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I am a graphic designer that was, until recently, working full time at an agency. Over the summer, while employed and earning an income, I started working on a portfolio of work with future plans to try freelancing while continuing my full time employment. I hired a programmer to help with the web site and some interactive graphics. His payment amounted to many thousands of dollars, which was fine for me at the time. Strangely, the programmer seemed nonchalant about payment. His attitude could almost be described as reluctant.

I asked him once what motivated him to do such good work, if not immediate payment. He replied that his hours at work had been reduced under a German short-time work scheme and he was using the opportunity to try freelancing, something he had always wondered if he would like. During the short-time work period, he had a lot of free time while still getting enough compensation. For him, earning money while freelancing was not the main objective, but a nice side effect. Regarding the payment, he said, it is an extraordinary situation right now and he felt privileged to live in a country where the government tried to shield its citizens from the economic effects (and he is aware that mine is not). For these reasons, he found it only fair to partly extend his privilege to me by "accommodating whatever payment terms work for you."

Unfortunately, I was recently laid off. I have a family. We are now in a financial crisis. Still, I have been reminding the programmer that he needs to send me an invoice, because that is the fair thing to do. His work was excellent. He was consistently accessible and showed good judgment throughout the process. He's actually one of the best people I've ever worked with and he has helped me so much.

But I have started wondering if I'm causing myself undue hardship. Am I causing myself and my family trouble when I don't need to be? Am I the one insisting that I pay him?

I would like to approach this subject with him, but I don't want to risk putting him in an unfairly uncomfortable or weird-feeling position. He doesn't deserve that. For these reasons, I am having trouble finding the words to speak with him about it.

Does anyone have a take on this situation? Or suggestions about how to approach the subject? I am feeling conflicted...on one hand paying him is the right thing to do, on the other hand...is it?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Jan 18 at 12:38
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Usually when people on Kurzarbeit make additional side-income, then that side-income is subtracted from the Kurzarbeitergeld (the money they receive from the government). So it's usually pointless to freelance while on Kurzarbeit, unless you do it for intangible benefits (building references, networking, collecting experience...) or make a lot more money than with your regular job.

The German government made an exception from that rule during the COVID-19 pandemic (which your contractor might not be aware of, though). But that exception was only valid from April 1st 2020 to December 1st 2020. Any income outside of that period would be deducted from their Kurzarbeitergeld.

That basically means that when you don't pay them for their time, then the German government pays them. Given those two options and knowing about your situation, he seems to prefer to get his money from the state.

But it might also be possible that the freelancer tries to "move" any income outside of that period to when they are again fully employed by delaying the invoice for that work. That way they hope to still get the full amount of money from the government. Whether that's legal is a problem between them and the government, not your problem. Just don't let them talk you into writing any factually incorrect documents.

Anyway, I would not write off those outstanding obligations to them. They might potentially demand payment even years later.

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    I was having difficulty understanding the situation, but this makes perfect sense! – TonyK Jan 18 at 19:06
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    +1 very nice twist to a story line... added layers that may actually be relevant. – WernerCD Jan 19 at 4:42
  • Wasn't the exception only if you work in health related jobs during Kurzarbeit? – Kami Kaze Jan 19 at 9:47
  • @GoodbyeSE At first that was the case, but the exception was extended to all jobs with the Sozialschutz-Paket II in May. – Philipp Jan 19 at 9:50
  • «Still, I have been reminding the programmer that he needs to send me an invoice, ...» maybe the freelancer is just a regular worker for a company and is not registered as a freelnce worker, thus can't come up with a legal document (invoice/receipt)? – vesperto Jan 20 at 16:45
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He's not giving you a freebee or a gift. He's offering you payment terms, to help you, because he feels it's morally right for him, and because he feels he's already had help himself.

In his shoes I'd want my choice at least respected not disrespected by doubting if my word is okay in it.

Consider your business and needs, and choose a few different terms. "I could really do with paying after DATE" or "I won't kid, it would help if I can pay by DATE"....

Then show you respect his decisions by giving him a choice back, something like this.

I want to thank you. It's not often someone is that considerate and generous. I won't kid you, if you wanted payment now, I'd pay. If you truly mean it, then it would help my business and family a lot to pay by say June (or whenever), when hopefully things pick up. If it's still dire in June, we can always chat, maybe you'll need the payment by then.

Let me know what you prefer, if you're still sure. If you want it in writing say so. And either or any is good.

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    It's good to get it in writing, just to prevent misunderstandings later down the line. You can just say that you want clarity because you have to know your financial situation while filing taxes. – ObscureOwl Jan 18 at 10:59
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    If it suits you, another option you might suggest is to split the payment over several months. – lvella Jan 18 at 12:58
  • Is it possible that this guy is trying to avoid tax implications of his own? – Mike Brockington Jan 18 at 13:11
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    @MikeBrockington: probably even issues with his current employer, because when you're in "Kurzarbeit" in Germany, you're technically still in full-time employment. – arne Jan 18 at 13:24
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    @arne yes, that clause is a thing, and it is enforceable, and employers tend to take that seriously - courts are much more cavalier about it though, unless the employer can prove that the side job actually impacted the employer's perfomance (unlikely if in Kurzarbeit). -- Arbeitszeitverordnung does not apply to self-employment, so that's not a consideration here. (There is "fake self-employment" but this does not seem to be the case either.) – toolforger Jan 20 at 10:59
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"But I have started wondering if I'm causing myself undue hardship. Am I causing myself and my family trouble when I don't need to be? Am I the one insisting that I pay him?"

He's basically extended you credit where he is financing your project with an interest free loan. You still owe him the money whenever he decides to ask for it. It's probably unlikely he'll ask for it in the next couple of months but some people have certain triggers for when they ask like they decide they want extra money at a certain time of year or their bills increase. At that point he's going to expect you to pay quickly and not need 30-60 days since I'm guessing the terms he gave you when you hired him didn't say you get that long to pay him.

And yes I've been in that other guy's shoes where I was doing freelance work as a side thing with a well paying day job (similar to his situation where he doesn't actually need the freelance money). Sometimes I would be slow about getting payment but this was only dealing with clients I'd known for many years. When I asked, it's because I wanted it asap!

If I'm you I would put his money in an interest earning account and let it sit. I wouldn't go spending it since it sounds like you're having cash flow issues.

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But I have started wondering if I'm causing myself undue hardship. Am I causing myself and my family trouble when I don't need to be? Am I the one insisting that I pay him?

Think of a payment plan that you think you might be comfortable with. And then ask him about it. As long as you're paying something every month (maybe $50), I don't think he would have a problem with that.

Then once your income comes back, you can always up the payments to something more substantial each month. It's important to pay people what they're worth, even if they're not good at asking for money. It's especially important if you want to hire them again.

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There may also be a logical reason for the behaviour. The developer has a full-time job, but his hours have been reduced. It may be that he receives some compensation for the reduced hour, either from his employer or from his government, and if he receives payment from you, then that compensation must be paid back.

In that situation, he may either not care about payment at all, because he doesn't end up with more money in his pocket, or he may not care about payment now because when Covid is over and his job is back to full time, then he can take your money without losing money somewhere else.

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I've found myself in a somewhat similar situation last year, after replacing my soldering iron and getting a new oscilloscope.

I've always debugged things, from socks n shoes, to computer programs to broken hardware. I enjoy it and often, do it recreationally. That is to say, I'm often paying for the learning opportunities that arise from it.

Friends of a couple of neighbours approached me last year when they saw my piles of junk and red+black wires (someone actually said as much!). The first was simply a guitar amp with a couple of 5W resistors that had reportedly become too hot, resulting in dry solder joints. The next, the cord from a pair of headphones.

I was happy to have a go at fixing each, eager to look at how each company had solved the various problems, also to do something different to the day before and after. I told each of them that I'd endeavour to use all possible care, but would assume no responsibility.

"Nah, it's okay. Don't worry about it. I'm warm, fed and comfy. I don't need your money, I'm happy to do the best I can." was my response to each of them at talk of some money for my time and effort. I meant what I said.

Unfortunately, each of them struggled with this and thrust money into my hand when I saw them next. That was really uncomfortable for me and the cause of quite some displeasure. They'd taken what was agreed to be an easy transaction and turned it into something unpleasant.

They each offered payment. I rejected it, saying I'd be happy to try my best. They appeared to accept this and so we proceeded. I repaired the items and returned them. Each of them went outside the boundaries of our agreement, to my detriment.

I now try to avoid each of them.

If I were him and you approached me yet again about payment, I might just consider losing your number, since you're now actively making my life less pleasant.

I would instead, consider this work do be a done-deal. I would move past this project and sound-out the possibility of using him for more paid work in the future. This would make it clear you've accepted his position, but are still not wanting to take advantage.

Don't forget - the people I've helped would not have been taking advantage of me. I was taking advantage of them and the fact they had equipment I could probe without having to buy myself.

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    I like your answer for several reasons. One small adjustment though: I do think the OP should get it in writing from the dev that the work was agreed as uncompensated, mostly for peace of mind so there are no surprises later when money's already tight, but also for potential bookkeeping purposes. (After all, it was man hours on a project, that might be important.) You already have my +1, but how would you recommend OP ask for this? Aside ..I wish you were my neighbor cos I have two 50's/60's era guitar amps I need re-capped. :) – elrobis Jan 19 at 22:13
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    @elrobis - You raise a pair of really good points. I was considering the idea of obtaining the contractor's position in writing as a means of avoiding future surprises. This may or may not be covered in emails back and forth. (probably not though, to be honest) I would try to frame the question in such a way that I'd be having the dev confirm that (s)he did in fact provide said services as part of an agreement with the owner, and would be mentioned and revered in any of the "about us" info. That is to say, I'd appeal to their own sense of self-importance. "So and so volunteered vital work" – enhzflep Jan 19 at 22:44
  • @elrobis - That said - I'd be more concerned that work for which there is no demonstrable subtraction from the balance-sheet was still recorded as having been performed. In younger years, I'd perform work for employers to ensure their project was completed. I wouldn't always book the hours I performed. At some point, I realized that this made the planning & costing for future projects difficult - it actually helped perpetuate the larger problem, rather than solving another, smaller one. As for the amps. If you're near Melbourne in Victoria, Australia... – enhzflep Jan 19 at 22:49
  • Yeah, I like the idea of having them confirm for downstream surprise-control and bookkeeping. Personally, I'd frame the request with a lot of genuine appreciation, the promise of a good reference should they ever need one, and a standing offer to work with them on future projects if the dev decides to go freelance permanently. I think an appreciative tone and a procedural message would work fine. Re: Melbourne, haha. That's comically close to being the exact opposite side of the world from Columbia SC, USA :) – elrobis Jan 21 at 15:33
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Honestly, if he has done work for you that is under copyright then as part of assigning the copyright over I would pay him. Your local law and German law may require some sort of consideration.

This could be a big issue later on. If you are super successful there would be nothing worse than him coming back to you later on looking for payment and dis-entangling his contributions could be tricky.

You could offer to make the payment contingent on you passing a certain profit level, say 10% once you make more than $10,000 in profit (not revenue)?

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    German law doesn't require consideration as part of a contract. – gnasher729 Jan 19 at 9:04
  • Good to know, thanks. – PeterI Jan 19 at 13:28
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I suspect the contractor doesn't really care about money. Maybe he is not happy with the treatment meted out to him. He may be making a point (He perhaps believes that things have been taken unnecessarily too far just so that some people can make their point).

I would be careful about offering money to this person. He will construe this as a bribe to keep his mouth shut and will present it as an evidence in court. The matter can only be resolved in the court. Out of court settlements are out of question. People have to go to jail.

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    "I hired a programmer to help with the web site and some interactive graphics. His payment amounted to many thousands of dollars..." -- Money is already owed. Paying is legally required. The only question is when will payment be made. – HenryM Jan 21 at 22:20

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