I do contract development on the side. You could say that I'm a contract developer? Considering I've only ever had one client I'd say that's not exactly the truth - more like I took a side job and needed some extra cash. It started out as a "rebuild our website and we'll pay you $10k" type project. Once that was complete (a bit over schedule, but certainly not over budget), the company hired me on as a "long term support" contractor. The contract is to go from March of this year, expiring on December 31st of this year - 10 months. Over which a payment is to be paid on the 30th of each month for a set amount.
I've been fulfilling my end of the contract on all points - doing server maintenence, application and database changes, doing huge rush changes and pretty much just going above and beyond. Currently I'm in the middle of development of an iPhone mobile application (PhoneGap based) which is nearing completion (probably 3-4 weeks from submission).
It has not been all peaches and flowers though. Each and every month when my paycheck comes due, there always seems to be an issue of sorts. These issues did not occur during the initial project, only during the support contract. The actual contract states that my check should be mailed out on the 30th of the month. I have received my check on time approximately once (on time being about 2-3 days within the 30th). I've received my paycheck as late as the 15th of the next month - over two weeks late. I've put up with it because I need the paycheck. There have been promises and promises of "we'll send it out on time next time! I promise" - only to receive it just as late the next month. When I ask about payment they give me a vibe like "why are you only worried about money?" - unfortunately I don't have the luxury of not worrying about money. The last straw was with my August payment, which should have been mailed on August 30th. I received it on September 12th. The reason for the delay? "USPS is delaying it man! we sent it out on the 1st!" is the reason I got. When I finally got the check in the mail, the postage on the envelope was marked September 10th - the date it was run through the postage machine. I've been outright lied to, at this point.
I carry on working, because again - I need a paycheck. I orchestrated the move of our application to a new server, developed a bunch of new changes and continued work on the iPhone app. All told I probably went over my hourly allotment (I'm paid for 40 hours a month, I probably put in at least 50). On Saturday, the 1st, I gave the main contact at the company (a company of 3, by the way - this is not some big corporation) a ring and filled him in on the status of my work for the past two weeks. Unusually I hadn't heard from him since the middle of September. His response was "oh... well, that is nice and uh.. good job. well, we've been talking within the company about things and we've certainly got some decisions ahead of us..." - not verbatim but you get the idea (I hope?). I got out of this conversation that the site is not doing very well (which it's not) and they're considering pulling the plug.
Crap, this contract is going to end early - there goes Christmas! Fine, that's alright, no problem. I'll get paid for the last months work and call it a day. Unfortunately I still haven't gotten last months check, and I'm getting dicked around now. "Oh.. we had problems transferring funds, we'll try and mail it out tomorrow" and "I left a VM with the finance guy, but I can't get ahold of him". So I'm getting the feeling I'm not getting paid for all the work I put in for September. This is obviously breach of contract, and I am pissed.
Thinking irrationally, I considered changing all their passwords and holding their stuff hostage. Before I think it through (by the way, I am NOT going to do this, realized it would probably get me in trouble), I go and try some passwords for our various accounts.
Google Apps? Oh, I'm no longer administrator here. Godaddy? Whoops, invalid password. Disqus? Nope, invalid password here too. Google Adsense / Analytics? Invalid password. Dedicated server account manager? Invalid password.
Now, I have the servers root password - I just built the box last week and haven't had a chance to send the guy the root password. Wasn't in a rush, I manage the server and they never touch it. Now all of a sudden all the passwords except this one are changed; the writing is on the wall - I am out. Here's the conundrum.
I have the root password, they do not. If I give them this password all the leverage I have is gone, out the door and out of my hands. During this argument of why am I not getting paid the guy sends me an email saying "oh by the way, what's the root username and password to the server?". Considering he knows absolutely nothing, I gave him an "admin" account which really has almost no rights. I still have exclusive access to the server, I just don't know where to go.
I can hold their data hostage, but I'm almost positive this is the wrong thing to do. I'd consider it blackmail, regardless of whether or not I have gotten paid yet.
I can "break" something on the server and give them the whole "well, if you were paying me I could fix it!" spiel. This works from a "well he's not holding their stuff hostage" point of view, but what stops them from hiring some one else to just fix the issue at hand? For all I know the guys nephew is a "l33t hax0r" and can figure it out for free.
I can give in, document as much as I can and take him to small claims court. This is breach of contract, I'm not getting paid. I have a case, right?
Does anyone have any experience in this? What can I do? What are my options? I'm broke, I can't afford a lawyer and I can barely afford not getting this paycheck. My wife doesn't work (I work two jobs so she doesn't have to work - we have a 1 year old) and is already looking at getting a part time job to cover the bills. Long term we'll be fine, but this has pissed me off beyond belief!
Help me out, I'm about to get screwed.