What Happens if You Work for Someone and They Don’t Pay You?

Whether you are an employee at a business or an independent contractor working for a client, you are entitled to payment for the work you do. Federal and state employment laws protect employees’ rights to fair compensation, and self-employed professionals can protect themselves with a contract.

If you work for someone and they don’t pay you, your next steps will depend on the nature of your job. For example, employees can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, and contractors can hire an attorney and/or revisit the terms of their contracts.

Non-Payment for Services as a Contractor

Not getting paid after a big job could put your career as an independent contractor at risk and have a large impact on your overall livelihood. Unfortunately, independent contractors are not covered by state or federal employment law.

If you have not been paid for your work, you must rely on your contract and the courts in your state to hold your client accountable and get the money you deserve.

In many cases, clients and customers do not pay right away because they do not have the money. Before seeking legal action, talk to your client and find out what is going on. You might be able to arrange a payment plan or an alternative method of payment instead of going to court.

Otherwise, you can file a claim in court to try and recover the balance due. The court will either order your client to pay you or give you interest in the property you worked on.

For example, the court may issue a construction lien, a mechanic’s lien, or a materialmen’s lien to incentivize payment from your client or customer.

Homeowners especially find liens annoying because they cannot capitalize on the value of their home unless they clear the lien.

Because the lien process goes through the courts, and judges in Georgia are strict, you may need an attorney to help you get and make the most of a lien.

How to Avoid Non-Payment for Services

While the court can use your contract to help you get paid, you are better off avoiding a non-payment situation, to begin with.

Many contractors collect an upfront payment, develop an installment-based payment plan, or ask to be paid for their progress.

With these arrangements, you can help ensure you aren’t left with nothing, and with progress payments, you can stop working on a project the moment a scheduled payment is late.

Of course, if something goes wrong with a payment, it’s always in your best interest to talk to your customer or client before turning to litigation.

Lawsuits and liens can be effective tools for getting the payment you are owed, but they should always be a last resort. Often, the very threat of litigation is enough to get the money you need.


First, try to avoid non-payment. Second, talk to your client or customer. Third, consult an attorney and file your claim in court.

If you need help with any of these steps, Busch, Reed, Jones & Leeper, P.C. is here for you. We offer over 150 years of combined, big-city experience at small-town prices, and we have in-depth knowledge of complex legal processes – like getting a lien.

Our team is dedicated to protecting your business and your future, so call us at (770) 629-0154 or contact us online for honest, value-driven representation.