I ran into this odd blog entry from Jason Tyler.  He describes a story of an employee not being paid and not knowing why and asks “What Would You Do?”

First off, it sounds like a parable of consulting.  I’ve been on the consulting side, where I was hired, did work, and was not paid because the people holding the money didn’t agree with the people who hired the consultant.  Normally a consultant gets an agreement signed as part of their engagement, so unlike an employee, they don’t require the State to investigate in order to get paid.  Employees, on the other hand, do have legal rights and if they did work, they have the right to collect pay for their work. 

I’ve also been on the business side where I seriously regretted hiring a consulting company to do work.  The company signed a very specific fixed bid agreement stating that they would be paid as soon as a particular integration was completed.  The integration was never completed, and when the consulting company sent the invoices, we would simply return them and quote the contract.  It went to court.  The consulting company lost.

Look, in life, you have to take risks.  Each day that I come to work, I take the risk that the company will go under before my paycheck arrives.  I take a risk crossing the street.  It is normal to take risks.  But you have to learn from them.

I was sitting with my daughter in her hospital room today, watching a the Lion King from Disney.  At one point, the Baboon is talking to the lion Simba trying to get him to return to the pride lands and fight for the throne.  Simba says something like “It’s all in the past.”

The baboon whacks him upside the head with a stick.  Simba cries “What did you do that for?”

The baboon replies “Who cares?  It’s in the past!”

Simba says “But it still hurts!”

The baboon says “True, the past sometimes hurts.  You cannot go back and change it.  The best you can do…” and he takes another swing with his stick at Simba.  Simba ducks and the stick misses. “… is learn from it.”

The employee in Jason’s story, and the consultant who is not being paid, should learn from their first attempt to get paid.  They should think, “There is a problem here.”  After not being paid the second time, they should simply walk away, find another job, and threaten a law suit for going unpaid.  It is one thing to get whacked upside the head.  It is another thing to simply stand there and keep taking it.

When I was just getting started in consulting, I had an offer to work telecommuting for a company in another state.  I get the contract in e-mail and I read it.  There was no penalty for failure to pay, it was filed under the laws of the other state, and arbitration was required in case of disagreements.  So I altered the contract.  I added a clause that stated that, after not being paid for 60 days, any invoices would accrue interest at a rate of 2% per month.  (Credit card rates). 

They decided not to sign.  That tells me that they did not have confidence that they would pay me within 60 days of presenting an invoice.  If they had, there would be no risk.  Good riddance. 

Take risks.  Do work.  Get paid.  If the payment doesn’t come, ask yourself if that situation will change.  If it won’t, who is the fool?

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

3 thoughts on “Random thought on ethics and rights”
  1. Once more I am struck by how hard it is to teach developers about capitalism.

    Your post inspired my own on the subject.  I’d say there’s a book to be written on the subject.  But sadly, it’s already been written, and no one bought it.

    Hope your daughter is doing much, much, much better.

  2. Thanks Malcolm.  She turned the corner today.  I think she will be coming home from the hospital very soon.  (I Thank God, great doctors, and a very tough kid who would not give up).  

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