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I'm currently working for an extremely small company (literally my boss, his wife and myself as the sole employee), and have been working for about 4 months on a contract basis. My job scope has to do with developing and maintaining websites, handling server migrations, database management, etc.

1. Deadlines, promised features, etc.

  • The first main point I want to share is the fact that my boss always seems to lie about deadlines and promised features. The company isn't exactly well-off at the moment and seems to be receiving some sort of funding from another company/organization (not 100% sure of the full situation), but I do know that my boss does need to provide some sort of monthly progress report to continue receive the said funding. In every meeting, my boss always lies or exaggerates about the features and the progression of the project.

    For example, he claims that a specific feature is

    100% complete and vastly superior compared to all the big players out there

    When in reality it's the exact opposite. It's hardly near completion and the quality of the said feature is questionable at best. Even for deadlines, he would claim that everything is going smoothly and can be delivered on time.

  • Normally, I would simply try not to get involved in company politics, but my boss seems to consistently attempt to "rope" me into the whole situation. Whenever he calls over clients for meetings, he makes it a point to involve me into the meeting and let them (the clients) know that I am the developer. It feels almost as if he's preparing me as a scapegoat to blame if the project does not deliver.

  • He's also an extreme Yes-Man, succumbing to every feature request that a client makes on the spot, without ever consulting me. He simply looks at me and goes "oh this is simple, I'm sure it can be done in a day or two, right?".

2. My contract technically ended on the 30th of June (8 days ago)

  • However, my boss constantly guilt trips me into completing the whole project. He would say that the company would go under if the project fails to deliver and that he would go bankrupt. He has been subtly mentioning this ever since I took the job.

    He would also go around boasting to clients about how this new employee (me) is doing a fantastic job and that the project is going to be a stunning success.

Would it be best for my mental health and sanity to leave this place as soon as possible? I personally would feel bad about causing a company to go under. Additionally, I have not received my previous month's salary yet.

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    You just said that your manager is preparing you to be a scapegoat! Why would you feel bad about leaving when you could be fired any day now and be blamed for the project's failure? – Long Jul 8 at 18:34
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    2. Are you getting paid any longer? Apparently no, and you don't have any expectation of getting paid. What is the significance of being 'out of contract' - were you a contractor or paid employee? Did you have a verbal or written Statement of Work? Did he approve your timesheets? weekly/ monthly? Anyway if you insist on sinking on any more time into this trainwreck (I sure wouldn't), you need an enforceable written agreement stating what work you're doing (hours, tasks, rate, payment terms). Stop all work until you get that. Meantime, obviously start looking for new paid clients. – smci Jul 8 at 19:36
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    Is it even legal for you to still work there? – guest Jul 8 at 20:28
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    "My contract technically ended on the 30th of June" Did you come to a new agreement (e.g. "You'll continue paying me at previous rate")? Or does he expect you to continue working without pay out of guilt? – Acccumulation Jul 8 at 21:28
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    What amazes me is that we send our young people into the workforce so ill-equipped to deal with bad managers that this question needed to be asked in the first place. – EvilSnack Jul 9 at 3:27
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Leave.

I personally would feel bad about causing a company to go under.

The company isn't exactly well-off at the moment... Additionally, I have not received my previous month's salary yet.

This strongly hints the company is already going under.

The business plan of the company relies on revenue from a product that does not exist, can not be delivered on time, and keeps expanding in scope beyond reason.

This is not your fault. It is the fault of whoever made the business plan which relies on one single person - you. What was the plan if you win the lottery tomorrow and quit?

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    While I agree, technically I'm not sure the questioner can "leave", since they already don't have a job there any more. "Stop working for this person for free, that you don't even like working for". – Steve Jessop Jul 8 at 15:28
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    I wouls make my own answer, detailing my experience working with this exact kind of employer...I didn’t leave, got screwed then left. So the end result is simply leave. No money no work. – morbo Jul 8 at 15:49
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    @SteveJessop The O.P. isn't even working there, legally speaking. If the contract ended on the 30th of last month, O.P. is no longer an employee of that company. O.P. SHOULDN'T be working there at all since O.P. is not an employee there. What O.P. can do is not show there anymore, until a new contract is made. – Ismael Miguel Jul 8 at 16:06
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    Also, I think one thing important for OP to realize -- As everyone said, they don't owe the company anything especially seeing as OP hasn't been paid for last month. However, sometimes this sort of emotional attachment can be fine but it needs to be paid back. A good example might be an employer offering you some stock options. (Though given the specific financial situation here I don't think it's a good idea to accept them!) – Captain Man Jul 8 at 17:25
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    @IsmaelMiguel If someone asks you to perform services for them, and you perform services for them, then you're working for them. If no explicit contract was agreed upon, then the employer is still on the hook for at least minimum wage. – Acccumulation Jul 8 at 21:31
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At the beginning, I was going to tell you "have you had a proper conversation", because communication is always the answer.

However, a few things are making me think that, well, you might be getting used (my apologies for being so forward):

  • Your contract is technically over and he "guilt trips you",
  • He hasn't paid your last salary,
  • He wants to bring you into the situation where he is lying to people,

In a new words: he knows without you (and his wife), there is no company - or at least, it would take a bit to hire new people. I understand you feeling bad (no one likes to be responsible for a "company crash"), but you gotta look after yourself, especially with someone that acts like that.

So yes, I would leave.

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    If he can't pay you, he doesn't have a viable business. You staying isn't going to fix that. – Nelson Jul 8 at 7:57
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    depending on jurisdiction, he may still have a defacto contract by continuing to work. He should check that. Strongarm the boss into paying you for last month and start searching immediatly. – Benjamin Jul 8 at 7:58
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    Also of course they're not responsible for a company crash, in any way. The leaving might precipitate it but that was caused by lack of payment and all the rest – benxyzzy Jul 8 at 16:28
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    I always like to imagine the situation in reverse - think about how completely absurd it would be for you to go to your boss a month after doing no work, and to guilt trip him into paying you because you'll go bankrupt otherwise. This is the exact same situation of him not paying you and attempting to guilt trip you for a month of free work because the company will go bankrupt otherwise. You don't get free salary for no work, why should the boss get free work for no salary? – Nuclear Wang Jul 8 at 17:56
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Employment is a bilateral business contract. One person works, the other person pays. When one side doesn't fulfill their side of the bargain, the other isn't obligated to do so either.

You are under no obligation to keep working for a failed business. When your employer makes promises which you can not keep, that's his problem, not yours. When their business partners believe those false promises and get burned, then that's a problem between them and your boss, not your problem.

When your contract is over, then there is no reason to show up anymore, unless both sides decide to renew it. When you were not paid for the contract on time, then you should only renew the contract when you have a really good reason to do so.

Should they continue to withhold your last payment despite them being contractually obligated to do so, get legal advise.

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12

Leave. NOW.

Your boss is likely already violating multiple laws by coercing you into staying beyond your contract and by not paying you (although IANAL, this should not be construed as legal advice, and you really should talk with a lawyer once you leave to figure out how to recoup your missing paycheck). On top of that, he's lying to his customers, in their face, about how the project is going. He's also disrespecting you by not consulting with you about technical decisions and making promises YOU can't keep while you are present.

At best, your boss is naive and subservient. At worst your boss is exploitative and manipulating. None are qualities you want from a good boss. I recommend you leave as soon as possible, even if you don't have something else lined up.

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7

While I agree that "leave" is probably your best option, let's go a bit deeper for the sake of explanation:

  1. Your boss may be a yes-man but you don't have to be. When your boss says "this looks simple, it should take a day or two" and you know it will take a week, don't be afraid to push back. You are the technical expert, and you should assert yourself as the expert and give your expert opinion. Be careful to phrase it in such a way to not make your boss look bad in front of the client, but technically you are being asked a question and you should answer it properly, not be a yes-man yourself. It's better to be realistic with the timeline and not work 20-hour days even if it makes hurt feelings. The worst that can happen is you lose your job, your boss hires someone else who can do it "faster", and then either that person works 20-hour days (not your problem) or the boss finds out that that person also can't do it in 1 or 2 days either and realizes you were right all along and his deliverable isn't ready on time (also not your problem).

  2. If you are in a meeting, you are expected to contribute. "You are the developer" means "you are the subject matter expert on developing the software", which in turn means "if your boss says something stupid, it's your responsibility to correct him". So do that. You aren't being set up to be a scapegoat, you are being introduced to provide the technical expertise to the discussion that your boss does not have (clearly).

  3. Your contract may have ended, but are you being paid? As long as you're being paid (or are receiving and accepting IOUs), then technically there's nothing wrong with continuing to work on the project, providing you want to continue working (and continue receiving the amount being paid). If you are not being paid and are not receiving legally-enforceable contracts of future payment, then you should just go. An employment contract is only valuable so long as it's providing value to both the employer and the employee, and in this case it's not providing value to the employee so you should terminate it.

  4. You should not be concerned with your company failing. The bottom line is: It's your boss's job to do 3 things: Pay you, make sure you have reasonably-scoped projects within your domain, and strategize for business continuity. Those are his jobs. He is not doing any of those 3 jobs. Don't be fooled: If you suddenly stopped doing your job, your boss would terminate your employment in a heartbeat; he wouldn't think twice about "maybe Spectral has a family to feed and rent to pay, I should keep him on staff even if he's not working". You should think likewise: "I'm not being paid and this project is dumb, I'm outta here and if that means my boss can't pay his rent or feed his family, not my problem", because that's 100% how he thinks about you.

The only reason you should not leave this company immediately is if your boss is paying you in some form of compensation you are prepared to accept and that compensation is worth more than the trouble of finding a new job (or being unemployed). If you want to make that choice, the most important thing you need to know is that whatever IOUs he's giving you have to be legally enforceable and unconditional. Meaning, if he fails to pay you by date certain then you can sue him, and the payment must be made even if, e.g., it turns out later that you stole the company's IP or committed murder or retweeted someone's political opinion on Twitter who your boss disagrees with. Unless the payment is both of those things, my advice would be to not accept it at all, and only consider accepting it if it is both of those things first (and then consider other factors as well).

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Agree with all the advice above.

Also consider that if he is lying to customers or investors, in an effort to get more money for an unfinished project, the legal ramification and potential lawsuit(s) could involve you as well. Maybe not directly, but as an 'employee' of the company, you could be dragged in.

I get not wanting to leave them high and dry despite not being paid, but if you rely on that money to live, then you need to seek other or additional employment. You seem like a good, loyal person who is in a bad spot.

I once worked for a company that my boss what I, and many others, deemed as very questionable business practices. Ethically I couldn't continue to work there. Even to the point were he 'fired' me 80 days into my employment and kept me as a contractor so he didn't have to pay the head hunter who found me.

Nicely drop your notice (actually you don't technically need one), offer consulting for a fee upfront, and add this to your resume and keep looking.

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  • If the contract is ended, then notice period is not needed, right? He is under no obligation to stay more than that. – Anish Sheela Jul 9 at 1:57
  • No, but its better to leave on as good as possible terms so he doesn't get screwed over – Wally Kolcz Jul 9 at 3:42
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    Good terms is a two way street. He is not getting paid and contract is over. Bridge is already broken. No meaning in staying anymore. – Anish Sheela Jul 9 at 11:32
  • Oh I agree but I would be concerned that the boss would look at their departure and blame him for the loss of the company to the clients/investors. I don't know the boss but I know that my former did things like that. PLUS as shitty as the situation is, this boss could also be a professional reference down the road or, at least, someone that an employer contacts as a resume reference – Wally Kolcz Jul 10 at 16:57
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The question is not whether you should leave, but how you should leave.

Your first priority should be getting paid. You know these people, so think about which of them is more likely to help you collect. All else being equal, go to the one that manages the finances.

At the first I recommend being nice but firm, expecting immediate payment. "I know you know this already, but I do need to be paid for June. If you would please write me a check now, I'll take it to the bank and get back to work." Being just the two of them, they have no ready-made excuses, no Payroll Department to blame for slowness. They have their company checkbook in the desk drawer in the next room.

If for whatever reason they are not willing to pay you for the previous month, immediately, it's hardball time. "I'm sure you understand, this is my job and livelihood. I need to be paid before I can continue working for you."

It's important that you are fully prepared to instantly hand them back any company owned equipment and walk out the door, never to return, if they refuse this ultimatum. But you should accept no excuses whatsoever for not being paid salary from six weeks ago.

It's also important that you maintain eye contact, not look down, etc. and also not allow yourself to become angry. This is business, and all business is founded primarily on trust. Not paying your salary threatens the trust between you and them. If they don't understand that, they will not be in business very long, whether you stay or not.

I don't give you high chances of getting paid, but you should try. Even if they pony up though, trust has evidently eroded, and you are on the way out. You should be urgently looking for something else to do.

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And in the future

It's too late to salvage your relationship with the current company, but when you are working on any future contracts, there will come a point (no later than one month from the end of the contract period) when one of the following three things should be the case:

  1. The company has fulfilled all of its obligations under the contract, and you have agreed to an extension of the contract under the current terms.
  2. The company has fulfilled all of its obligations under the contract, and you have agreed to a new contract with different terms.
  3. You are actively seeking employment with a different company.
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RUN, FAR AND FAST. You've probably lost your money, and your priority right now is to distance yourself before you get pulled in sufficiently deeply that you find yourself liable for something larger e.g. because you've allowed yourself to be nominated as a director, or you've been given sufficient shares in lieu of salary that your protection as an employee is eroded.

After running, consult a lawyer. The detail will depend on what jurisdiction you're in.

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