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Over the summer, in addition to working as an employee of a software company part-time and studying part-time I took on a contract project to make extra money. I gave them an estimate and we agreed to an hourly rate, but I never got anything in writing.

The project involved specialty hardware which had to be ordered, so it was slow to start. At the end of the summer I lost my first job (on very amicable terms, project finished) and went in to present a prototype of the contract project expecting payment in full for the hours I'd submitted. I'd also sent in some receipts for a few hardware items I had to buy myself to get things working.

The owner, who'd been in the hospital recently according to email correspondence, only gave me 1/3 of the money I was owed at this point and avoided answering any questions about when I'd be getting the full amount. Previously, I had been doing a lot of phone consulting, emails, and running around without even logging the hours.

This caused me a lot of stress, but I was able to find another job. My new job is much more interesting and now I'm back at school full-time. This and being involved with the ACM means I have no time for this old project. I also just got an interview with a big software company (they're flying me in), so I'm really busy. They did send me a bit more money, so they're up to about 1/2 now, but I still have no guarantee about when I will be getting the rest of the money.

The owner wants to know when I will have time to finish the project (about 75% done now), which they just ordered the last hardware component for, but I don't have any time right now. Even if I wanted more money, I could just put in more hours at my new job, and I'd know when a reliable payment would be coming.

After the stress they caused me, especially seeing as how I was going above and beyond by answering all of their emails without keeping track of the time, I'm pretty upset. Since I have no idea when I'd be getting the rest of my money, much less payment for future hours, I have no motivation to continue with the project.

I still have their hardware at my house however and they still owe me some money. What's the most professional way for me quit? How should I go about getting the rest of money seeing as how I didn't get anything in writing? I did email in two invoices, both showing the amounts owed and the payments they made, which were not contested, so I have a little bit of a paper trail.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I get the feeling you just want out at this point, but simply walking away from the project at this point could still be misconstrued by some observers as being unprofessional.

Why not introduce some documentation,contract-wise at this point? You can state terms on which you will complete the project and when they fail to sit and agree to a contract (which they probably will, their thinking being that they've been able to get this much out of you at a discount), you can courteously moonwalk out of the project.

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misconstrued by some observers as being unprofessional - just walking out on the project would be unprofessional. But in light of the conduct on part of the client, it may be forgivable. –  pap Oct 18 '12 at 11:56

I would respond in writing that you will be happy to resume work on the project as soon as they make the payments to you that will bring you current on the work you have already completed. Until that time you are unable to continue. I would further state that final delivery of the project deliverables will be only after you have received payment for the final stretch of work and any expenses incurred. I would request that the principal respond in writing with payment for services rendered and include his understanding and acceptance of the terms for further work. Send the letter through registered mail and retain a copy of the letter for your records.

This is a business thing, there is nothing personal about this decision but their business has shown they are not trustworthy of fulfilling their obligations to the project. You agreed to work on the project so you should at least give them the opportunity to fulfill their obligations and for you to fulfill yours. If they choose not to pay you then they are choosing not to continue. It is possible if you try to pull out that they could pursue damages against you in court and you could be found liable. However it is valid to demand payment for the work you have completed, and to refuse to do more work or deliver a project without payment.

Do not try to hold their equipment hostage for payment. This will only hurt your position. If the principal demands that you turn over the hardware you should comply promptly and courteously. If the principal does not respond to your letter and goes for a few months without payment or contact I would send another letter advising him that you have his equipment and will consider that equipment abandoned and dispose of it if no contact or arrangements are made in next 30 days... then I would wait another 45-60 days before doing anything with the equipment. If it is light enough you could even ship the equipment back or return it yourself. Just make sure you get something signed that agrees that the equipment was returned in good condition.

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The notion received is that you just want out.

You mention it's a 'contract' project, but the details seem like someone asked you to perform some work and you said 'yes'.

If it is a contract, there should be payment and work details outlined. Did you specify payment is due in full at the start of the project? If no payment schedule is outlined, and they haven't payed you yet and the project isn't 100% complete, you are obligated to finish the work per the terms of the contract. If you do not follow through with your promise on the contract, there may be legal ramifications if your client wants to pursue that route.

If it's not a contract, call a friend you know can do it and that can use some extra money, give your friend the details of the project and let him/her do it and either give him/her all the money or a large cut. Friend finishes it, you hand it back to the client and call it a day.

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