Should you burn bridges when you don’t get paid?

No one likes to work for a company and not get paid for doing it. There are many ways to resolve payment issues and move on with life. However, what should you do when you are working for cash, under the table and not reporting the income? You enter into a murky world that is loaded with all sorts of problems. Here is a great discussion from the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum on how promises for payment can go wrong and how you can take a bad situation and make it worse.

One new lawn care business owner wrote “Before I got my own lawn care business started, I worked with another lawn care and snow plow company last year. They are known in my area for being cheap. By the end of the year, they had still not paid me for 2 months worth of work. This is some serious money they are keeping from me.

The problem now is, we had initially agreed on me being paid in cash because I’m not a full time employee. So proving what they owe me money is going to be tough, especially since I lost track of my hours.

I want to see this company burn. I feel like I need to put a scar on their name and image. So far I have been able to get one of their snow plow drivers hired by another company. I also hold a copy of their master list of customers too. The damage I could do from that could be irreversible.

I had promised not to ever use the list to advertise any services to their customers, which so far I haven’t. Though when spring comes around, I will do my best to get them all.”

A second lawn care business owner sympathized with his situation yet offered a few words of caution. He wrote “This sounds like my previous boss as well. I ran into a problem where I couldn’t get payed for some reason and he was paying everybody else. I had to go through the court system to get it. It took about 2 years to finally get through the process and get my money.

However your situation is a little bit different than mine was. If you are working for cash under the table and not as a subcontractor with a contract, you might find yourself simply out of luck. He probably will owe you nothing. From my experience, verbal agreements are difficult to prove up in court.

The first thing you should have done when they missed your first payment was to stop working until it was resolved. There is no point to continue working under such circumstances, especially when you are working under the table like that. You also have no way now for sure to know how many hours you worked in total because you didn’t write down your hours somewhere.

It is beyond me why lawn care companies will pay employees cash or why employees will accept cash as payment. If you are working for cash you are not covered by workers comp nor insurance. I know companies do this to supposedly save money by not paying taxes, but that is no way to operate. Everything I do with my business is done by the book, I sleep well at night.

Let me also caution you about burning bridges. Using another company’s customer list may get you into deep water and cause you more headaches. Also, keep in mind that if you do this and other companies hear about what you are doing through the grapevine, they may be hesitant to hire or work with you in the future. They may think if you do this to one company, you will do it to there’s as well. I am a big believer in what goes around comes around.

So to sum this up, I’d suggest you just move on and treat it as a learning experience. Start your own business and build it up with customers you get through your own contacts and create your own customer list from networks you develop.”

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