What are my rights/responsibilities if I am not being paid for services rendered?

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What are my rights/responsibilities if I am not being paid for services rendered?

I was hired to design and develop a website. During the development they were diagnosed with cancer and can no longer pay me. They have asked me to finish for free and have threatened to sue me if I don’t. The site is as complete as I can do it without payment. I did not ask for a retainer and have detailed invoices of everything done thus far, plus all graphics that have been provided. They have been trained and have full access to their website. They have been verbally abusive and been difficult to get payment from as well. Our agreement has a cancellation clause with a 30-day notice for any reason. Do I have to finish the site if the client can’t pay me nor provide the information necessary to finish. Can they sue me?

Asked on March 6, 2011 under Business Law, Texas

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

You have no obligation to work for free: if you won't be paid, you don't have to work. Furthermore, you must be paiod for all work done to date. Based on how your agreement with them was structured, they may or may not be actually in default (e.g. if they were to pay all on completion, they may not be in defaulty yet), though if they've said they won't pay, you should be able to take that as both notice of cancellation and as evidence of default. So, while you need to look at the exact terms of your agreement, and it's possible that it's such a one-sided or bad one that you do need to give them work for free (in cases like this, the contract or agreement controls), as a general matter, you (1) would not have to work for free; (2) don't have to provide any more information, service, etc. for free; (3) can't be forced to work for free; and (4) can sue them for any work done which they haven't paid. Again, though, that's  the general rule--the contract and specific circumstances will control, so you may wish to consult with an attorney (bring the agreement and *all* correspondence, communications, invoices, etc.)  to evaluate this matter.


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