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In April, I signed a contract-to-hire agreement with a company I’ll call LF - my first real contracting gig, since most of what I'd done since graduation was smaller projects (i.e., setting up websites for local businesses, family members, friends, etc). There was no contract length specified - I received verbal reassuring that I'd be brought on full-time 'soon'.

After two weeks or so, the company LF verbally changed the contracting rate for certain projects. I was to be paid $A/hr for external client work. I was to be paid $B/hr (half of $A) for 'learning/training' hours - tutorials and development on proprietary software/projects. The company framed this as an ‘investment’ in my education and helping me become more valuable. At the time, I was unsure if it was all right for them to do either of these things – change my contracting rate, and cherrypick which rate they would pay for certain projects.

After three months they started running out of work for me. I had a vague internal project to work on, with no guidelines or specs. Every meeting I asked to have in order to formulate scope and specs turned into arguing between the CEO & CTO (both senior devs as well – small company) about how they bill clients and not getting paid for work (overcharging clients and delivering poor quality product contributes to that). This was another clue of a dysfunctional workplace for me.

After six months, they ran out of work for me, and that internal project was the only thing I had on my plate. I was trying to build a webapp for internal time tracking (in intial meetings, they literally brought up Harvest on their computers and pretty much said ‘build this’) using 1 programming language I know well, to connect to a database system I know nothing about (FileMaker – apparently it’s still a thing).

In late October, they told me to stop working on projects and look for other sources of income. Yet again, the ‘investment’ in me was brought up as I was told consolingly that they ‘had every intention of bringing [me] on full time’ at the company, they just had to get more business coming in first. They have used this ‘investment’ as a club with which to beat me into submission when I submitted my second-to-last invoice and went through the details about work performed and deemed random hours as outside of what was in my contract, and wouldn’t be paid.

I submitted my final invoice and accepted a full-time job elsewhere (at a company that actually invests in my career with great mentors, projects, challenges, and – yes – reliable paychecks). I ended my contract with LF. I was told they would prepare my final paycheck based on the invoice I sent (I have that in writing).

Fast forward to January, when I’m wondering if they missed my initial followup a week after the email sending the last invoice. I sent another reminder with the invoice, marked ‘past due’. Finally, two more emails, one physical letter, and three ignored phone calls later, I got a reply from the CEO saying they had no intention of paying me, that I hadn’t adhered to my contract, and had performed unapproved work. They capped it off by saying that they ‘missed working together and hope there will be opportunity in the future for more collaboration’.

So my question is this: what would you do in my shoes? This was my first real ‘job’, and I didn’t know that being a contractor meant I shouldn’t have been held to all of these standards that FT employees were. I didn’t know what a functional workplace was like until starting my new job. I’m inclined to flame them online – the tech community is small in my city and reputation goes a long way. They already have disgruntled clients, former and current, so it wouldn’t be the only negative review. I’m burned from this experience – it hurt to intially be so excited about the job and have it turn to a pile of bs before my eyes was disappointing. To have them be sanctimonious, uncommunicative, and unprofessional in the end is the rotten cherry on top of a pile of garbage that this whole ordeal has been.

Other tales from this place:

  • I didn’t get a 1099 or any other paperwork for contracting to do my taxes. I received no onboarding or training, was just booted into a project on my first day. No overview of company standard practices, tools, or technology.
  • All communication was via Slack – even when they told me to stop billing them, and to find other work, and that they weren’t going to pay me.
  • Even as a contractor, I had to go to daily standup in the office, which was a 45mn drive from my home.
  • They brought me to a FileMaker conference across the country and refused to pay me for any of my time there since, once again, the conference was an ‘investment’ in my education. I didn’t get the option not to go. I missed out on a week of income and work.

closed as unclear what you're asking by Masked Man, gnat, Chris E, Draken, T. Sar Mar 10 '18 at 8:51

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    I would talk to a good employment lawyer. Not getting a 1009 could be an honest mistake but if they do this intentionally they could be fined by the IRS. – JazzmanJim Mar 8 '18 at 18:26
  • You could review them on [GlassDoor]9https://www.glassdoor.de/Bewertungen/index.htm) to benefit others, but it sounds like they are going to fold soon anyway – Mawg Mar 9 '18 at 7:30
  • I want to flame them on glassdoor so badly, believe me. But like TOOGAM said down below, I don't want them to flip it around and frame me as the bad contractor who made a scene and was difficult to work with. So I don't know what I'll end up doing yet. – cjaro Mar 9 '18 at 18:53
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IMHO, you need to speak to a labor lawyer. Perhaps, there is a lawsuit somewhere in there.

This looks like exploitation that occasionally happens in the dev. community to starting developers. Would be nice to know your location, strange to go with all that for so long

Also, try to document all communications with the company, even if in form of screenshots. Other than that, what you can`t document, put in a sworn statement.

  • I'm in Minneapolis. My friend who still works there hates it, so I know it isn't just me. I have emails, my contract, all the notes I took in meetings, etc. – cjaro Mar 8 '18 at 22:30
  • Wow, US. You need to speak to a lawyer. Good luck at new position and getting yours from these guys – Strader Mar 9 '18 at 15:18
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Sounds like they are out of money or close to it. I wouldn't hold my breath on getting paid.

The lack of a 1099 is dumb on their part because, from a tax perspective, they absolutely want to report how much they paid you in order to write it off. Also not delivering a 1099 is fineable. When you report and pay your taxes just indicate that you didn't receive a 1099.

I'd say that you just got a valuable education. As a contractor you should be billing for every hour your work regardless of whether the company has a different client paying for it. If a company ever asks you to travel then it should be perfectly clear how much you are billing for that travel before you even pack. If it isn't then work that out. If the money isn't worth it then don't travel.

The multiple rates thing is generally a non-starter - don't do that again. You negotiate the rate. Then every phone call, every email and every hour you work gets logged and billed at the rate agreed on. This includes going into the office for meetings - those are billable to. Whether you bill for drive time or not should be negotiated before hand. I've seen it go both ways.

However, you did agree to those various rates so there's nothing inherently wrong with it. I just think it's a bad idea to do again the future.

I'd suggest that in order to get your money that you try two routes. First you can take them to small claims court, it's a relatively low cost option but is going to take a bit of effort on your part. The second option would be to engage a debt-collection company. Although you should understand that if they collect that you'd likely end up with pennies on the dollar.

  • In my contracting I have worked with a client (who I trust) who for 2 years has not issued a 1099 to me. And this is for about $20k of invoices each time. I just tell my accountant what happened and don't try to hide the money from the IRS. As long as I am covered I don't care how my client justifies those payments on their side of the equation. – Peter M Mar 9 '18 at 12:39
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If you can afford to, just walk away.

I see some advice (in other answers) about getting lawyers involved. The thing is, in a small tech community, you may be able to soil their reputation, but they may also spoil yours. If I was considering hiring you, and I heard that you underperformed due to a lack of inherent skill, communication problems with management, or other things that are generally fixable over the course of months or a small number of years, I may decide to gamble on you. If I somehow found out that you sued your employer, I'd likely try hard to pass. If you were truly wronged and are victorious in court, then that shows you can be victorious in court against an employer. If you weren't wronged and lose your court case, then it means you started a lawsuit when you weren't even wrong. Either way, looks bad.

Many verbal promises are not worth much. It sounds like this company had some financial hardships, and had those hardships for a period of time. They are unlikely to recover soon. Set your sights on a positive future and stay focused on such good things.

If it didn't work out, just leave them be. It sounds like you've learned a lot, not necessarily about FileMaker, but about how businesses can try to bite you. If you ever work for them again, just ensure clearly understood terms, in writing.

I've definitely trusted an employer and then felt a bit burned. (In my case, I did get paid, but took a while, maybe 60-90 days, during which substantial debt (while traveling internationally) was on my personal credit card. Was my employer up front and honest with me? I don't know. I was too new to the environment to know. But, now I know what to ask about. If I get bopped around a bit because of my inexperienced naivety, then it's potentially just an expensive bit of education. And maybe it's lousy that the education comes at a time of youth when I'm generally more poor and needing such money, but that can be how life works. The best thing I can do is learn, and apply that knowledge to do better in the future, and enjoy later life when things go nicer for me.

  • I left. I certainly suffered financially while I was with them anyway, so there wasn't much difference there once I officially ended my contract anyway. And yes, like you say, now I know what to ask about and what I should expect. I have walked away with a lot of knowledge and experience outside of software development that will be valuable. – cjaro Mar 9 '18 at 18:51

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