Client/contractor problems: etical delema - hypothetical (long)

I’m going to try to make this easy, apologies in advance for my likely failure to do so.

Lets say you own a landscaping business. You’re hired by Acme co. to maintain the grounds around their extensive office complex. Each week you come to their business and mow the lawn, trim the hedges and water the flowers. You get paid a lump sum for each day you work. So let’s say you agree to come every Tuesday and get paid $300 for that one days work. You submit an invoice every month, and get paid promptly. This system works well for both parties.

Now then. One day in, say, November, boss-man of Acme co. calls you into his office. Says since its November there no need to come every week, only every other week. And instead of working all day, he only needs you part of the day. This news sucks because you need the work. But whatever, its what the client wants. But then boss-man says, “look, I know this means your business takes a hit, so what I’ll do is I’ll pay you you regular fee of $300/week while I have you working less. In return you agree to make up the hours in the springtime when I’ll need more than a day per week from you. Sound ok?” You think think this idea sounds super and agree to it. Now this is all winky-smiley under the table stuff. Your contract remains the same and you continue to bill Acme co. for 8hrs q week.

Fast forward seven months. Spring is in full swing and Acme has lots of landscape work to be done, but boss-man has apparently had a personality transplant and is treating you like shit. Says he doesn’t need you to come but maybe once a month. He’s been paying highschool dropouts to come mow the grass. Finally one day he says “go to hell” and askes that you not return.

Now, you’ve been doing work for this company for a long time, and nothing in your performance has changed, he just woke up one day and decided to be an asshole for the rest of his life. Whatever, you sever your business ties and walk away.

But what about those pre-paid hours of labor you owe him?

He contacts you, and requests those hours to be performed, he says he’s going to do his damndest to smear your name around town if you don’t. Report you to the BBB. That kind of crap. Now, you have no desire to have any more dealings with this prick, but have an obligation to fulfill your word, which you ARE willing to do. But then he goes on a rant and tells you how much of a shitty worker you are, that he never liked you as a person or as a businessman, and so on.

Now, this guy has a reputation in town for being a wacko. If he stood up and declared you a cheat, chances are strongly in your favor that your business wouldn’t suffer, cuz he does that to people on a fairly routine basis. But you would know that in this instance, at least as far as you being a cheat, he is partially correct.
So, Dopers, what do you do, and why? Do you tell him shove it, knowing that he’ll make a stink but that there probably won’t be any repercussions to your business (though it would be a minor headache to deal with), or do you agree to work the hours that you’ve been paid for ( let’s say you owe him 10 full days of labor), and risk a constant barrage of personal abuse, which you cannot stand because that’s how dad used to treat you (or whatever. You simply cannot stand being abused like you’re a grunt in basic training).

There is also a risk that if you do decide to perform the hours owed, the boss-man will sill go and start his smear campaign, simply because he’s a jerk. And since it’s known that you no longer have him as a client (found other jobs to do on Tuesday), you performing the hours apparently without pay will give credibility to his story, which could very well put you out of business.

For the sake of argument, let’s say you cannot simply pay back the money.

Also, its plainly obvious that you should not have made this deal in the first place, but that’s sorta neither here nor there as far as the question is concerned.

Your thoughts are appreciated.

After the way he acted, I wouldn’t be opening myself up to any more of his erratic and unpredictable behavior. I would not have anything to do with him after all of that. When he arranged this little deal, he should have been aware of the possibility for no chance of enforcing it, and if it went bad, he’d have to eat it. I would especially not fuck with him any more knowing that he already had a bad reputation and his smearing of my name wouldn’t mean shit in reality.

Sounds to me like he’s canceling the contract.

Legally, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. If he trashes your reputation with the BBB, you can show them the contract in writing.

And I assume he got his rep as a whacko by doing the same kind of stuff to other people, so I doubt anyone who has dealt with him is going to be much affected by his ravings.

Essentially what he did when he agreed to pay during the winter was to make you a salaried employee. No court in their right mind is going to make a salaried employee work after he was fired to make up time.

I don’t see the dilemma, moral or legal.


He told you to get lost, which sounds like it frees you from a legal obligation. If you have a moral problem with the money received for work you didn’t do, you could alleviate that by offering to return to complete the hours owed. He might take you up on the offer and treat you like crap, but you can just stand around and tick off the hours while that’s happening because you didn’t have agreement to take that. If he declines your offer, you’ve done nothing immoral. If for some reason it still bothers you (maybe a matter of pride in not taking something for nothing), go volunteer some time for someone or someplace that can’t afford it.

But you’re fine with just walking away when he tells you to go. He’s deciding to breach your agreement unilaterally. You’re not obligated to compensate him for the damage he caused to himself.

The actual ethical dilemma was back when the under-the-table deal was offered in the first place. What’s happening now is just politics. Crazy guy can’t smear your company’s ethics now without implicating himself, so what’s to worry about? Anyone who agreed to the initial deal would not likely be stricken with a conscience NOW. The past work has been invoiced and paid for. In business, nothing happens if it wasn’t written down.

The truly best business decision would have been to decline the offer when it was offered in the first place, and optionally to drop him as a client then smear his unethical name all over town. Water under the bridge at this point.