I started a part-time software development job two months ago. The company I work for has roughly 50% volunteers, but the position I applied for was paid (I still have a copy of the job advertisement).

I asked a question about how I should submit my time sheets to get paid, and they replied, "As your project is non-paid, you will not be required to submit time sheets each month".

Hopefully this is just a mix-up at payroll, but I sent a reply asking them to double check and that I wont be able to continue working if it's on a volunteer basis.

The problem is that any communication with payroll takes an unreasonable time to go through. Their reply to my question took 3 weeks and all my other contact with them has taken similarly long (hence why I've been working for two months without receiving payment yet).

How should I proceed? It's been a day since I sent the email asking them to double check and I haven't had a reply. I'm hesitant to go into work if there's a chance I wont be paid. If they do insist I'm working on a volunteer basis how can I go about getting payment for these past two months (UK)?

Update: I've contacted my supervisor about it. He confirmed that he thinks I should be paid, and payroll confirmed that I'm not down to be paid on their list. I'm escalating to try and get this resolved but the director has gone on leave until Monday and isn't answering calls.

  • 188
    Did you sign any sort of contract before you started? Your salary, if you have one, should be mentioned in there.
    – user34587
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 13:03
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    This isn't an "I'll email and wait" situation. You need to call your boss and HR and then follow up with an email restating the conversation(s) and tell them the timeframe you're expecting for response/resolution.
    – alroc
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 13:45
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    How could you possibly have entered into this situation? How have you been working for 2 months without pay, accepting 3 week delays to your queries? This is ludicrous. Phone up, or physically talk to, your manager, immediately. I mean now. Not this afternoon, or tomorrow, or next week. Now. If you don't actually have a signed agreement with what your job entails, this entire employment is probably illegal in the UK. You could be "working" for some real cowboys. Commented May 23, 2017 at 14:45
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    Just a quick update with what's happening. I've contacted my supervisor about it. He confirmed that he thinks I should be paid, and payroll confirmed that I'm not down to be paid on their list. I'm escalating to try and get this resolved but the director has gone on leave until Monday and isn't answering calls.
    – toady_two
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 15:26
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    @Omegastick It all helps. Get the screenshots, get the emails, zip them all up and get them off servers where the company can delete them. Then speak to CAB and see what they say while you wait and see if your manager can sort it out. I wouldn't spend money on a lawyer just yet as it may turn out to just be a paperwork mistake but make sure you have the evidence ready in case you do.
    – Tim B
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 16:02

8 Answers 8


Like Kozaky said, check your contract. Any paid position would have involved signing an official job offer that would have specified your salary. Find that document and read it again to make sure you know what it actually says.

If there's no mention of being paid a specific amount of money, then the fault is unfortunately probably on you. Give your notice, pack your things and move on. (I would still recommend giving two weeks, or whatever's customary, just to try your best not to burn bridges.)

If there IS mention of a salary, then take that document to HR. Send an email first (it's probably wise to maintain a paper trail) but if they haven't gotten back to you by the end of the day, go knock on some doors. I say "doors" (plural) because you should probably rope in your immediate supervisor and see what they have to say about this. One way or the other, get it straight.

If your contract says it's a paid position and they still refuse to pay you, then you'll probably have to get a lawyer involved, but hopefully it won't go that far. Two months of work is probably a sizable amount of money they owe, but weigh that against any legal fees that you'll incur pursuing them over it. And also, of course, give your notice. Don't continue working for them if they aren't at least willing to admit there's an issue to be addressed here.


The OP has mentioned in comments that he had a verbal agreement during the interview process, though his contract doesn't explicitly highlight which salary position his job is eligible for.

A verbal agreement can still be considered binding in most countries (I think, IANAL) but it would be an uphill battle to say the least. When speaking to HR about this issue, it would definitely help if you could get the original interviewer on record in support of your position (ideally in writing, as before, paper trails are good). MAYBE they'd be willing to revise your contract and correct the issue, if everyone involved outside of HR agrees on what was supposed to happen.

It's not a great position to be in, but it's worth a shot - it's not like you have much to lose, since you've already stated you don't intend to stay if you aren't getting paid. If it comes down to a legal battle, as Rath says below, you might be able to convince a judge you wouldn't have accepted the position if you had known it was unpaid.

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    A verbal contract is still a contract. You might convince a judge you wouldn't have accepted a non-paid position if you go the legal route, but that's probably not realistic, certainly not ideal.
    – rath
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 13:29
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    "you should probably rope in your immediate supervisor" Probably? The supervisor should have been the first port of call, weeks and weeks ago. As a matter of urgency. Commented May 23, 2017 at 14:47
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    In a lot of countries when there is a written contract it cannot be modified, changed, or altered verbally. The written contract is the primary contract and any changes or agreements to that contract must appear in the same format as the original contract. This means that you can't have both a written and verbal contract, the verbal one is "puffing" in the presence of a written contract which takes precedence.
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 15:09
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    Why the HELL would you give two weeks notice to someone who tricked you into working for free for two months? Get paid pretty quickly, or leave NOW. Anything else is ridiculous.
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 2:54
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    If there is a requirement to give notice, that is probably enough to prove he should be getting at least minimum wage under UK law.
    – greenglass
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 7:27

How should I proceed?

This is not an issue that you should have to resolve on your own. Ask your manager to step in and help you get this fixed. It shouldn't take 3 weeks, 3 days, or even 3 hours for him/her to tell the HR folks in no uncertain terms that yours is a paid position and they need to pay you your back wages straight away.

Update: From your comment, you've now established that your manager intended for you to be paid, but that the payroll department somehow never got that message. I say again that this is a problem that your manager should resolve on your behalf and as quickly as possible, and if he hasn't already offered to step in, you should ask him to do that.

If you must be involved, try to work with the payroll folks rather than against them. Their job is to get the checks out to the right people and in the right amounts based on the information they're given, so try to find out what should have happened between the moment you were hired and now in order for you to get paid. You're not looking to point fingers, but something went wrong somewhere in the hiring process and you need to get it fixed. Let them know that you understand that they're just following their process, and that your goal is to work with them to resolve the issue. Once you know what information they should have received and from whom, you can follow that trail and make sure that the responsible parties do what it takes to get you a check.

  • I know your answer says let's not point fingers, but how does a manager not notice 2 months of salary NOT coming out of their budget?
    – corsiKa
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 18:42
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    @corsiKa It really doesn't matter. The goal isn't to find the culprit, it's to put the OP on the payroll and get his/her back pay. Assigning blame won't help the OP, and it might alienate the very person who could fix the problem. The manager should make sure the immediate problem is fixed, and then figure out why it happened (including looking at his own actions) in order to prevent some other employee from having the same problem in the future, but none of that is the OP's responsibility.
    – Caleb
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 19:16
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    Many systems have "payroll" vertically separated from line management, so the manager might only notice the discrepancy annually.
    – pjc50
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 13:59
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    @corsiKa I think it's really common for low level managers to not manage payroll. Mine certainly doesn't - they would have no idea if I wasn't being paid. Commented May 26, 2017 at 6:04
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    "can't afford to pay certain people this month" turns very easily into "trading while insolvent": either you're contracted to pay them or you're not. You cannot convert paid staff into volunteers without their consent. Some organisations will manipulate this with "zero hours" contracts, where if they don't want to pay staff they get sent home. It's quite possible the only person in a small org that knows if they can make payroll is the financial director; but it sounds like this case is large enough to have "middle management".
    – pjc50
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 22:39

You have loads of rights on this issue in the UK, don't worry.

If you have no immediate joy with your line manager, go to your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau - it's what they're there for.

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    think this answer could be greatly improved if you explained the rights that may help the OP, and included a link to how the op can find a Citizens Advice Centre. Commented May 23, 2017 at 17:52
  • @Brian yes ty lol Commented May 23, 2017 at 17:52
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    I am not an employment lawyer, but Citizens Advice is the place to find out about employment rights, especially if your employer is zero help. Answers from a forum like this are a good place to start, but you really need to ask someone who is a genuine expert on the subject. I added a link in case someone reading this answer has a problem with Google and downvotes. Commented May 23, 2017 at 19:15
  • Darn it - too late! Commented May 23, 2017 at 19:21
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    This answer is now very close to link only. Please edit in some details that seem applicable back in. Leave the link, as it's a useful resource that will help the OP get more info, but try to pull in what seems to be relevant given the information you have so far. It's okay to qualify your answer that the OP should consult a lawyer to be sure they're getting sound advice.
    – jpmc26
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 7:50

When you negotiate it might help to mention that you never intended to work as a volunteer and unpaid, so if they insist that you were a volunteer then you insist that any code you created is yours and yours only and needs to be removed from any machine they own.

  • A lot depends on the country and I am not familiar well with UK law but most berne convetion country require written form when obtaining copyrights. Additionally, in Poland, if transferring the copyrights fully (meaning the employer/customer wants full copyrights) they are bound to pay for that unless it is stated otherwise in a written form. If your contract does not include any regulation regarding copyrights you may have some leverage to get your pay check. This has to be discussed with the lawyer if it comes to that point.
    – Zefiryn
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 10:05
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    You're unlikely to win this argument... OP willingly worked for free for 2 months, and does have a contract signed seemingly stating the intent to work for free. OP would appear, then, to have second thoughts and be trying to back out of the contract. OP's work belongs to the employer at this point.
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 17:24
  • @SnakeDoc: You don't have to win. They have to be afraid. I personally wouldn't ever work for a company using volunteers; if I did it would probably be at a low rate. My damages would be at a very high rate, because I might be willing to work cheap for a good cause, but not willing to work cheap only to be ripped off. Triple damages for willfully continuing to use my software - well, you'll find a lawyer who enjoys doing that.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 17:50
  • @gnasher729 You seem oblivious to the fact that OP signed a contract that stated his intent to work as a volunteer. They won't be afraid of anything... and OP whining about it won't make it better. It doesn't matter how much you think you should be paid, or how much "damages" you make up. OP screwed up and signed a contract that they didn't understand/read. Best OP can do is just walk away and hope they part amicably, and... hopefully learn from this an never sign a volunteer-work contract again.
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 18:43
  • @SnakeDoc Where did OP mention such a contract? I've seen OP mention that there was a verbal contract that specifically stated they were due to be paid, which goes against what you're saying. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 15:23

Get to the local advice bureau/lawyer. Take the ads and any written material. Don't engage in verbal negotiations from this point onwards.

If this is your only job then you might be able to prove that you thought you were in for a paid career path. If the group is known for using volunteers or unpaid interns then you will need to establish to legal level why you thought your case is different from the volunteers. This is an issue that will come up in the legal battle. If you can establish a strong case (either from your great previous reputation or that you've previously been self-employed and have established work) then it is very likely they'll pay you out.

What you're up against, is that there is a shady history of people joining up to volunteer organisations, whose managers are often untrained and non-professional (ie under resourced and often volunteers themselves) and the shady people join the organisation and start working. The managers are happy, thinking that they've got a volunteer. Then a certain time down the track the shady person says "where's my paycheck". Because the unprofessional manager wasn't formally hiring (and not professional competent) they never properly formalised the paperwork. Which puts the whole organisation at a risk. Normal process is to fully vet and process employees, but poor managers often fail to do that with volunteers as the volunteers aren't seen as formally part of the team/company. The shady people take advantage of this.

Now what you have to do is prove that you genuinely thought you were in a paid position. (which considering no wages yet...will be hard.) You will have to prove that such long periods (eg monthly wage) are not uncommon in your industry. You can also use the HR delay as evidence that you've tried to ratify things, and that you can't just "stop work" for 3 weeks until HR get sorted out. Another common failing of companies that use interns or volunteers, is that HR is legally bound to very tight rules for employees, but those rules do not apply for people giving away their labour (can't be bound by Contract Law on gifts or promises as by definition a contract is two sided consideration but a gift is one sided). This is another angle that the shady people use to their advantage: that unpaid employees are poorly monitored and have no importance with respect to employment contracts or legal responsibilities - leading to exactly the situation you're in.

In my country, you'd be breaking the law, as all employment requires written contracts that are legally required to have certain information including but not limited to pay rate, annual and sick leave, maternity leave, and primary responsibilites. Both "employee" and employer are legally liable if this doesn't happen.

In your situation, you have to prove you're not just some shady person taking advantage of a volunteer based organisation. To do that, you need to know the legal tests that are applied in court in your location. And that is only available from Citizens Advice Bureau, Lawyers, or a lot of personal legal research.


Is it possible that this is a just a misunderstanding of their email? The phrasing was quite strange as they said the project was unpaid, not you.

Maybe they mean that the company isn't being paid on a cost-plus basis for the work.

  • 2
    I've clarified with payroll, they definitely intend not to pay me.
    – toady_two
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 15:34

You might consider asking this question at law.stackexchange.com. This sounds like it's beyond just job-place etiquette norms. You should know what your legal rights are and you might get a good advice from someone who knows something about the law there. I know you asked about the UK, but in the US (for example) this kind of situation is unlikely precisely because the legal penalties for not paying your employees on time usually outweigh the full amount of money which is due to them. You should find out if UK is similar. If it is, then the company would be on the hook financially as soon as you made 1 phone call. But you should really find out what your legal rights are if you are being stiffed before pressing on with it.


As there are two different perspectives not options, both with the same proper action it seems straight forward:

  1. if you a volunteer, and don't want to be, quit until they hire you.
  2. if you're not a volunteer and haven't been paid and they owe you, send a letter saying you have to stop work until you get paid.

Additional options: Take all your work with you, if they want it they'll pay you. If they don't like that enough to take action, that leaves you recourse to counter action and a third party decision that demands you get paid. Keep all documentation. Beats striking wearing a sandwich board sign on the sidewalk outside their offices. (Really you had to ask?)

And is your pay for two months supposedly enough for legal recourse? Probably not enough to hire one who's only going to think you slow and take your money, so you have to file pro se yourself in small claims. They might not hire you, but they might pay you off to save themselves the effort of having to appear, as you probably cost less than it would for them to fight it, but don't imagine they'd look forward to hiring you if they can line up the rubes to do the same.

lesson of the day, a real software company paying is going to have a slew of contracts to sign including pay scale, expectations, non-disclosure and confidentiality (which means they don't have any guarantee that you won't simply copy and proliferate what they have, which means you're working for an open source and probably charitable organization, which means you should suck it up, put it on your resume and move on instead of using either of those options, ask for a glowing reference letter instead.

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