My employer is a disaster, which makes bailing hard. What do I do?
June 20, 2010 2:08 PM   Subscribe

My employer, a small web design and software business, is hovering on the edge of insolvency and is also dangerously incompetent in a few other ways. What do I do?

During the last three days of this work week, I experienced the following things:

1. My most recent paycheck from my employer bounced.

2. We, the staff, were informed that every one would be taking a 20% pay cut across the board.

3. My coworker, whose child support payments are withheld from his paychecks automatically and sent to his child's mother by our employer, told me that they frequently miss several of those payments in a row and then send a large check for the past few months. I guess it's better than just not paying, but the child's mother is unemployed and needs that money, so this strikes me as reprehensible behavior.

4. Office rumor has it that the owner/R&D manager and the president, a husband and wife team, don't actually draw a salary and instead use the business credit card for their personal expenses. This supposedly explains why, a few weeks ago, our checks were delayed in coming by about a week and a half, as they put in a new floor in their house. This is a huge accusation that needs substantiation of some kind in my mind, but it fits with their general mode of operation. My boss, the head of R&D, was formerly in charge of sales, and his sales technique basically consisted of egregious lies and empty promises; the biggest example of this, something they did before I started working there and that I wish I'd heard about, was that they rebranded Wordpress and claimed it as their own in-house, proprietary CMS.

So this place is clearly a disaster. They seemed great when I started after graduating in December, and I was hoping to work here for about a year and get some experience as a Java and PHP programmer to make up for the fact that I've only got a CS Minor and not a major. Now I'm not sure what to do. All signs point to leaving but I had a pretty difficult time getting a job in the first place -- I live in the sort of city where temp jobs as a PHP or Java programmer are nearly non-existent, and the people with full-time positions are usually interested in somebody with much more experience than I have. I don't know how I'd represent the last three months on my resume. Another complicating factor is that my coworkers want to splinter off and form their own company and take a lot of the software we've worked on with us -- we never signed any sort of contract, so they're convinced that we'll be in the clear. It seems like sticky territory to me, but I'm also just not interested in devoting my free time to that enterprise -- their plan is to keep working at my company until either the paychecks stop rolling in or the other business is off the ground.

So, this is my predicament. Any advice would be appreciated. Email me at if you'd rather not post a reply here or if you need more information.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd keep working there but spend all my free time looking for a new job. It's much easier to find a new (and better) job when you still have current employment since you won't be as likely to take the first thing that comes at you. As for how they run the business - that's their problem. Their shady tactics and financing will sink them if they don't turn around.
posted by msbutah at 2:28 PM on June 20, 2010

I'd get out as quickly as I could pack my desk into a box. Three reasons:

1) If your paycheques are already bouncing, you've got no guarantees as to the next one, or any future ones;
2) The longer you stay, and if they've got reputation in your area, the worse their shadiness looks for you;
3) There's no shame in leaving a job because they don't pay you, quite the opposite.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:39 PM on June 20, 2010

I too would be looking for a new gig. This is is about to go toes up, but you're better searching while you *have* a job. Fiasco is right about leaving because of lack of pay; it's no reflection on you at all.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 2:49 PM on June 20, 2010

The writing is on the wall. Or, more accurately, the fire alarm is ringing, and smoke is in the air. The end is not a matter of if, but when.

Now that you've realized it, what are you going to do -- pull the blankets over your head and go back to sleep? No, you're going to start looking for a new job. Specifically, it's time to get samples of your work product, talk with colleagues about references, get your resume in shape, and start looking around for contacts at other shops that hire people like you.

And the next time your paycheck bounces or is late -- walk out the door, and don't look back. In future, all you need to say is that they stopped paying you, so you stopped working.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:01 PM on June 20, 2010

My husband once had a paycheck bounce before we were married. After that incident, he did continue working while looking for a new job, but every time he got a check, he took it directly to his employer's bank and cashed it. Then he took the cash to his bank and deposited it. Since he was in the same building as a branch of the employer's bank, he'd take a break immediately on receiving his paycheck to do this.

Immediately cashing the check won't help if your employer's account is seriously NSF, but it will ensure that if there's enough money in the bank to make part of payroll, the person whose check bounces won't be you.
posted by immlass at 3:07 PM on June 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't quit unless you have another job to go to. If the company goes under, you'll at least be able to file for unemployment compensation but if you quit, you get nothing.
posted by octothorpe at 3:37 PM on June 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Get out of there as quickly as you can.

And do not join the company that your workmates are thinking of starting - particularly if it involves taking software that you all worked on, in this company. One wrong does not compensate for another.

It looks like you are surrounded by unethical people (are their stories about the company true? how would you know?), your paycheck is bouncing - there is no value in staying there. Don't be dragged down by / with them.
posted by seawallrunner at 4:10 PM on June 20, 2010

I don't know your country/state's laws, but (a) I'd bet that work without a contract is work-for-hire, so the copyright of the software resides with the company that paid your salary (b) it sounds like the new business will about as ethical as the old one and (c) it's probably all talk anyway - employee businesses start with one or two people working very quietly, not with a whole bunch of complaining.

Set some goals. Have your CV completed by Wednesday. Apply for two jobs by Friday. You'll find something better.
posted by Leon at 5:51 PM on June 20, 2010

I think you and I might have been just missing each other in the halls. I left a very similar nightmare in December.

I'd stick around for the moment, but you owe it to yourself to start earnestly looking for something else and to leave as soon as possible. Hell, even if you're making bank and mostly happy it behooves you to keep an eye out. And yes, anything you wrote while you were there will mostly be a "work for hire", and as such isn't yours anymore. I have tried to be careful about writing anything truly novel for an employer unless we knew they were going to let me keep it/use it in the future.

Seriously, this sounds so much like my old place that I'd bet money on it. You'll be glad to be gone, and who cares about only having a minor? If you can do the work, show an aptitude and are willing to learn, to be on time, and not use the company WiFi for pr0n there are lots of places that will hire you. Maybe look at freelancing or telecommuting? Good luck!
posted by littlerobothead at 6:02 PM on June 20, 2010

First -- don't panic. You're smart and you have marketable skills. You're going to be fine.

Second -- start looking for a new job. Tomorrow. If you have the means to walk away from this job without having a new one lined up, go ahead and do that. But if that isn't realistic, then stay where you are, but put everything you can into finding a better situation. Something will come up, but you have to look for it. It isn't just going to happen on its own.

Third -- don't get sucked into your co-workers' scheme. It is mostly hot air anyway, but besides that, your instincts are telling you that this isn't the answer. Trust your instincts.

Fourth -- pay no attention to office gossip about what the owners do for money, or how they pay for stuff, or whatever. It isn't your business and it doesn't matter anyway - it just distracts you from the real problem.

Fifth -- your resume. That's easy -- put the dates you worked there and what your duties and accomplishments were. No need to mention anything else. If the question of 'what happened' comes up in an interview, just say they went out of business, or downsized, or hit a rough patch, or whatever. It happens every day. Nobody will bat an eye.

Your situation isn't unique. The people you're working for are most likely good people who never intended for things to be this way, but owning a small business is tough enough as it is, and the poor economy isn't making it any easier. If the ship you're on is going down and you don't want to go down with it -- then jump. Its as simple as that.

On the other hand, if you feel invested in this company and want to see it through, win or lose, then that's fine too. Go for it. But from the sound of your post, that doesn't seem to be where your head is at, so I'm thinking the best course is to just assume this is over with and start looking for the next opportunity.

Best of luck to you. I hope you will let us know how it turns out.
posted by spilon at 9:04 PM on June 20, 2010

Depending on where you are, bouncing payroll checks (especially more than one) may constitute good cause for quitting a job and applying for benefits. Ex.: Wisconsin. There's no harm in calling up your state's agency and asking.
posted by dhartung at 10:51 PM on June 20, 2010

Another complicating factor is that my coworkers want to splinter off and form their own company and take a lot of the software we've worked on with us -- we never signed any sort of contract, so they're convinced that we'll be in the clear.

Don't do this. This is replacing one problem with another, much larger one.

The worst that can happen from your current job, after all, is that you don't get paid. The worst that can happen if you attempt the above is that you could get sued for much, much more than your own worth, in a potentially life-ruining way.

Your place of employment sounds difficult, but not that unusual for very small or family businesses, really, and any OMG UNBELIEVABLE DRAMA feeling from you or your coworkers is probably just inexperience. Sadly, the scenario you describe happens all the time in all types of business, and is probably happening three or four more times on your same city block right now.

Ignore the gossip and pass on the treachery. Take the high road: keep working as a genuine and good employee while also looking for another nice, normal job. If discovered, explain kindly and honestly that it's too difficult on your personal stress levels, always worrying about the next payday.
posted by rokusan at 1:25 AM on June 21, 2010

Where are you? A substantial cut in pay, to say nothing of bounced paychecks, is sufficient to qualify you for unemployment compensation in many states. As dhartung says above, this is something you want to investigate.
posted by gum at 7:09 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I worked for a medical facility that did this. They had to file for bankrupcy immediately after trying to go public.

It's a no win situation. Leave. They're incompetent. You need to get paid. You can get experience somewhere else that will pay you on time.
posted by stormpooper at 7:47 AM on June 21, 2010

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