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I was a software developer who worked as contractor for a non-profit up until a few days ago. The business relationship ended because their expectation of me was to do the work of multiple programmers + a user experience designer. Any time I described I was headed towards 'burn out' and that this was 'too much' for one person, they said whatever they could to 'string me along.' Rather than going along with this, I left the organization. The founder of the organization was not happy.

Throughout our working relationship together, and even now - they continue to act like I owe them something. This behavior culminates in different ways, such as saying I should be available after the working relationship has ended to support the new programmer via phone or email - with no discussion of or willingness to pay me for my time if I were to provide this support. I expressed that this is not in the contract, and not something I'd be able to honor - to which the founder loudly proclaimed I was being 'unreasonable.' Yet, he was fully aware at this point that I am totally burned out. The issue is, my emotional and physical health is in a bad place due to the stress and burn out brought on by this position. The organization has an outstanding bill for my time that they have yet to pay me, and are claiming they are doing an internal review of my work and then will contact me with any questions.

I can tell you they've never done any internal review of my work before, because they have no experience as programmers. So, it's hard to know why they are doing this. My guess would be to try and get out of paying, but that's not what this question is about...

The idea of interacting with these people in anyway gives me severe panic and anxiety. These people are the types (and I've experienced this during the working relationship) where I could answer their questions a million times over, and they either cannot understand, or seem to have some distrust of the answers I give them, so then they seem to check what I've said with a friend of theirs who is a professional programmer - and this individual has backed up what I have said every time. Sometimes this answering of their questions has culminated into them texting me for hours on end, but if I need to get a hold of them, I am unable to do so.

The anxiety stems from the feeling that this relationship will never end. My programming has made them hundreds upon thousands of dollars this year (it is a service app), but everything I do is 'under a microscope.' I am afraid of saying the wrong thing and somehow ending up in litigation or not getting paid. I have no timeline as to when they are going to get back to me with questions, and I need to move on quickly so my sanity doesn't deteriorate anymore.

What is it that I can do to end this relationship as quickly as possible? One thought was invoicing for an hours time for every email that they send or saying that all questions have to be sent by X date, it needs to all be in one email, etc. Should I get a lawyer to draft some sort of official note?

Any help would be great. These people have destroyed my love of programming and hope for the future. I am getting help now, but I have so much PTSD from this job it is ridiculous.

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  • 5
    The quickest way out would be to forget about that outstanding bill and never talk to them again. Is the outstanding money enough, to get stressed about it?
    – Helena
    Jan 13 at 19:05
  • 4
    Not an option to throw away $5600.
    – Julie S
    Jan 13 at 19:06
  • 1
    What are the payment terms for your invoices? And what country are you in?
    – Xavier J
    Jan 13 at 20:29
  • 3
    "Made payable within 5 days by the foundation." United States.
    – Julie S
    Jan 13 at 20:47
  • Not when you are a college student!! They totally took advantage of me as a student and I could use the money for tuition.
    – Julie S
    Jan 14 at 17:22

5 Answers 5

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What is it that I can do to end this relationship as quickly as possible?

It depends on how much money is outstanding and how badly you need the payment. If it is not significant, just ignore any communications that they send and move on.

If it is significant and you have fulfilled all of your contractual obligations, the only communication that you should send the company should be you asking for the outstanding payment. Something like:

Hello X. As you know Y and Z, as stipulated in our contract, have been completed. I have previously provided an invoice for these services and as of this date have not received payment. Unfortunately, I will not be able to answer any further questions until this payment has been received.

If they still refuse to pay, you should seek a lawyer. Make sure that you have fulfilled all of your contractual obligations before sending any communication. If you are in doubt, I would just seek out a lawyer and let them handle this.

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    +1 This organisation is definitely taking advantage of you, and they think they can get away with it because you're young.
    – mhwombat
    Jan 14 at 21:20
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    1 Document everything. Especially all emails and phone calls. 2 Find a buddy you can discuss this with in person: They will help sort out worries and clarify what really matters. 3 Conflict can be stressful... But persistence should lead to a really useful experience.
    – Peter Fox
    Jan 15 at 9:14
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"What is it that I can do to end this relationship as quickly as possible?"

TL-DR: Just. end. it. Please.

You can end this relationship right now by stopping to engage in communications that cost you your health and wellbeing. I know it seems differently but it really isn't. Looking more closely to this situation, the only people who are benefitting from your further relationship are your previous organization. Not you... Therefore it is best to stop communicating at all.

Don't think about a few more answers, a little more work or anything like that. If they really are acting the way you have described, they're not going to stop bugging you. And although they are trying to make it seem like you are only loosing from moving on, it is not true. They are loosing more, because they will probably have really hard time getting someone to pick up your work for 1/3 or 1/4 pay of market price (I assume your statement about doing a job of multiple people is correct). Therefore your further response to them should be succinct, strict and professional. Hence I suggest explicitly stating to them something along the lines: "I will refrain from doing any work or engaging in any communications until I am paid my salary in full for the work that has already been done".

After that it is very important that you follow through with this statement. Do not even reply to anything they have to say until you get the money. If that does not get the money situation sorted out and lawyer is an option for you, contact one and have them pick from where you left. And don't try to get back in touch with them, even if you decide not to hire the lawyer.

And at the end of the day, you have to realize that they might have zero intention to pay you what you are owed, even if they have to. Therefore by enabling them to continue bugging you, you only take the damage that the relationship costs you with very slim chance of getting paid.

Lastly, I'd like to say that you really can move on, the first firm step is the hardest though. Afterwards it will gradually become easier.

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"Pay my outstanding bill, then we can talk."

Be a broken record.

https://www.amazon.com/When-Say-No-Feel-Guilty/dp/0553263900

If in the US, get a free Google Voice number, give all your friends the new number, then turn off the ringer on your phone if the call is not coming from Google Voice.

Keep in mind that their reaction is completely outside of your control. If they don't want to pay you, they won't pay you.

There is nothing you can do about that, except maybe sue them in Small Claims Court. In the meantime, find an alternative way to pay for your tuition.

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  • Perfect answer, Do not acknowledge anything said or written. Answer with request for outstanding payment request.
    – Strader
    Jan 20 at 22:12
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What is it that I can do to end this relationship as quickly as possible?

Your contract should have details on how to end the relationship. Follow that closely. It may require a notice period or not. And it may indicate ways to shorten the notice period.

Unless your contract requires you to answer follow-up questions after the contract has ended, then don't. Simply indicate that your contract is completed and that you won't be answering additional questions.

Payment is a completely different issue. If payment isn't forthcoming as indicated by the terms of the contract, you may have to sue them, perhaps in small claims court.

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You do not owe them anything.

You are not obliged to continue to support the project once your contact is up (assuming your serving notice).

You are not obliged to reply to their emails, phone calls, texts or anything else and I suggest you block them on everything.

If the amount outstanding is worth the effort, I would hire a lawyer to recoup the amount and have no more personal dealings with the company (to be honest they probably only need to send a letter of intent to sue and the company will pay up).

Look after yourself and please don't let it put you off - not all companies are like that.

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