Help Me Let Go!
February 9, 2009 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Company not sending paychecks ... best way to break loose?

I've worked for the company in question for two years. They've been... pretty ok about paying, nothing that merits complaint, but kind of lax (as many small companies tend to be). Three weeks ago, I did not receive a paycheck for my services. When I discussed it with my boss, I was told there is "no money for paychecks". Last week, same exact thing - no check, and told "no money". I know its time to get out of there, and I have another job lined up. The problem is .... well, ... the guy running the company is a good guy.. If I leave short, the company is pretty much guaranteed to fail (specific circumstances, I know 'nobody is irreplacable'.. but i also know my previous statement to be true). If I work "volunteer" for a few more weeks, they have a chance... but my school and finances will suffer. What do I do? I can't really stand being THE reason for a company to fail, but on the other hand ... I've got bills to pay, and an education to pay attention to. Help?

Throwaway email:

Anon, because .. well, never know if anyone on here is from that company.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (34 answers total)
Leave, or at least do no more work until you are paid what you're owed.

This is 100% not your fault and out of your control. The company has already failed. I can't think of anything more emblematic of failure than inability to make payroll, unless it's a smoking crater where the building used to be.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:00 PM on February 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

the company wouldn't be failing because you left, the company would be failing because they lacked the ability to secure the resources they need to be successful. by not paying you, they have already told you that the time you're spending there is a gift you're giving to them.

what's going to change in the next couple of weeks that will suddenly bring this influx of money that would allow them to pay you what will be 6 weeks of back pay? how likely does that seem REGARDLESS of whether or not you stay?

if it's a small enough company that management will talk with you about things like this, ask them those questions. let them know that you can't afford to work for no money, and see if they can resolve that currently. if they can't, ask when it will be resolved.

all you can do at that point is take their answer and decide how much you trust it or them, but i'd be strongly leaning towards "since i don't come here for the joy of it, a paycheck is required to keep my attention".
posted by radiosilents at 2:01 PM on February 9, 2009

You don't have a moral responsibility to someone who's just your employer. Yes, he's a good guy. But his business is failing, and you have something else to jump to.

Go. If the business fails, that's not because you left. If you work 'volunteer,' you're devoting your time - and, by extension, your money to a for-profit comapny that, in all likelihood, is about to go belly-up.

Get out, go now, leave immediately.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:01 PM on February 9, 2009

Bail. It's dead, Jim.

The company is not going to recover and you will probably never see those lost wages. You need to get over to the state unemployment office and find out what their rules are when you're no longer being paid. You might find out they haven't been paying their taxes, either.

After that see an employment law attorney.
posted by dhartung at 2:06 PM on February 9, 2009

They're in it for the money, and you're not a charity: cut your losses and quit.

Send a request for payment before anyone else to try and get in the queue for payment when the company's assets are sold.
posted by devnull at 2:13 PM on February 9, 2009

If the company isn't already paying an employee who is critical to their continued existence, they've already failed. The chicken is running, but the head's cut off.

Take up your new job as soon as possible. Do what you can to get the money you're already owed. Bear in mind it's quite likely that if you knew where the money was going, you'd be outraged - it's not uncommon for owners to tell staff they're running out of money while paying themselves generously.
posted by rodgerd at 2:16 PM on February 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you're willing to work for free, then negotiate: "I know you don't have the money to pay me, but I also know that if I leave you're screwed. So I'll stay on for a promise of equity in the firm / a big payoff when and if you do get solvent / the office desk and the printer."
posted by orthogonality at 2:16 PM on February 9, 2009

The company has already failed, it is not your responsibility to get it back afloat. If they were willing to give you part ownership or stock or something in exchange for your extra work, and you really thought that would make the difference, it may be worth thinking about, but it doesn't sound like that is the case.
posted by markblasco at 2:17 PM on February 9, 2009

Personally I'd present them with an invoice for the money already owed me, make it clear to them that if they don't pay it I'll hand it off to a collections agent, and start my new job.

But I'm kind of a jerk.

(If the guy running the company didn't let you know ahead of time that he was running out of money and was planning on stiffing you, he's not a good guy. You can be damn sure that there's enough money left for his paycheck.)
posted by ook at 2:21 PM on February 9, 2009 [9 favorites]

Jump ship and if you want to volunteer for them on weekends, go for it. (I'm assuming your job there doesn't require 9-5 face time.)

I agree that "I can't think of anything more emblematic of failure than inability to make payroll." I've heard of people paying salaries from their own personal bank accounts when they just needed staff to stay for two more weeks before the money came in. (Then again, maybe s/he already did that.)
posted by salvia at 2:23 PM on February 9, 2009

I'm not recommending this, but a friend in similar circumstances several years ago dealt with it by taking company equipment home with him in lieu of pay. He was somewhat untouchable because he knew, and his boss knew that he knew, that the books were being cooked. In any case, enough money to pay him suddenly materialized. The company soon bit the dust but my friend got away relatively unscathed.

Such fantasies aside, you've already gotten good advice here. Bail. Even if you are the last nail in the coffin, there are bound to have been hundreds of other nails already driven that had nothing to do with you.
posted by jon1270 at 2:23 PM on February 9, 2009

If I leave short, the company is pretty much guaranteed to fail

It has already failed. The sooner you leave, the better.
posted by ElmerFishpaw at 2:27 PM on February 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you were really needed there so the company wouldn't fail, then you would get a paycheck.

Don't be afraid to leave; the company is making a business decision by not paying you, and you are making a business decision by deciding to leave and work elsewhere. There should be no hard feelings either way.

Saying "there is no money for paychecks" means that there is money, but just not for you. You are not their priority, and they should not be yours.

Good luck. Should you decide to recoup your lost wages, let us know; I think there are prior askme's related to that issue. If you decide to take the hit, then I hope the good karma catches up to you.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:28 PM on February 9, 2009

I've been here. You need to leave, even if the work is enjoyable, as the lack of payment is going to poison your relationships with your boss and your work extremely fast.

Tell him you're out, but don't be a jerk about it. Gauge how available you want to make yourself after leaving. Would you go back if he paid you what he owes? Will you leave behind instructional materials regarding your tasks there. Take the road out, but take the high road.
posted by greenland at 2:30 PM on February 9, 2009

I'd suggest leaving as well. Tell them, if you like the boss, that once they're in a position to pay you what you're owed (with interest, but I'm also kind of a jerk, they're preventing you from making interest on earned wages), you'd be willing to come back and work. If the boss is resourceful and if the company has any chance at all of surviving, they'll find the money. If not, you'll be x number of weeks ahead in trying to find a new job.
posted by David Fleming at 2:42 PM on February 9, 2009

I've been in this situation before. I'm with orthogonality, see if you can participate in the upside (if you think there is any. If not, bail). Simpler than getting equity, get an agreement in writing that you will get N times the salary you are missing. Choose "N" based on the risk. In my case, I went on 1/2 salary for a few months. The company was sold and I got 4x back. You can write up the agreement yourself and get it signed in a day.
posted by cosmac at 3:01 PM on February 9, 2009

Just chiming in to say that paying employees is NOT OPTIONAL, and depending on where you live, the timing of the paychecks may not be at the employer's discretion either.

Here's a discussion about California law regarding paychecks, from last year:

I would talk to your local labor board today.
posted by kristi at 3:04 PM on February 9, 2009

If you want to be extra nice, offer to do specific work for them, with some security for payment. Maybe the owner can charge Amazon gift certificates on his credit card, maybe they'll give you the new laptop left behind by some other person that bailed. This is business. You deserve to be paid. Offer them the opportunity to find a creative to compensate you. But don't work for free.

You aren't leaving them in the lurch. They are taking advantage of you.
posted by theora55 at 3:19 PM on February 9, 2009

They've been... pretty ok about paying, nothing that merits complaint, but kind of lax (as many small companies tend to be).

Bollocks. I've worked for many, many small companies and this is not normal behavior. Quit now and get a lawyer to help you get your back pay. You are working for a corpse and it's time to get out.
posted by chairface at 3:21 PM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you are so important to the company, tell them that it's either pay you or the company gets it. If they value the company, don't think it's doomed, and your statements are accurate, you will get paid.
posted by Pants! at 3:24 PM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

how could you possibly feel like you owe your boss who has known in advance there wouldn't be money for paychecks and decided to screw you over and hide that fact from you? if he truly were the good guy you make him out to be he would have told you in advance and outlined a compensation package (interest, bonus, whatever) to make it up to you and left it to you to decide.

get out now. get a lawyer NOW if you want any hope of getting any cash out. once he files for bankruptcy you're moving down the line to the very end and you know what that means.

not having money to pay his employees means he already is bankrupt. by not filing for bankruptcy he's getting himself into legal ouchies as is. this person is showing criminal potential.
posted by krautland at 3:39 PM on February 9, 2009

Holy shit. I am really surprised you're even asking us this because, I would assume, with no money for paychecks they would tell you to stop coming to work.

Does this company really expect you to continue showing up for work?

I agree with what everyone else says: The company has already failed.
posted by jayder at 4:15 PM on February 9, 2009

Seems like you should probably get the hell out of there. It sounds like they've done a pretty good mindfuck on you already - your boss knows it's cheaper to be nice to you and not pay, than to pay.
posted by Sukiari at 4:29 PM on February 9, 2009

Email your boss that you quit tonight. Start your other job tomorrow if possible.

I don't think you realize how much harm your doing to your coworkers by staying. Your boss & you are preventing them from looking for a paying job 24-7, taking a worse job that still pays, etc.

I don't think you'll see either paycheck even if you get a lawyer.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:31 PM on February 9, 2009

nth'ing the "run, don't walk, away" suggestion. Just imagine that, instead of an employee, you were the power company, and they said they didn't have the money to pay you. Is the power company screwing the company by shutting the electricity off? I'd contend that it's the opposite: the company is screwing the power company by expecting them to keep the lights on even when they don't pay. And unlike the power company, you're a human that presumably has bills of your own to worry about.

And, for that matter, if "there's no money for paychecks" but the lights are still on...
posted by fogster at 4:54 PM on February 9, 2009

The definition of a "good guy" includes keeping promises and agreements. He may be in denial about the future of the company, don't join him in denial any longer. He certainly would fire you if you didn't uphold your agreements.
posted by Classic Diner at 5:02 PM on February 9, 2009

I can't tell what kind of business this is, but I've worked at shoe-string operations before.

If it's a liquidity problem, I would likely stick around (tempered, of course, by the relative risk of getting stiffed). I've been through those at a magazine I worked for, where a big client didn't pay us off for ads and we needed to get the magazine out. I was able to work for free for a bit, and got the money as soon as the crisis passed.

As far as the boss went, well, in my case, my boss worked a couple years at that job without paying himself at all, just so that he could keep employing everyone else. So I may have a take inapplicable to your situation.
posted by klangklangston at 5:21 PM on February 9, 2009

I would agree with klangklangston. If it's a small company and they're having a temporary cash crunch, it might be best to stick it out. However, every small company I've ever worked at that has had such "crunches" has always been very open about where the company is, when they expect an influx of money to clear backlogs, etc. The fact that YOU had to ask THEM about a non-payment is a very troubling sign.

Were I you, I would go ask my boss first thing in the morning to lay out where the company is, and when you can expect to be paid. Be firm, and just say you've got bills that need paying like everyone else. If you don't get a good feeling with some concrete answers out of that meeting, go with your other opportunity. If they fail after you leave, well, they made a mistake with not being up front with their staff and all you're doing is looking out for your interests, as you should. It's not your fault.
posted by barc0001 at 5:38 PM on February 9, 2009

Give notice today. You're a-leavin'. Re leaving them/not leaving them in the lurch, which is good of you, tell them you'll stay another couple of weeks and help them through this changeover period (training someone new or whatever you need to do) if they catch you up on the previous few weeks pay, and also pay you in advance for that period. To explain the latter part of these conditions, just tell them the truth: you're worried, given what's happened recently, that you won't see the money at all; it's been difficult enough chasing them up for your pay whilst working there and you won't have the time to do this once you're in your new position. Your school and finances will suffer.

If you do this, you're putting the choice in their hands. They can pay you and stay afloat, or they can rip you off and sink. It sounds like you need this decision to be in their hands if you're to rid yourself of the feeling of responsibility and guilty feelings over it. So *put* it in their hands. The owner of this business, the one who stands to benefit from it when it's successful, may need to suck it up when it's not successful and make an investment of their own money (to pay employees or whatever else needs to be paid for) in order to keep things going, if they want them to keep going; but that's the gamble they run if they want to be a business owner rather than a salaried employee. In good times, he'd make a whole lotta money from the same arrangement and you wouldn't get any of the joy; this is just the flipside of that same arrangement so you shouldn't have to deal with any of the pain.
posted by springbound at 6:38 PM on February 9, 2009

It is not normal in small companies for your PAYCHECK to be "kind of lax". That is not normal, not at all.

I guarantee you that the owner is making his mortgage payment. And the other honchos are too. That's the thing, here. Someone is getting paid, it's just not you. I GUARANTEE you this.

I worked for a startup where I once heard the owner comment on another startup having financial difficulties, "Really? His people couldn't go without pay for a couple of weeks? What kind of commitment is that?" My answer was, "Unfortunately, commitment doesn't pay rent."

I do know of other companies where everyone was gathered together by management, and a situation was discussed: we are going to be short with next week's payroll. Can anyone volunteer to not take a paycheck? Who here is going to be sleeping in the street if they don't get paid? Who has alimony, child support, things that HAVE TO GET PAID. Who'll be okay if they get a couple of hundred to pay electricity and the car payment? Everyone come let us know anonymously and we'll take care of you all. In that case, the people who could do without could step up, and the people that couldn't didn't have to embarrass themselves.

But just not paying you, and then not talking to you about it? Thats bullshit.
posted by micawber at 7:20 PM on February 9, 2009

A bit late, but nth-ing those who say bail. My brother was in a similar situation, and stuck around despite the missing paychecks because he liked his boss. It turns out the employer also wasn't paying the rent. Landlord ended up changing the locks on the store, with some of my brother's personal property inside. It took him more than a year to get it back.

Unless it's temporary and there is some money coming in very soon, it sounds like the company is failing whether you leave or not. Look out for yourself.
posted by weathergal at 8:04 PM on February 9, 2009

A "good guy" does not wait until you ask for your paycheck to slyly tell you "No money". That's horrible. What he is, is a charismatic asshole who is breaking the basics of wage and hour labor laws. Contact the W&H division of the labor dept in your area. I'm guessing you won't see a dime until you involve them. And yeah...why are you still there?
posted by hal_c_on at 8:58 PM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

You are no longer an employee. You are a creditor.

When you go to the office tomorrow, take a box to take home your personal items.
posted by 26.2 at 11:33 PM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you are reading this at work right now, go home.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:44 AM on February 10, 2009

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