How to Get Paid When You're an Independent Contractor

Whatever you do, if they don't pay, you can take them to court.

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Suzanne Lucas
In July, I was laid off from my HR job (true layoff--lack of work). When we finalized my layoff, my boss had mentioned the possibility of assisting in a contractor-type capacity after I was laid off. I signed a contract negotiating pay at about 130 percent of my previous hourly rate in order to cover taxes/benefits/etc. In August, she asked me to work for one day on a challenging recruitment. I completed 9 hours of work. I submitted my hours to my boss immediately and requested pay by invoice.

It's December and I still haven't seen a check. I've inquired by phone twice in September, by E-mail twice in October and once in November, and met her for happy hour last week and verbally requested it yet again. I also notified her that I would be filing in small claims court if I do not see a check by 1/1/2010. She mentioned that the controller, a woman who has a particular [disdain] for everything and anything HR-related, is holding the invoice for my pay and refusing to pay it "because we laid off that position," but it has been approved by the CEO/president/sole proprietor of the company. Where do I go from here?

At this point you have to know that you would be foolish to do any more contract work for this company. So, you don't really have anything to lose—except for your reputation.

[See 9 insider secrets to getting hired.]

Here's what I recommend: Call up your old boss and say, "I really don't want to take this to court, but I will and I'll win, and what a hassle. Legally, the controller has to release the check. I know you are totally on my side and evil controller woman hates HR, but I'm just giving you a heads up that after I hang up with you, I'm calling the CEO about this mess."

You'll get one of several responses.

Possible response 1: "Please don't do that. I will take care of it. I'll call him myself and get back to you by tomorrow."

If you get that, reiterate that if you don't hear back by tomorrow you will go ahead and contact the CEO directly.

[See why a job is different than a marriage.]

Possible response 2: "Go for it. I've been on his case for weeks about evil controller woman. Good luck."

Well, if you get that, good luck to you. Call, and may the force be with you.

Possible response 3: Irrational yelling about how impatient you are and, "Can't you just wait?"

Your old boss is under a tremendous amount of pressure, and having the controller on her back is not helping. Additionally, she may have negotiated with you without proper approval. Try to calm her down, and then call the CEO when you are finished.

The CEO has the ability to get the controller to release the check. It's not a priority for him, though. So you need to make it a priority. Tell him you'll be in on Monday to personally pick up the check. This should elicit some sort of response from him. If he says, "No way," go ahead and file your case right away. If he hems and haws, reiterate that you will be there on Monday at 9:30 a.m. to pick up the check.

Whatever you do, if they don't pay, you can take them to court. And as an independent contractor you can charge them late fees on their invoice, although I think you would have needed to negotiate that at the outset. (Note, however that I'm not an attorney, so who knows?)

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.