Accounts payable staffers say the darnedest things.
Unfortunately, they’re not so funny when your rent is overdue and you haven’t been paid yet. Income instability caused by late payments and nonpayment is an epidemic in the freelancing profession. A comprehensive survey titled “Freelancing in America: 2015” found that late payment is a key concern for freelancers, with 65 percent rating it “somewhat” or “very concerning.”
Sara Horowitz, founder and director of the Freelancers Union, writes: “In a nation of 54 million freelance workers, one in every two freelancers had trouble collecting payment in 2014. … And because freelance workers lack the same protections as traditional employees, many have little recourse for collecting on those payments.”
One in two freelancers reported facing difficulty collecting payments in 2014. According to Horowitz, “The average unpaid freelance worker loses almost $6,000 annually,” which translates to 13 percent of their total income.
Reasons for nonpayment or late payment vary, and sometimes they’re legitimate. But many register at a “dog ate my homework” level of believability. I’ve heard a lot of outrageous lines, but these five—all pulled from real-life cases—deserve a ranking in the excuse hall of fame.
1. “We don’t know who your editor was.”
Ilana Masad, a New York City-based freelance writer, recently received an email from an accountant who said Masad couldn’t be paid because the AP department didn’t know which editor she was writing for.
“The editor had been CC’d on my [original] invoice to the accountant,” Masad responded, and besides, “There is only one editor of the section where all my content was published.” It took getting on the phone and walking them through the payment process to get the firm to pay.
2. “Things didn’t go as planned.”
Michael Klug, the publisher behind luxury magazine Whitewall, emailed this one-liner to a freelancer who’d been waiting more than 12 months for a payment.
Klug had been paid $70,000 to create a branded magazine for Mandarin Oriental, the famous hotel chain. But according to a writer who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, neither she nor other writers she’s been in touch with from the Mandarin project have been paid in full for their work.
Klug and Mandarian Oriental’s failure to pay writers even made headlines: The New York Post wrote about Klug, who insists he’s “not the bad guy here.” But for the contracted freelancers, it’s not clear who they should blame—nor to whom they should take their claims.
3. “The accountant in charge was on maternity leave.”
It’s easy to blame the sole person with check-signing power who’s gone AWOL because of medical issues (which, unsurprisingly, often relate to maternity leave).
But it’s unlikely that everyone on staff didn’t get paid while the accountant was leave, or that someone else in office wasn’t authorized to execute payments in their absence—that would mean a single employee’s leave was grinding the entire company’s financial operations to a halt.
“Please,” groaned freelancer Kim MacKinnon, who was on the receiving end of that excuse.
4. “We couldn’t find the button.”
Freelance photographer Francisco Collazo (who happens to be my husband) waited more than eight weeks to get paid because his client, a PR firm for Hawaiian Tropic, couldn’t figure out how to click on the link to “pay by credit card” on the invoice he sent through Wave Apps.
Services like Wave are supposed to make life easier for freelancers, but they don’t work if clients can’t figure out the most basic functions.
5. “The check must have gotten lost in the mail.”
At some publications this happens with such alarming frequency that they should probably request a change of postal worker or start sending their mail certified.
Terry Ward is one among many freelancers who wrote for the New Jersey magazine HudsonMOD and reportedly never received payment (she was owed over $3,000). Ward, along with several other freelancers, was mentioned by Jim Romenesko in a post about the scandal. Magazine publisher Shannon Steitz insisted checks were “in the mail,” but Ward still hasn’t received payment.