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View Full Version : Quick question about doing work for a new job


fdsaf3
01-24-2012, 05:49 PM
I'm in a new situation that I could use some perspective on, so I thought I'd come here and share. You guys are nothing if not good at sharing your opinions, particularly on how someone else should live their life. :D

Anyway, here's the quick back story.

I'm in my final semester of grad school, and I've started taking on short, temporary contracts with local organizations (mostly nonprofits, but I've done a few for-profit organizations). Typically, I'm hired to perform a specific set of research tasks utilizing a variety of quantitative and statistical methods. In every situation I've been in prior to the current one, I've had a firm contract in place establishing the number of hours the contract was for, and the tasks I was expected to accomplish.

Clear enough so far? Good.

Last week, I was kind of hired to take on a new contract. I say kind of hired because I have yet to receive a formal offer letter or a contract as I described before (number of hours, tasks, etc.). This organization is a nonprofit, it's pretty small, and it's not well organized. The executive director is pushing for me to start doing work without any guidelines on pay (we discussed a figure, but nothing is finalized), expectations, or anything like that.

In short, my concern is that I'll be doing work for free which wouldn't be retroactively paid for by the nonprofit. I'm interested in helping them out, but I want to be paid for my time. The stuff I'm doing is not stuff that an ordinary volunteer would be able to do, unless they happened to find a volunteer with a pretty remarkable skill set.

I've pushed for formal letters and contracts, and I'm told that they'll be coming within the next week.

Bottom line: should I start doing work with the expectation (but not necessarily the guarantee) that I will eventually be paid, or should I hold off until I have firm contract in place?

note: I know some of you are lawyers, so I want to make it clear I'm not asking for legal advice. I'm just looking for friendly advice from total strangers. I don't know if this alleviates you of your professional responsibilities, but I thought I'd try.

Gilshalos Sedai
01-24-2012, 05:54 PM
Uh... wait.

Unless you WANT to volunteer your time, I'd wait till you had the contract in your hands and signed.

Ivhon
01-24-2012, 05:58 PM
Yeah. I would politely but firmly insist on the paperwork being done and signed before doing any work. If not, you should expect to be working for free - if you are ok with that, great. If not, get the paperwork done before starting work.

fdsaf3
01-24-2012, 05:59 PM
So far this echoes what I'm inclined to do. Thanks!

Sei'taer
01-24-2012, 06:57 PM
So far this echoes what I'm inclined to do. Thanks!

I agree. I've walked out on clients before because the contract wasn't signed. I had one call me because the Feds were on the way and getting ready to come down on them hard. I told them they should have had the contract ready for me in a reasonable amount of time.

I realize this is a non-profit, but you are not. I wouldn't do anything until the contract is signed.

Davian93
01-24-2012, 07:39 PM
Only if you enjoy volunteer work...otherwise, get a contract first.

Crispin's Crispian
01-24-2012, 07:43 PM
If you really like the work and the option is available, you could do some of the work but not share the results until you get the paperwork. It might give them a little more incentive to get it done.

But again, if they don't come up with a contract you're out that time.

I have to deal with a number of contracts in my job, and I always insist we have something in writing before doing any work. As an aside, from a sales perspective, that's a little tougher. We're often expected to prove our value before we're hired, and one really good way to do that is to do preliminary work. Unfortunately, my department does the preliminary work, and if we don't get paid...we've just wasted our time. :(

Ishara
01-24-2012, 08:44 PM
I realize this is a non-profit, but you are not. I wouldn't do anything until the contract is signed.

This is the best friendly advice you'll get on the topic. Be firm!

AbbeyRoad
01-25-2012, 12:21 AM
I don't work for free unless I want to work for free. Even if he says he will pay you retroactively, if you have not signed a contract he is not obligated to pay you at all. If you work without a contract, you are giving him legal permission to [I]not pay you, and if he doesn't the fault is yours, not his. And I know I don't gamble with my time; I suspect you don't, either, after working so hard in grad school to develop a skill set. Wait, and good luck!

Isabel
01-25-2012, 12:33 AM
Just a question: from what I remember in the netherlands an oral agreement might be seen as a legal agreement. I can imagine fdsaf3 also might have an email or something else. Than at least in the netherlands there wouldn't be any risk.

Would it help more if he send a letter in writing that he is doing the work on the oral agreement and expects the signed agreement later? And if the company confirms it?

would that also mean less risk in the USA?

GonzoTheGreat
01-25-2012, 05:00 AM
Bottom line: should I start doing work with the expectation (but not necessarily the guarantee) that I will eventually be paid, or should I hold off until I have firm contract in place?
Yes.

Which may not be very clear, but it is by far the most accurate answer you can get to this question. (Together with "no", but that's so negative.) :p

It would seem to depend on a whole bunch of things.

If you feel it likely that the contract will come through, and you can do useful preparatory work that wouldn't particularly benefit them if you did it in the next week and then walked away, then there doesn't seem much reason not to start with that already.
You would expect to be paid for it. If you don't get the contract anyway, then you've wasted a week, which is not nice, but they'll have to restart from scratch with finding someone who can do it.

If you have sufficiently serious doubts about the contract, then just wait until you've signed it, after which you can go to work knowing everyone's on the same page*.

If you think that the contract will come through, but you aren't sure, and that organisation would benefit right from the start of your activities, then YOYO#.

* An expression dating from the time when books were still made of paper, for those unfamiliar with the concept.

# A very useful abbreviation, as everyone familiar with it will know.

Terez
01-25-2012, 06:38 AM
Just a question: from what I remember in the netherlands an oral agreement might be seen as a legal agreement. I can imagine fdsaf3 also might have an email or something else. Than at least in the netherlands there wouldn't be any risk.

Would it help more if he send a letter in writing that he is doing the work on the oral agreement and expects the signed agreement later? And if the company confirms it?

would that also mean less risk in the USA?I think that legally this is technically true in some places depending on jurisdiction, but if it's your word against theirs...

Davian93
01-25-2012, 08:19 AM
I think that legally this is technically true in some places depending on jurisdiction, but if it's your word against theirs...

I know for a fact and from experience that an oral contract is not binding in the State of Virginia.

That was a fun part of my legal battle with a former employer.

Gilshalos Sedai
01-25-2012, 09:15 AM
I know for a fact and from experience that an oral contract is not binding in the State of Virginia.

That was a fun part of my legal battle with a former employer.

Also... rely on a verbal agreement ONLY if you want to go to court.

fdsaf3
01-25-2012, 09:31 AM
I really don't want to get into a legal battle, especially with this organization. On one level, I don't really care if an oral contract is binding. I've made it clear to the guy that in every other contract I've done like this, it's my standard practice to have the requisite paperwork done before I do any work. He's the classic nonprofit guy: super excited, very "go go go" mentality. I can tell he's going to be difficult to reign in.

Thanks for the feedback, it is much appreciated.

Sei'taer
01-25-2012, 09:57 AM
I know for a fact and from experience that an oral contract is not binding in the State of Virginia.

That was a fun part of my legal battle with a former employer.

Try out working in international waters someday. A written contract is barely legal...unless you are required to join the union and then it's so tightly bound that I still get calls for late payment of dues after 15 years of not working there. At least they quit coming to the house.

SauceyBlueConfetti
01-25-2012, 02:02 PM
Echo Echo Echo. Agreed, don't work without the agreement, ESPECIALLY if they appear unorganized. Have any lawyer friends handy? Create your own agreement and have them sign it as a letter of intent.

My boss tends to bring contractors on without having a real plan sometimes (ARRRRRGHHHH!!!)...so I see this occasionally. PUSH for the document, it needs to outline the employee/employer relationship not only for the work and wage, but to protect your ass. Literally, your ass, in case you were injured on the job.

I believe the limit for paying someone without reporting the employment taxes is $600 or something, so they can just cut you a check until that amount is reached. YOU are responsible for reporting the back wages if you then enter an employment agreement and go over that limit. I am hazy on this, but I recall it coming up on one of our independent contractors who worked more than a few days. I personally like to swat my boss when he does this arrangement.