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Advice from friends (YOU!!!)


I hesitate to even write this post because I don’t want this to come across as me speaking badly about an employer. I LOVE both of my contract-based positions (teaching for “University A” and doing research for “University B”), but I just don’t know how to handle a situation I’m currently in and would love to open it up to you for advice. The sooner the better because we usually communicate on Monday mornings…..

In a nutshell (and I’m purposely being a little vague about things to try to protect identities, etc.), here’s what’s happened….

I was expecting a paycheck from my research job (“University B”) at the end of September. Only….it never came.

I emailed a couple of times about it and eventually got a reply that I would get paid in the late October or early November time frame.

I was shocked. I have NEVER had my payment so delayed. Generally I get paid once per month, about a month after the work was done (e.g., the paycheck I was expecting at the end of September was for work completed in August).

I replied to the email and said that, given the unexpected delay in receiving pay (2.5-3 months after work has been completed), I do not feel comfortable continuing to work with them right now. I made it clear that I would love to continue working with them in the future, but since this was a complete surprise (SHOCK!) to me (I had received no warning about delayed pay), it seems in my best interest to stop working until compensation is received. Right?? RIGHT??? I mean, you don’t just do work for someone who isn’t paying you, right?????

Several hours later, an email went out to all the contractors (not just me) explaining why there is this delay in pay. Here’s where I’m going to be vague because I don’t want to give details about the circumstances, but I’ll say that after there was a detailed explanation I totally understand the delay in pay. I feel that their primary error was in not notifying us IN ADVANCE of the situation (rather than waiting until after-the-fact to explain the payment problem).

So, yeah. I took last week off and didn’t complete any work for them. Generally on Mondays I let them know how much work I would like to complete for the week. So what do I do now? Would you continue working for University B, knowing that pay will be delayed several months (but that you will, in fact, get paid – there is nothing shady in terms of them trying not to pay). Or would you wait another week, two, or three?

Just so you know, the majority of my income comes from my teaching job (University A), but I do make a few hundred a week from my research job, so even though its a minority of our income, its still a decent-sized chunk of money on a monthly basis.

I just don’t know what to do??? I don’t want to keep working when compensation is coming so far behind the work completion, but I do have confidence that the pay is coming down the pipeline.

What would you do?


  • Reply Joe |

    I think you’ve got to keep working. Sounds like there is a legitimate reason for the delay. Universities are reputable employers and it sounds like you’d have trouble finding a reliable outlet to generate the equivalent income.
    The worst thing would be for them to call your bluff and then you’re no longer working for even delayed pay!

  • Reply Maureen |

    I would keep working knowing I will be paid. Yes, it sucks but do you really want to give up the extra money now (even if it delayed)? Unless there is something else in the pipeline keep at it. Also, is your husband’s slow season coming up? That might add to perspective.

  • Reply TENN |

    I would keep working. The people you work directly for probably have nothing to do with payment and have limited ability to speed things up. I work in the public sector. Our payments are very slow.

  • Reply BrokeB*tch |

    I will be blunt. Coming from a sincere, caring perspective … but still blunt. You don’t have the luxury of blowing off University “B”. Not with your debt figures. You need them more than they need you.

    Joe’s comment above is exactly right. You will eventually get paid … and even if delayed by 3 months …. the debt is still there to apply the payment to. He is also right to caution you about potentially burning any bridges with them. If there was ever a danger of not getting paid by a shady employer, then by all means, don’t put out the effort. But as Joe pointed out, they are reputable, and you will eventually get paid.

    I want to point out that I, too would have had the same initial reaction as you about questioning this and wanting to stop working for them. You are right that it would have been better for them to notify you ahead of time. But hopefully I would have people encourage me to stay the course and remind me that it would definitely be in my best interest to continue the professional relationship.

    This is one of those “suck it up” moments. Maybe I’m being blunt because I wish someone had been blunt with me? I’ve burned a professional bridge or two in the past, and consequently, paid the price for doing so. Let me be your ‘cautionary tale’.


  • Reply Emily N. |

    As long as you’re satisfied that the money will indeed be forthcoming, I’d keep working. Is this going to be an ongoing situation (i.e., in the future pay will be 2-3 months behind the work), or will you be getting a double catch-up paycheck next time?

    • Reply Ashley |

      I can’t know for sure at this moment in time. It’s possible that there will be a catch-up paycheck, but this could turn into the new “norm” (pay 3 months after work completion) depending on some factors that I won’t disclose.

  • Reply Anna |

    I would also keep working. You will get paid eventually, and most likely during a time when it’s your husband’s low season or when there is a special event (Christmas gifts?) coming up.

  • Reply Jenny |

    Along with everyone else, I’d say keep working as much as usual as long as you believe you will be paid.

  • Reply Walnut |

    I would keep working, but I definitely wouldn’t be working my tail off. Obviously, continue to do high quality work, but at your own pace. Focus more attention on the other role (and applications) and continue work on this job as your time and energy allows.

  • Reply Mary |

    This is certainly an unfortunate situation however I think there are a few lessons in here. First, it was wrong of University B to not notify everyone of the delay in the paychecks. I can’t speak for University B however my guess is they probably didn’t think it would happen or they would have notified you and the others sooner.

    More importantly, I think the bigger lesson is how to handle this situation better. When you emailed University B and they notified you about the payment being delayed, the knee jerk reaction (for lack of a better term) was to refuse to work until the payment was received with your logic being that no one works without being paid. I think a better way to handle this was when you didn’t get your paycheck, and they emailed you about the delay, is that I would have asked more questions. I would want to know if this was a one time situation, if the delay was just your paycheck or for all vendors and/or if this delay will be continuing in the near future or what. Basically, you want to know when they’ll be back to their regular payment schedule. This would be an easier conversation to have over the phone instead of an email because emails can be interpreted differently and when you are on the phone, it’s easier to gather information since sometimes they’ll tell you things over the phone that they can’t, won’t or shouldn’t put in an email. I also feel that anytime you have an opportunity to pick up the phone you should…you build relationships over the phone but less so via email (just my opinion, lol). Anyway, my point is whenever someone gives you some information that is unexpected (whether personally or professionally) like that, instead of responding quickly, ask more inquiring questions to gather more information. By doing this, you would have found out that University B is delaying payment to all vendors, etc. If you were on the phone, it also might give you some insight to what’s going on at University B long term that could positively or negatively impact a permanent position with them. You didn’t do anything wrong with them, however as you learn to be a more seasoned professional, you’ll learn to ask more questions to gather more information before you react. When you are on the phone with them, the fact that you asked those questions and your response to them, gives the employer an opportunity to see how you work…in the back of their mind it answers questions for them as to how you deal with an adverse situation and would make you look good hence they might think that you fit in well with their culture.

    Next, you mentioned University B sent out an email a few hours later to all vendors explaining the delay in payment. This tells you that there were other vendors in your shoes asking the same question so they sent out a blanket email to cover all the bases. I would bet you weren’t the only one not wanting to work without a paycheck, lol.

    Your next question was what to do since you already told them that you weren’t going to work until you got paid and since then you have learned the reason for the delay. Only you can determine if you want to continue working for them. Without a full time job, I’d probably continue working for them if you needed the money, if it would lead to a full time position or if the job looks good on your resume. If any of these apply, then I’d probably continue to work for them. Also, considering your debt situation, I’d probably be inclined to continue working for them unless I had something else lined up but you need to determine this.

    Finally, what should you tell them tomorrow? I’d start off by thanking them for the email explaining the situation in more detail. I’d explain that you did not work last week because you were confused about the lack of payment and you were uncomfortable working for an organization without any payment upon completion of your work. You could mention that while it is unfortunate having a delay in your paycheck (never hurts to say that, lol), that based on that information, you would like to continue working for them starting this week and ask if that’s acceptable to them. I am sure they will agree. I would also take the time to tell them that it would be helpful in the future, if there were any changes in the terms of your agreement, that they would give you some advance notice since you need it for planning purposes (your budget, haha). That makes you look like a professional in that you weren’t willing to work for anything and that if they want professional work then they have an obligation to communicate effectively too! They will have more respect for you after you have this conversation and you will also have defined the boundaries better regarding your employment with them. Think of it a “commanding respect” (asking to be notified in advance and gathering information) versus “demanding respect” (refusing to work unless you are paid). It’s a fine line but a big difference. Adversities or problems are excellent opportunities for building relationships.

    Lastly, you didn’t do anything wrong by wanting to be paid for work that you did or wanting to be paid in a more timely manner. University B wasn’t a great communicator either and clearly botched the whole thing. That being said, I think it was a good opportunity to learn how to view the same situation differently and learn from it. I hope this helps. Good luck tomorrow and let us know how it goes.

    One last question, is this the University that recently lowered/changed their pay scale? If yes, is that related in any way to this issue that is causing the delay in paychecks? That is probably the big picture question.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I want to print out this reply and frame it on the wall! It’s a hall-of-famer, for sure! : )
      Thank you so much for the well thought out and articulated advice! I’m typing up an email now to send over and basing it heavily off of your suggestions. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
      In reference to your last question (regarding the change in pay structure), that’s actually completely unrelated to the delay in pay. I think the change in pay scale (changing from hourly to per project completion) was to try to standardize things a bit (for some people the change amounted to an increase in pay. For me it was slightly less pay. It all depends on how many hours each project takes). The delay in pay is a completely unrelated issue.

  • Reply Susan |

    Wow. Are all of the other contract employees married, with spouses who bring in money, and do all of the other contract employees have other jobs like you do with University A? Imagine if you really needed that money to buy groceries or pay your rent/mortgage? You are in a good financial situation ONLY because you have another job, your husband brings in money, and of course, you have been taking steps to get your financial house in better order.

    Having said all of that, I would also keep working.

    However, I think I would approach University B to see if I could find out why it was thought to be okay to just not pay employees and then finally, after payment was very late, come out with such a weak statement , “sorry, pay is late, it will be even later.” Is there any way to ask (require?) that you are given earlier notice if future payments will be late?

    • Reply Candice |

      +1 Susan nailed it. Particularly with this statement, ” Imagine if you really needed that money to buy groceries or pay your rent/mortgage? You are in a good financial situation ONLY because you have another job, your husband brings in money, and of course, you have been taking steps to get your financial house in better order.

      Having said all of that, I would also keep working.”

      I disagree with Maureen about your attitude or your initial response and generally found her comment to be incredibly patronizing. It is important for contract employees of universities (who are not full time, tenured, or protected by a union) to manage their time like any other business. Any other business that provides goods or services expects to be paid in a timely manner. A month lead time between when work is completed and when payment will be received is already generous. The fact that the client (University B) did not provide payment to the business (Ashley) for past services rendered and did not provide an explanation until the due date lapsed is really in poor taste. While this may be hard for someone who have never run a business to grasp (I previously owned a restaurant) if business are not paid for their goods or services there is a trickle down effect; we can’t pay employees, suppliers, etc., who in turn can’t pay for their responsibilities (children, raw materials, etc.)

      “Next, you mentioned University B sent out an email a few hours later to all vendors explaining the delay in payment. This tells you that there were other vendors in your shoes asking the same question so they sent out a blanket email to cover all the bases. I would bet you weren’t the only one not wanting to work without a paycheck, lol.” Or this could suggest that University B potentially had no real plan to address the fact that they hadn’t paid their employees until vendors such as Ashley suggested that they would withhold goods or services until payment was received. Large universities (businesses) have payroll departments. They weren’t surprised they didn’t pay their employees. They knew. They made a decision based on cash-flow (to pay some vendors and not others). While this is understandable from time to time, the idea that they did not provide vendors with notice so that they could make necessary preparations is really in poor taste and another reason I am cheering for Ashley to find a full time academic position so that perhaps she has the ability to sever ties with this university.

        • Reply Mary |

          I am sorry you feel that way. My comment was not patronizing, it was meant to be helpful; Ashley asked for advice and I merely presented a different response. I think we have all been in situations where we wished or wondered if we could have handled things differently. Regarding University B, if you re-read my comment, I never excused University B for their poor response but focused on Ashley’s response since she asked for advice; I also never said they didn’t “know”, I said they wouldn’t “address” it.

          • Candice |

            “I think we have all been in situations where we wished or wondered if we could have handled things differently.” This is why I think your comment was patronizing. Ashley didn’t say, “Did I respond poorly?” or that she wished she had acted differently. She simply stated, “I just don’t know what to do??? I don’t want to keep working when compensation is coming so far behind the work completion, but I do have confidence that the pay is coming down the pipeline.” You decided that she didn’t or act/respond in the appropriate manner and then proceeded to lecture her as to how she should have acted instead of responding to the question she really asked which was essentially, “Should I keep working for them? What should I do about tomorrow’s meeting.”

            *capitalization is for emphasis not to denote a change in speaker volume

      • Reply Ashley |

        I definitely appreciate this comment. One thing to clarify though, this is not a (lack of) cash-flow problem for University B. In other words, they weren’t picking and choosing whom to pay based on available funds. Without going into too many details, the money is there (they receive many large government grants), but there’s an approval process that is quite complicated and convoluted (as many things are with the government), and they simply lack the manpower to push things through since their number of contractors has been growing in recent months. I suspect that this delay caught them a bit off guard, as they were struggling to balance everything and were hoping they would be able to get caught up (which didn’t happen). Thus, the waiting game.

        • Reply Candice |

          “I suspect that this delay caught them a bit off guard, as they were struggling to balance everything and were hoping they would be able to get caught up (which didn’t happen). Thus, the waiting game.” This is good to know. At the point that they are going to pay you then there’s no reason not to stick around.

  • Reply Tania |

    I was also going to chime in with the continue to work, make sure you take extra care to keep track of all the hours/pay they would owe you. If they are an university, this sort of mistake, regardless what the issue is, is unacceptable, but not unfixable. From a legal perspective, keep those documents in check, keep your tracking in check, and November comes, if anything happens, you can always take it to the board of ed or DOL. I am honestly very surprised anyone would toy with not paying as agreed, since that is a VERY expensive offense.

  • Reply SAK |

    I run my own business and if the client doesn’t pay, we stop working until a payment plan is developed (in a crisis we would do what was necessary but my line of work doesn’t have many). Whether you need the money or not is irrelevant. You did the work, they have a contract with you that requires payment, and they didn’t pay. Stopping was the right thing to do. A few questions – a one time delay or new process on paying? Is this the same one that went from hourly to flat fee without warning? I suggest you (1) continue working for now; (2) start looking for a replacement gig; and (3) ask for a raise – they have increased the risk associated with the work, you can no longer bank on when the income will arrive (no matter what they say) and you need to be compensated for the delay. Another alternative is a new payment scheme – you get 10-25% up front before you start working. You aren’t an indentured servant, you shouldn’t have to beg and your attitude was right. I don’t say throw a fit but you are a valuable professional – you did the right thing. Be polite, professional, calm AND protect your interests – they won’t.

  • Reply Jen From Boston |

    I would start working again, and I would take the approach that Mary outlined in terms of telling them that you will continue working now that they’ve explained the interruption in pay.

    In fact, I think Mary’s advice was pretty solid, and I’m not surprised that the university sent a blanket e-mail to all vendors after you asked about your missing paycheck. In my experience, non-profits can be really bad with handling communications like this. Not all non-profits, but some. And universities can have so many departments that if there isn’t a strong centralization wrt the support services (HR, IT, etc.) the communication can go haywire because the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, or not doing.

    Hopefully the group you’re working for has enough clout that they can put pressure on HR to get the payroll act togethr 😉

  • Reply Scooze |

    The best way to determine whether or not to keep working for the university is to know your BATNA! This is a business term that helps people negotiate – it stands for Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement and is a way to prioritize the current agreement versus other options. It basically means that you have to think through all the options and assess a value to each.

    What is that delay in pay really worth to you? If you replaced this side gig with a different side gig, how much would that pay? What other factors would go into it so that it is more valuable or less valuable that the current side gig?

    What are your options?
    1. Keep working for University B at $300/week. Now the value of this has just decreased because $300 is worth slightly less 3 months from now. Also, you have uncertainty in when the payment will come, and uncertainty is painful. Let’s say that this is now worth just $275 to you.
    2. Find another research job that pays at least $276/week and on time.
    3. Don’t get another side gig. Give up the money.
    4. Find a different full-time job.

    The key is to assign values for each benefit and inconvenience that comes with each option. Then you can compare apples to apples. There is a very good chance that there is not another option that will give you the same value. Or maybe there is and this is the time to pursue it. You have to do research to find out what those options are.

    Good luck!

    • Reply Ashley |

      I’ve never heard of a BATNA before, thanks for the info!
      I think you’re right that it would be difficult to find another option with the same value. Being able to work from home (generally at night, after babies are in bed) part-time would be difficult to replace at my current pay rate. Really, any part-time job (even in brick and mortar establishments) are unlikely to match what I currently make.
      I’m certainly looking into option 4 (find a full time job), though that’s unlikely to occur immediately in my area (my best guess is earliest hiring would be for Fall 2015, though I’m working on applications now so there’s a heavy lead time).
      At any rate, thanks for this perspective – I really like thinking through the value of everything and assigning value for benefits and inconvenience!

  • Reply AT |

    Since the person directing the project and assigning the work is completely disassociated from the bureaucrats who run the contracting payables, threatening to quit is an empty gesture that makes you look not-tenure-worthy. You need letters of recommendation to get a tenure-track job more than $300 a week. Why would you compromise that for delayed pay? As someone else said, this money is all going to debt eventually anyway.

So, what do you think ?