My client didn't pay, is it illegal for me to discuss this with other contractors?

#1

So I had a client go silent on me recently as soon as I brought up the topic of delinquent invoice payment. We typically speak daily, and otherwise have an excellent relationship. They love the work I do (at least, their praise seems authentic and on target). I love the work I do for them. We had a verbal agreement that I would be paid within 2 weeks of invoice. My contract allowed for 30 days / 4 weeks. At the second invoice, they went into 6 weeks without paying me.

I asked about it, and got no information in return. I kept sending emails twice a week to politely ask for information about what the issue was, and when I could expect payment. I received an extremely brief non-answer once, and more silence. I began to explore what other measures I could take, I honestly believed I had been scammed. They owed me a 5-figure sum (USD).

I work on about 8 different websites/codebases for this client. Each has a git repository, with a full history of all the other contractors, and naturally, their emails. I have paired up with a few of them on some projects (front end / back end dev relationships), so I know some of them on as personal a level a remote dev coworker can have.

I considered extracting all the emails from each project from the last year’s worth of commits, and then emailing each one individually to ask if they’ve ever had payment problems with this client. This would also obviously share information that I had not been paid for a time that violated the terms of our contract. We have a policy of being able to freely contact each other, via slack, or email, so its not like emailing them alone is violating some kind of privacy term on their end (or mine).

Would it be illegal for me to discuss this information with the other contractors? This concerns businesses incorporated in the USA. They are an LLC, if that matters. Could my client have grounds to seek some kind of legal retribution if they found out I did that? I think its only fair that they all know if I had been ripped off, and also may want to band together to fight the client if they too had also been ripped off. There is nothing explicitly stated in my contract that says I cant share information about my experience with them with other contractors (or anyone, really, outside of technology-NDA sort of things).

Note: I was certainly going to report them to Glassdoor, Freelancer’s Union, BBB, and any other institution that I could, if this went on much longer. They finally caved after the 5th email or so, and paid me (again, without speaking to me about it, which is what bothers me the most). I also was going to start resorting to phone calls AND email bombardments (always polite :-P) first, before taking these next steps. This happened with the 2nd invoice in our relationship, which concerned me greatly, since I was told when hired that they had funds to pay me for even more hours than I was putting in. I am aware of the frequency with which freelancers get ripped off by clients (FU reports ~40%). I refuse to tolerate it, especially if we have been told otherwise, and am a strong advocate (re: activist) for workers’ rights in general. Just an aside, Id have been far more tolerant, had they chosen to discuss things with me, and let me know what was happening - the silence drove me towards this aim.

#2

If you have a legal contract, then you can try to find some legal advisor / law firm and ask for a valuation about the case. I think you should be able to agree they charge client because they broke the contract.
They will probably send official warning first about the payment, then if no response things get serious.

I have a similar situation with client from UK, but no contract, website delivered and he don’t answer calls or emails.
What I’m about to do is to buy domain client-name.xyz and put some of his pictures on, write on top in nice big letters that ‘i made ww.com website for him and he didn’t pay’ + provide some screenshots of conversation etc…
Then I will send him for review with a warning if he dosen’t pay thing is going live.

I will then send this link to all of his linkedin and facebook contacts, and whatevere / who ever I can dig out on net had some relation or work with him.
I might even pay some facebook ads, they are cheap and I can target people in his area very well with facebook.

Warning first, if not I will make him some nice marketing.
It’s maybe not going to get me my money but I’m going to show that asshole.

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#3

Thanks Bobz. Yeah I have a contract. I can think of all kinds of creative “revenge” ideas too, but Id rather not turn this thread into a discussion about that. I just want to know the illegality (or total legality) of discussing this sort of thing with other contractors for the same client, when there is no mention of such things in the contract.

As an aside, you can report all delinquents to the Freelancer’s Union. Theyre forming a DB of such records, to help people organize against the general culture of unpaid contracts.

#4

Sure, I updated my answer.
In short, if it’s a 5 figure I would spend time talking with sam law firm about the case.

#5

this is unethical, unprofessional, and not sure about the UK, but could result in legal action.

#6

@wanderingdev and what would you suggest as ethical and professional solution?

#7

First, always having a contract. But since you didn’t seem to do that, you have more limited options. If you still have access to the website, I would take it down. If not, I would send them a formal letter and, depending on the amount of time they’re let, get an attorney involved.

But personally, I would never, ever hire someone who was so publicly vindictive against a client. It indicates a lack of professionalism that I would not want to work with, even if I intended to honor my agreement to pay. Doing that could destroy your reputation and cost you more than this client not paying ever did.

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#8

@wanderingdev Well, it’s not my client but a friend designer asked me for help, guy payed 30% in advanced and when all was done he changed all passwords and is ignoring all messages.

I can take the website down, but it still can be restored from backup.
But however, thanks for your thoughts I will take them into consideration.

#9

I would start with taking the site down.

#10

@wanderingdev but that’s to easy, I wan’t to have some fun! :smiling_imp:

#11

@wanderingdev yes I too would never take it so public. Even when reporting delinquencies to various workers-rights-defenders/activist NGOs/organizations, Id do so anonymously and in a less public-facing manner.

But I digress, just really seeing if anyone happens to know if contacting the other contractors/employees about the issue results in some legal issue I cant predict. Slander/libel etc, something like that (despite it being truthful), or the client trying to claim I am exposing some sort of “insider information” etc. It would be done in a non public way, just one to one slack chat or email. I am just used to the business/corporate world having a complete unfair advantage over workers, and having the ability to keep abuses silent cuz thats just the culture of the modern workplace as I see it.

#12

I don’t see why you couldn’t talk to other contractors on the project about non-payment, if you have been introduced to them through the project – people naturally do that. But I can’t tell from your post if you have gotten their e-mails through some confidential source that you signed an NDA about. That would be different. Look at your NDA.

I’ve freelanced for over 15 years and had to take a client to small claims court once to get paid. We ended up settling, but it took two trips to court. Startups are notorious for this kind of thing, but of course, there are lots of slimeballs too. At this point, you should be glad you’ve been paid, but I’d take their behavior as a major red flag and get out of the relationship. Don’t waste your time or energy with vindictive stuff, but always consider in your contract where you are able to take legal action – a small claims court that you would be able to return to in person, within a year and without too much fuss would be ideal.

#13

Shut everything down and walk away. Seeking revenge in the form of public slander is completely unethical, childish and can be career suicide. Even discussing whether or not you should shame a client in a public setting is raising the risk for your business.

Since you didn’t take out a binding agreement to begin with, you’ve increased the likelihood of being ripped off by clients. Remove what you can from their control and move on to the next job. No sense risking your own public profile over a bad business decision.

#14

Is a little fun worth ruining your reputation and potentially career? Time to grow up and be a real business person, not a kid throwing a tantrum.

#15

You probably right, thanks for your thoughts

#16

Just so folks reading are aware, for US-based contracts, though it’s always preferable to have something in writing, a verbal contract still holds in court. (You will have to argue about what the agreement was, however.)