Um... Awkward.
September 22, 2011 7:00 AM   Subscribe

I have gotten myself in to what feels like an awkward position. I agreed to babysit the child of my husband's co worker once a week. The deal was that they would pay me $50 each time. I agreed because I was looking to take on a second job anyway, so this was perfect. We are going on three weeks at this point, in which I have not been paid. That part is obviously awkward enough, but the additional details make me feel pretty crappy.

The father is the only one that works. The mother has decided to go back to school after 10 years to finally finish her undergrad. They just applied for food stamps, plumbing burst, internet phone and cable shut off, 13 year old dog just had surgery to remove cancer, & emptied out their retirement fund to get some money. They can still afford new baby toys, beer, & other extraneous recreational purchases (which shall remain un-named here for legal reasons), & always seem to be buying stuff from craigslist.

I feel terrible asking for the money, but at the same time, we are not rich. I was already planning on taking on a part-time job (I already work full time) when they asked my husband if I might be interested. That is why I agreed. We are trying to plan ahead for when we have our own child and get as much saved up as possible before we too are a one income household. But, if they are not going to pay me, I would rather find another part time job that will. They said they would pay up last Friday, but didn't. I feel like crap for even asking for the money, but our family needs it too.
How do I approach this tactfully given that my husband still has to work with the father every day?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (47 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How do you know about the vet bills and the burst plumbing and no cable & internet and all the bills? They must have told you, I'm guessing.

Why don't you tell them that you're also in a tight financial position and that you need to look for another job to make ends meet?
posted by KokuRyu at 7:04 AM on September 22, 2011

I think you have to bite the bullet and confront them about it. Tell them that if you don't get paid, you will have to find another part-time job that will. Don't get into whether or not they can afford it; they hired you, and if they now discover they can't afford you, fine, but you deserve to not have to work for free.
posted by chowflap at 7:04 AM on September 22, 2011 [29 favorites]

I would decline to do any further work for them in a friendly way and send them an invoice "for their records". If they still don't pay you, I don't think $150 is worth a lot more of your time. Remember, time is money - don't throw good money after bad either by continuing to give away time for which you should be paid or by spending time trying to recoup less money than you would earn if you spent that time doing other work.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:04 AM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think you should give notice at this "job." That is, tell them that you need to be earning some extra income, and you're going to start interviewing for part time jobs, so you will no longer be able to babysit their child after X date. Don't even mention the money they owe you. They know they owe it, and I doubt they're going to be any more or less likely to pay it based on you continuing to ask about it. If you really want to be nice, make X a date a week or so from now to give them time to get new childcare lined up, but you're under no obligation to do that.

Basically, these people are not going to pay you what they owe. If they ever do pay you, it's going to be after you stressing and chasing them down and broken promises and avoidance, and it's ALWAYS going to be like this. The amount of money you will end up getting from them is not worth the hassle. If the primary goal is to avoid having this blow up at your husband's workplace, I'd consider the money they owe you now a sunk cost, chalk it up to community service, and quit this "job" in favor of one with a stable revenue stream where you'll actually get paid.
posted by decathecting at 7:05 AM on September 22, 2011 [22 favorites]

Simple: do what professional daycare providers do, and refuse to provide any more care until you have been paid in full. Even more: as a sister of mine who has done daycare for many years has often told me, all daycare must be prepaid.
posted by easily confused at 7:06 AM on September 22, 2011 [15 favorites]

Well, first of all, you're totally in the right. You have no obligation to work for free for them, regardless of their financial situation. Their financial situation is none of your business. At all.

I think the most tactful way to say it is exactly as you put it above. If they aren't going to pay you, you have to find a job that will. They're not following the agreement you made, so it's over. The end.
posted by pupstocks at 7:06 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Try to get paid first, before telling them you won't be sitting again.
posted by spaltavian at 7:07 AM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

They chose to hire you - it's none of your business what their other expenses or choices are, but it is your business that they agreed to pay you for a service. You have to ask them about it, and really there's nothing wrong with this.

"Hey I was wondering when you'll be able to pay me for the babysitting, with this week we are up to $200. I thought maybe you were waiting for your payday or to hit a nice round number, but I would really prefer every week if that works for you."
posted by arcticwoman at 7:07 AM on September 22, 2011 [13 favorites]

I think a conversation is in order, but...I'd maybe have your husband bring it up first with the co-worker. Or the both of you do it jointly. Someting about them being co-workers makes this feel a bit sensitive to me, so I'd bring him in on the loop about this since he's got the most side-by-side experience with at least half that couple.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:07 AM on September 22, 2011

Personally I would just say that I decided to get a part-time job after all and can't babysit anymore. It's very unlikely that they are going to pay you everything they owe you, so the more you keep working for them without pay the more time you are going to waste on this. If you do spend more time trying to get what you're owed, just ask them to pay whatever they can right now rather than waiting for them to get the full amount. Otherwise chalk it up to a loss and next time get the money upfront.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:10 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

If they can afford beer they can afford to pay a babysitter - stop feeling guilty, you are not the one making the faux-pas here. The father is just a co-worker of your husband, correct? If he were your husband's boss or someone in a position of authority over your husband then maybe it would be different (but only from a practical point of view - not an ethical one)

Realistically, you probably have to cut your losses on the $150 but next time they ask you to sit (or if its the same night every week, give them 3-4 days notice) just say that you agreed to do it because you needed the extra money and had been planning on finding a second job and since they are unable to pay you then you need to resume the plan of finding a second paying job.

If it were me, I wouldn't accept any promises of payment. Stay firm, unless they turn up at your house with $200 in cash (the 150 owed plus 50 for the next job), you're not sitting for them again (don't tell them that, you don't need to issue them an ultimatum). Even then I would think twice before sitting again, even if they pay up everything they owe you, you're likely to face this situation again in the future. Its not worth the hassle.
posted by missmagenta at 7:14 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

You don't need to judge their financial choices or feel bad about expecting payment, you just need to stop working for free. Personally, I'd be prepared to eat the $150 because they're probably never going to pay you.

If you want to ask for payment, I think arcticwoman's script is perfect.

If you want to totally avoid confrontation because you think your husband's work situation requires it: "I'm sorry, my availability has changed and I won't be able to continue babysitting for you."
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:15 AM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

I really think you can salvage this, and I don't think it need to be as big of a deal as many people are suggesting. It really could be that the family was waiting to pay you - waiting for a paycheck, waiting for a round number, waiting for any number of things, and unfairly didn't tell you about this. My wife did some construction work for a friend, was paid in cash at the end of the first day, and then not paid the following few days. Turns out our friend was waiting until the end of the job to pay her the rest, which he did. No problem.

I think you can go into this assuming that the family knows they made an agreement to pay you, expects to pay you, and just has something else going on in their heads why they haven't done that yet. Find out what that is, tell that you need to be paid weekly (or bi-weekly) and clear up the confusion.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:16 AM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Yeah, seconding articwoman's advice. Don't be shy. They should never have put you into the position of having to say something.
posted by three blind mice at 7:22 AM on September 22, 2011

Was it clear that they were going to pay you every week? Maybe they thought they'd be writing you a check at the end of the month.
posted by juliapangolin at 7:23 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't be shy, but don't be all stressed about it either. Until you know any different, it is just a misunderstanding.

"You know, I don't think we talked about it, so I wanted to clarify with you how we were going to handle my pay."

Let their answer ("oh, gee, hem, haw, lots of bills" or "sorry, I thought you knew we would pay you on payday") guide your reaction.
posted by gjc at 7:27 AM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

This may or may not be a communication issue and the only way to find out is to ask them when they are planning on paying you. If they say they were planning on paying you monthly (or whatever) and that's ok with you, then great. (If that's not ok with you and you would prefer to be paid every week or every two weeks tell them that and move on if they can't accommodate you and it's a sticking point.) If they prevaricate and make excuses, then cut your losses and tell them that it will not be possible for you to work for free and go look for another part time job.
posted by Kimberly at 7:28 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding gjc. Make your position clear. Determine theirs.
posted by krilli at 7:30 AM on September 22, 2011

People do this a lot with nannies/sitters/people who can't easily sue them.

When they agree to pay on X date but don't, it is NOT a misunderstanding. They simply do not value your time.

Tell them you can't work until they pay you for the work you've already done.

They can find someone else or they can miss class.

(The sob stories are endless I'm sure, but school is not a necessity, nor is surgery for their pet, nor are a lot of the things they're spending their money on. The burst pipes suck, but it's still September and maybe it's not the best semester to go back to school if they can't manage childcare. These things happen and it's not your fault.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:31 AM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

To everyone suggesting that maybe they were waiting for a round number or the end of the month etc They said they would pay up last Friday, but didn't.. Clearly the OP has already brought up the subject of non-payment, or they brought it up themselves, so they know that haven't paid and should have.
posted by missmagenta at 7:31 AM on September 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

The only way you know what's up is by asking, and you can ask in a way that is not asking. arcticwoman's advice is nicer, but you can make it a statement: "We're three weeks in, and I'm working out my budget for the next period. I see that I have $200 coming from you. So, though this time you're paying me in full at the end of the month - and will that be cash or checque, btw? - in the future, I'd like to work it out so I can count on being paid cash either weekly or bi-weekly. Otherwise, I can't babysit for you any longer and will need to find secure income."

But I'm guessing that the reason you know about all of their financial woes is because they're setting the stage in order not to pay you promptly, possibly ever. Too many excuses and details are kind of a signature move of people in over their heads, in my experience, based on years of attempting to collect for freelance work and in a small store where people bought ahead of what they could pay for. Sure, they could be waiting for a round number or the money or they may be thinking that the other partner paid you (that's happened with my husband and me and our babysitter) but most likely, they don't have things together and are scrambling. For the sake of a peaceful work environment, be prepared to let it go. And find a job that doesn't involve complicating any relationships if you can.
posted by peagood at 7:31 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd maybe have your husband bring it up first with the co-worker.

No definitely not. The coworker thing is just how you know them. But this is a part-time job that you entered into with the couple, or one half of them, or whatever. It's a business arrangement and you need to treat it as such. Keep your husband -- and your husband's job -- out of it.
posted by headnsouth at 7:33 AM on September 22, 2011 [12 favorites]

And if you need to get good and angry--I highly doubt they're waiting on a good round number before they pay their weed dealer. But the person who keeps their child safe and healthy? Meh, whatever.

Don't fall for it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:35 AM on September 22, 2011 [7 favorites]

Cut them loose. They have told you about their financial hardship to let it weigh on you. It is a manipulative tactic.

They choose to pay for the dog's surgery when they could have taken a much less expensive route and had the dog put to sleep. They are choosing to buy the toys, beer and other amenities. Clearly they are putting those items above the care for their child if they are paying for those things and not paying you.

Daycare should be prepaid as others have mentioned. I know that I pay each Monday for the daycare my kiddos receive that week. I pay on Friday if we're going to be gone on vacation the following week. (I get paid vacations and my day care should too.)
posted by onhazier at 7:38 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sounds like this couple is in the habit of buying things they can't afford, then avoiding paying for those things whenever they can. They've demonstrated clearly that they can't be trusted to pay, so the only way a business relationship can work is if you remove the need for that trust: cash up front, BEFORE each session, or the babysitting doesn't happen.

It probably won't be worth it.
posted by jon1270 at 7:39 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Frame it as confirming your terms. As babysitting is cash in hand you would like to be paid for the three weeks you've watched their child. As is customary with cash in hand type arrangements you cannot extend credit terms to them and would like to be paid each time you baby sit for them on the day, when you arrive. Make it clear that they are your terms and that they can accept them or not.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:46 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good, reliable, affordable childcare is actually really hard to find. You have them more over a barrel far more than you think. This is business, not personal. Tell them that if they don't pay you, you don't work, and because of the fact that they now owe you $_____, you now expect to be paid end of day if they expect to see you the next time. This can shift to a more infrequent schedule once you trust them again, but until then, now money, no sitter.

It doesn't matter that they can or can't afford it. It doesn't matter if they're millionaires or impoverished. You are not taking care of their child as charity. If there was a free childcare option in your town (hell, in your country), they could take that. But there isn't. And you aren't it.

Be prepared to never be paid for the work already done, though. Jerks who take advantage of people tend to continue to do so once they get what they want.
posted by Mchelly at 7:47 AM on September 22, 2011

Get your money and get out. These people sound like they are bumbling around with their heads underwater. I would expect to have an uncomfortable confrontation every time you want to get paid.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:57 AM on September 22, 2011

Just quit, saying that money is tight and you need a paying job. You shouldn't work for them anyway.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:59 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

If they hired a teenager to watch the child for an evening, that teenager would have cash on-hand at the end of the night. If they'll pay you what they owe immediately and agree to pay you in cash directly after each babysitting session, I'd go back. Otherwise, it seems it'd be easier to find a part-time job.
posted by xingcat at 8:00 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're going to have to get tough and treat this like a business—which it is.

"I'm afraid I will not be able to babysit for you until you're caught up paying for all past sessions, and all future sessions will need to be paid when you drop off the kid."

Then stick to that. They may try to drop off the kid and promise to pay when they pick up the kid. Don't let them. Yes, it's awkward. They're making it awkward.
posted by adamrice at 8:28 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone that you are not likely to get paid for the work already done, but you may as well maximize your chance to recoup some of the money. So, show up to babysit but stay outside the door and state "With today's service your tab is up to $200. I'll need that now before I can continue working for you, thanks." Since they'll be stuck they might at least be able to suddenly discover they can pay you at least part on the spot. Accept no less than $100. If they don't come up with it, walk away.

Now even if they don't pay you anything else you are out $100 instead of $150. Inform them that if they don't have the full $150 for the next week ($100 + $50 in advance for that day) that you'll be moving on to another job.

If all that seems like too much trouble and you have other job opportunities then by all means take them and write off the $150 as a learning experience.
posted by mikepop at 8:30 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

You haven't asked for three weeks pay promised you, and you haven't followed up on a promise to pay you on a specific day (last Friday). Meanwhile, you're providing the services you promised. That makes you the person who is OK with being abused. How many people do you know who will prioritize such a person's interests?

"Hey, I know money's tight and all, but it is for me too. You owe me $150, so figure it out TODAY. I'd hate to have to take this to the next level."

If they ask whether you're quitting once you get the money, say, "Absolutely not! I just need the money, now." This, of course, is not true (see below), but you owe people who string you along nothing.

If you get the money, say "Thanks! See you tomorrow." Go home and call them, saying "Oops! I just got another job offer. It was great working with you."

If they don't get the money, smile and nod at whatever sorry excuse they give you. Say "I see. See you tomorrow." Go home and call them, saying "Oops! I just got another job offer. It was great working with you." Then send them an invoice, with a specific due date, for the money they owe you.

You might not ever see that $150, so be prepared for that. Consider it the cost of learning the lesson that you never, EVER do work without being paid.
posted by Rykey at 8:31 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just be upfront about it.

I watched a guy I know give guitar lessons every Saturday morning for 6 years for free because he wasn't comfortable bringing it up.

It's a simple conversation, just be all like "Hey, I was just wondering how we're handling the money situation? I'm trying to get my monthly budgeting in order. What works best for you? Cash? Cheque?"

That kind of thing.

And as a piece of advice, don't take other people's problems on unless they ask you to.
posted by rudhraigh at 8:34 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think that even if they pay up, you're going to have this issue come up again with them. If they didn't pay you and didn't communicate about it (last Friday), then there's an issue. I suggest you give them a week or two weeks notice and say hey, I need to make some extra money and I need to be interviewing for some part time jobs, so my last day will be xx.

I wouldn't press them for the money they owe you. They know they owe it. It sucks, but I would probably write it off in the interest of your husband's work environment.

You don't have to feel bad about not wanting to work for free - their financial problems are sad but you can't forgo making money you need because they are having financial issues.
posted by mrs. taters at 8:57 AM on September 22, 2011

I feel terrible asking for the money ... I feel like crap for even asking for the money ....

I have to shake my clients down for money they owe me all the time. Tip: don't ask them to "pay me my money," ask them to "take care of your balance."

Another tip: it always seems weird and abrupt to transition from discussing commonplace niceties to asking for money. Just bring it up, I promise it won't be that bad.

Call them, and say "it's becoming a real problem that you have not taken care of your balance yet. Can I come over and pick it up?" And even if they pay, do not ever babysit for them again.

They have no shame about enjoying your services without paying you; you should have no shame in asking for what is rightfully yours.
posted by jayder at 9:37 AM on September 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

One way to handle this is to "fire" them as a customer and refer them to someone who can better handle the situation.

Something like "I have taken on more than I can handle (which is true, otherwise you would not be here on ask.mefi), and I am unable provide you childcare services after today. Here is a list of people and companies you can call (hand list over). You will owe me 200 dollars at the end of the day, if you are unable to pay in full by the end of the day then I would like 25 dollars every Pay cycle until it is paid in full. Your husband can give my husband cash at work."
posted by roboton666 at 10:07 AM on September 22, 2011

Agreeing with the posters that say to cut these people loose. I would bet some of MY money that they told you all these details of their personal financial lives to guilt you into working for free. Professional users poor-mouth like crazy as a manipulative tactic to get people to work for them for free (I know, I've been on the receiving end of this a couple of times before I toughened up).

I bet you're not the only one getting free services or stuff from them, now or in the past, because OMG our pipes burst and our dog had to have surgery and we had to RAID OUR 401K and OMG WE R BROAK but OMG we need childcare (or beer or weed or housecleaning services or pet care) SO BAD so pity us and work or give us stuff for free! (What other reason would they have for divulging private financial information, like how they raided their retirement account, to someone who doesn't really need to know this?)

Cut them loose and wish them luck. Do this with more or less care depending on whether husband's coworker is in a position to make his work life miserable (for example, if he's the boss's pet) or has some kind of power over him. These people are professional users and you are not the first, nor will you be the last, person to be drawn into their maelstrom. You probably will have to kiss the money they owe you goodbye (these kinds of folks rarely pay people back without a threat to shoot out their kneecaps) but you can stop throwing your good time and services down this rat-hole.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:17 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you want to be very gracious and kind about it, you could officially write of the $150 they are in arrears, but insist on payment in advance from here on out. "Look, I know things are tough right now, but they are tough for us, too. I will overlook your current balance, but from now on, you need to pay in advance." Until we got to know her really well and she learned to trust us, we used to pre-pay for our daughter's occasional child care in bunches -- 4 or 6 sessions at once, and then we just verbally kept track of where we stood at every drop off. "OK, so we have paid through today, right? I'll bring another check when I pick up tonight."
posted by Rock Steady at 10:19 AM on September 22, 2011

Just don't show up the next time you are expected to babysit. If they contact you tell them - "You didn't pay on Friday so I assumed you could no longer afford my services". I agree they aren't going to pay and giving them any kind of notice makes no sense. Send them an invoice for what they owe, certainly, but emotioanlly, let it go - don't expect to see that money. I wouldn't agree to babysit in future even if they pre-pay because they have ruined any hope of a decent relationship with you but if you do, I agree to make them pre-pay but also double your rate. NICE people get discounted babysitting, not freeloaders.
posted by saucysault at 10:24 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

You shouldn't feel guilty at all--you've been understanding, and they've been jerks. If they were really concerned about paying you, they would have broached the subject and offered a compromise of some kind, even if they couldn't pay the full amount right away. Also, it sounds like you don't really like them, and that's OK--you don't have to like everyone, and you don't have to work for people you don't like (this time, anyway). I was involved in a very similar nanny situation and it ended badly--I got my money in the end, but they really treated me like crap. It can be really difficult, especially if you've bonded with a kid, to be assertive about the business end of things, and some people take advantage of that. It sounds like they're relying on social awkwardness to string you along.
If you want a part-time childcare job, there are probably a lot of people in your area who would love to hire you (and pay you on time).
posted by Nibbly Fang at 11:21 AM on September 22, 2011

I would just tell them, "Hey, we agreed that I'd do this for $50 a pop. You owe me $150 now, and meant to pay me on Friday, but didn't. This is starting to become a problem and I can't allow it to continue. I know things are tight, but we're in almost the same position, and I took this in lieu of the second job I need to make things meet. I understand you have had other priorities (including toys, and other optional purchases you can identify), while I'm having trouble making my own ends meet. So it feels like I'm being taken advantage of. To prevent it from becoming a problem I need you to pay me the $150 (or whatever they owe to bring you current) immediately and then you can pay $50 in advance for the future arrangements.

Don't let them talk you into anything else, or you'll just end up another unpaid creditor. It's not even remotely fair for one struggling family to arrange things so that there's now two struggling families. You're being taken advantage of, even if it's not intentional, though I think that it probably is, given their spending.
posted by Hylas at 12:14 PM on September 22, 2011

You are providing a very valuable service at a fair price. All the other details do not matter at all. "Good morning, Chris and Terry, here's the bill for childcare. Can you write me a check?" If the answer is No, tell them as kindly as possible "I'm so sorry, but this is my work, and if you aren't able to pay me, I understand, but I won't be able to take care of Kidlet today." If you are a pushover, they'll talk you into taking care of Kidlet today, but you will make it clear that you will not continue to provide your valuable service without pay.

My son was in child care, which I needed so I could work. If I didn't pay the bill on time every week, I was told that the care would no longer be available. 1 week's grace period was available occasionally, but people who got reliant on it were asked to find other arrangements.
posted by theora55 at 3:19 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Those details in your second paragraph?

When you talk to the people, do not mention any of them.
posted by box at 4:39 PM on September 22, 2011

I think if you can get $50 for all the sessions, you'll be doing well. If not, chalk it up to experience and consider it a mitzvah.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:48 PM on September 22, 2011

I went to somebody's house and spent a couple hours fixing their PC, told them I wasn't in any hurry for the $50 and that they could just drop it round in the next few days, and went away.

A month later they called me again, and I went over again and fixed their PC again, told them I wasn't in any hurry for my $100 and that they could just drop it round in the next few days, and went away.

Two months later they called me again. I told them I had a lot of work on and that I would get to them when I could.

That was three years ago.

Maybe they will drop my $100 around in the next few days, but I'm not counting on it.
posted by flabdablet at 11:12 PM on September 22, 2011

I keep checking back in, wondering what happened...any chance we'll get to know?
posted by peagood at 7:21 AM on October 5, 2011

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