How can I receive payment for work completed?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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How can I receive payment for work completed?

I was hired by the company to be the COO. I helped form the company, register and achieve certification, and upon that approval resigned from my previous job. From July to December 2018 was to be paid for part time work at $65/hour until we launched fully in January 2018 and could setup the required programs for. The owner reduced my pay unilaterally starting January 1 from $13,750 to $7,000 per month. Additionally, there was no setup for withholding of taxes and I was told out of the blue that this would be a contract position for the immediate future. Our arrangement clearly outlined that I was an employee and would be an employee going forward, not a contractor. Additionally, the pay for July-December was never made. I agreed to defer that compensation to negotiate our broader agreement that included equity. The company granted 5 equity in the business. Does the scenario above make it clear I am an employee or would the law in GA consider me a contractor? Also, we have had dozens of calls, discussions, and emails over the last 14 months related to my compensation and employment, but the owners were careful to never put it writing set terms. I now believe this was purposely in their attempt to avoid a paper trail. Do I need a signed agreement stating the terms of my rate and payment to collect unpaid wages? Additionally, if under oath, both would have to admit that they agreed to pay me, agreed to grant me equity, agreed I was the COO and employee. However, I believe they would have no issue lying under oath. I have some records indicating the opposite but is the lack of a signed written agreement mean there is little ground to sue? Finally, the owners constantly made sexist, derogatory, and sexual comments to and around staff that were highly inappropriate. It played no small part in my decision to leave. Does this have any bearing in a claim against the company?

Asked on April 8, 2019 under Employment Labor Law, Georgia


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Because is not a case involving violation of the wage and hour laws (e.g. overtime; minimum wage) but is fundamentally a contractual case--not paying you the agreed-upon salary or wages, it is a case you would need to bring yourself, by suing the employer. However, you would have significant challenges in the absence of anything in writing setting out your compensation or the terms of your employment, inasumch as all employment (whether of employees or contractors) is "employment at will" in this nation in the absence of a written agreement to the contrary. That is, when there is no written contract guarantying the terms of employment, the employer is free to change those terms--for example, to reduce pay--at will on a "going forward" basis. That is, any work you did under the understanding you were to be paid $X must be paid at the rate of $X; but they can at anytime provide you notice (either in writing or orally) that you are instead being paid $Z and from that point forward, pay you $Z. So you may be able to sue for any unpaid wages for work you did that should have been paid that higher monthly rate, which work was done prior to them in one way or another indicating they were lowering your rate; but once you knew they were lowering your rate, that is all you were entitled to. You can sue for rates due under oral or unwritten agreements (you would have to be more credible than them, and convince the court that you were to be paid at a certain rate), but again, only up until when they indicated you would be paid less, because oral agreeemets may be unilaterally altered by the employer at any time: they are not binding going foward. Only a written contract for a defined or set period of time (e.g. a one-year contract) locks in your pay for that period.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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