What are my rights as a freelance employee in getting back paid from my employer?

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What are my rights as a freelance employee in getting back paid from my employer?

I have worked on a part-time free-lance basis for 10 years for a very small advertising company – 1 owner and 2 full-time employees who I’ve enjoyed working for but who have gotten worse and worse about paying me due to their financial mismanagement and inability to drum up sufficient business. They manage to stay afloat somehow and have for decades. The owe me in excess of $20,000 for invoices I sent them over a year ago. I’ve been patient with them and I continued to work with them up until several months ago, when I told them they needed to pay me before I did any more work from them. Since then, they haven’t asked me to work for them, and they keep promising they’ll start paying down the amount that they owe me but they don’t. What are my options? And what is your best advice on how to cut ties and get paid?

Asked on June 26, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, Texas

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Your recourse is to sue them for the money: when you work for someone, you work pursuant to an agreement--essentially, a contract--even if it is only an oral or unwritten one, under which you agree to work in exchange for pay. If you did your part--i.e. you worked--they are then contractually obligated to do their part and pay you. If they don't, they have violated their obligations and you could sue them for "breach of contract." (You can in addition sue based on "unjust enrichment": the law does not let someone knowingly or willingly take advantage of and get the benefit of another's services without paying for them, when payment was expected or normal.)
You should sue quickly: if they are having economic trouble, they could be going out of business or becoming insolvent, and if you wait until there is no money left, it won't matter if you sue and win--winning a lawsuit does not make money appear where there is none. You want to try to get your money while there still is money.
If the business is an LLC or corporation, you sue the business; if not, you sue the owners personally.


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