario I also envision is to call the client, who believes,
essentially, that I am more of an employee of this company. The thought has
crossed my mind to call him, explain that I was hired on a contract basis to
replace a previous writer, that I have not yet been paid for the work I've
done (now nearly 4 weeks worth), and that they don't have the rights to use
the work until I get paid for it. I would think that having the client call
the company owner with such an issue might light a much bigger fire, but
might also light unwanted fires as well.

In all of this, I have to wonder also if there is a cultural issue that I
may be missing. The owner and founder of this particular company is from
India. It's a fine line between racism and understanding cultural issues,
but cultural differences are certainly something I've managed (not always
the best) for many years (and I'm not talking about just in working
environments; all my past boyfriends have been Asian, although not South
Asian). I raise the issue because I wonder if my approach--a gentle
encouragement--isn't something that's culturally appropriate, and maybe even
having the opposite effect.

The whole issue is compounded by the fact that, quite bluntly, I can't
afford to not get paid, and if I raise any sort of stink, I could very well
create additional delays that would create huge problems.

I'm also kinda pissed off--again bluntly--because they wanted someone to
come in and work some long hours to meet a short deadline, and I did
that--willingly, at the low rate--just because that's what I do. Is it so
wrong to be feeling slightly dumped on, even used, because I worked so hard
and am now seeing my reward delayed?

"I don't entirely understand it but it is true: Highly skilled carpenters
don't get insulted when told they are not architects, but highly skilled
programmers do get insulted when told they are not UI designers."
- anonymous programmer quoted in "GUI Bloopers"

Chuck Martin
User Assistance & Experience Engineer
twriter "at" sonic "dot" net www.writeforyou.com


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