Moral Dilemmas

Last modified on August 10th, 2009

You see, I have this friend.

This friend of mine, well, he was screwed out of a lot of money for a client job he did. There’s a substantial email chain verifying that the work was requested, and the price was agreed upon, so he says. But unfortunately, when it came time to pay, the client became unresponsive and has since disappeared.

Normally my friend would be quite content to write off the amount owing, and chalk it up to bad debt. But in the process of trying to get a contact number for the client, he discovered someone else who was owed money by the client. And after talking to that person, he found another person owed money by that client. And then soon after, yet another person. In total, nearly $10k of money owed to various small businesses, all of which did the work in good faith.

In fact, the circumstances that led to my friend to doing the work happen yearly, and not only were several businesses left holding the financial bag this year, but also last year as well. In all likelihood, the same situation will occur next year, and even more people will be put out.

Normally my friend would never think about making a stink publicly about being owed money from a client, but given the wide trail of carnage that spans multiple businesses and multiple years, my friend is wondering what the best course of action is. Should this be kept a private matter, hoping that other companies will fare better in the future, or should some aspect of the situation be made public such that future companies can make an informed decision?

Moral dilemmas. Quite the pickle my friend is in I’d say.

19 responses to “Moral Dilemmas”

  1. Tia says:

    Perhaps I suffer from corporate bloodlust, but I say PUBLIC. You have knowledge that can protect other companies from being victimized, and you’d be remiss if you didn’t speak up. It’s not like you’re dragging a company of good character through the mud in a personal vendetta, right? Were I a contractor going to do work for them, I’d want to know about the track record. Were I the end-user, I’d want to know that this company treated their contractors unfairly.

  2. Duane Storey says:

    Not me, my friend. But I’ll let him know what you think.

  3. Not sure I understand what the dilemma is? Your friend knows of someone is out purposefully doing harm – you might say that he has a moral responsibility to do what he can so others might not be harmed.

    Is you friend minimizing the harm done because it is financial and not physical?

    If you reframed the problem and said that your friend knew someone who was out say… committing date rape and found out the perpetrator had a history of it but no one reported or broadcast it.. well wouldn’t you be a bit pissed that no one said anything.

    In my view, not doing anything is in effect condoning the act and saying you don’t care who else gets screwed.


  4. Duane Storey says:

    Well, I don’t think he’s content not to do anything. He will probably seek legal action. But I think he’s worried about being the business equivalent of a tattle tale. It’s not very professional to publicly complain about the clients your business has, at least that’s my understanding of the dilemma.

  5. Tia says:

    Meh. It’s the general “you” rather than the specific “you.”

  6. Tia says:

    ETA: I can understand the dilemma that your friend has about shouting it from the rafters. However, going through the proper channels is prudent. Legal action, collections, report to BBB, report to professional/regulatory bodies they may subscribe to.

  7. Boris Mann says:

    Check the clause of the contract. If the work was never paid for, the contractor friend legally still holds copyright on the work being done, and can serve a DMCA take down notice. Law is fun!

  8. Lynn C says:


    Let’s just think of what will happen next year – same thing? Logic would say so.

    I hate to go all emotional with this, but sometimes we need to in order to know what is right. Let’s say the next small business is run by a guy or gal with a family to support. And let’s say his or her new business is new. And that check they were promised stands to make or break them, or maybe just pay their mortgage for the month.

    Would you feel ‘ok’ about not saying anything then?

    You don’t necessarily need to blow this thing out of the water, just take legal action to reclaim your funds. A lot of times these types of shysters will come clean if someone actually takes a moment to fuss.

    I know it’s easier said than done, but that’s just my two cents.

  9. Duane Storey says:

    @Boris – that’s true, although I believe the work was done in Canada, so DMCA doesn’t apply. But even so, the work was timely in nature such that taking it down now would have no real consequence.

  10. Peter Goudswaard says:

    PUBLIC. For instance, I got stiffed by a guy in Chilliwack a couple of years ago, Ron from Durol Computers. (I should have thought something was up because his business card had no last name.) When I came to collect, he and the business was gone. It wasn’t any kind of big hit for me, but I can imagine it might have been for his next victim. Flush out the douchebags!

    Just like the informal network you sometimes see in small retailers: copies of bad cheques are distributed around town so no one else gets burned. Or at least used to, before places stopped taking cheques.

    That’d be a good idea for a web site, or Feel free to take it and run, I’d be the first in line with a posting!

  11. Tris Hussey says:

    I’d have to agree with the sentiment here. If there is a track record of this happening, we all need to know so we all can avoid this in the future.

  12. Duane Storey says:

    @Peter – the problem with doing something like that is that there are always two sides to every story. Even if as a business owner you are correct, the circumstances that led up to the event in question are usually in dispute. Plus, if you damage someone’s credibility in a public forum like that and any part of what you said is proven not to be true, it’s technically defamation, and you can been taken to court for it. A recent defamation suit between two small businesses last year ended up costing the guy who did the posting around $150,000 in damages I believe, so you really have to be careful.

  13. Jetson says:

    Here are my thoughts, but I’m a stranger so take it with a grain.

    1- It’s Business, your friend is owed his money. Best to employ the relentless monster that is Collections. Followed by small claims.

    2- Taking this matter public could very well back fire and affect your friends credibility. There are two sides to every story and a sensible business person might wonder why either party decided to take a private matter public.

    3- I’m all for gentleman’s agreements as long as your livelihood is not at stake. If this is how he or she makes crust, always get payed (at least partially) prior to doing the work.

    As someone who is very well versed in small business, there’s a rule that holds true. It’s alot harder to get someone to pay for something they already have.

    Last but not least… if your friend cannot get his money back. I encourage some small time vandalism equal to the amount owed.

    Dog poo underneath the car door handle and crazy glue the windshield wipers. That kind of stuff.

  14. VancityAllie says:

    Perhaps you could contact the business on behalf of your friend and mention you run a popular technology blog, and are planning on writing up the company to warn other contractors.

    Either the company will pay up to your friend, or you’ll be able to expose them if you get no response…

    Win, win?

  15. Jason says:

    Your friend should sue him in small claims court and after he wins the case post what happened. The risk of being sued for defamation is just too high if he were to post now.

  16. Duane Storey says:

    @Jason – hey give me a call when you have a sec.

  17. I think your friend should follow the usual routes (small claims, BBB report, etc.), then, especially if there are no results and particularly if the client cannot be found, publicize simply the facts, with the permission of the various stiffed parties involved, i.e. what you posted here, but with names:

    “Client A stiffed Company A on Date A”
    “Client A stiffed Company B on Date B”

    and so on. With more detail, and nothing that is questionable. Nothing that says Client A is a douchebag. Just that a series of people were not paid, with evidence, and with the names of the people and companies involved. Warnings are appropriate, I think, and I don’t believe you can be said to have defamed someone if what you say is true. But I’m not a lawyer!

  18. Matthew Good says:

    Christ, you’re not talking about me are you!

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