my boss’s wife is rude and insulting, and we’re forced to deal with her

A reader writes:

I work for a small business with a home office on contract. There is no HR department or anything like that, it’s just the owner, me, and another worker. The owner’s wife (who has a full-time job so we never see her) manages the finances; I’ll call her Jane.

My colleague and I keep receiving emails from Jane with no greeting/salutation and an overly aggressive tone, and every time we send our invoices to get paid for the previous period’s work, they’re met with sarcastic comments and payment is consistently late.

Most of her emails contain general complaints and stress about money. To be clear, we have zero access to the accounts and we haven’t spent any money, but we will bring up items that have run low, are requested by customers, or need to be replenished to our boss. Boss spends money without discussing it with her. We think perhaps she is taking this out on us. We keep replying to emails saying “please discuss with Boss directly,” but they keep on coming.

For example, after I sent my September invoice to her (and cc’d Boss) as usual for the previous month’s work and said, “Hi Jane, please find attached invoice xyz for September. Kind regards, me.” (The invoice details each day I worked and what was done, rate and taxes, etc.) She wrote back: “What is this for exactly???” I wrote back (as always, cc’ing my boss): “It’s for my work during September. Any issues or concerns, please contact me, happy to clarify.” Her response: “We DO NOT have money growing on trees here. Explain to me why I should shell out money?”

After some back and forth of polite explaining that we have a contract and it is services in exchange for money, Boss asked her to pay it ASAP, and she then wrote back to me: “We have a LOT of bills. Just yesterday you asked me to pay for ink for the printer which I can’t do because my son is going to soccer camp and I have expenses happening there. And now you send me this and <colleague’s name> also sent me a bill. We are going overseas in December but thanks to you it looks like we’ll have to cancel because we can’t afford it. You are increasing our spendage, we want to be decreasing it.”

To clarify, I am working once a week for agreed upon hours and I work through lunch and work late without payment because we are so understaffed. I am only billing for my time; any business purchases go through them.

Then, after I sent October’s invoice a month later, she said: “I’m not sure if you’re a slow learner, but I’ve told you already we don’t need increased monthly bills and we are looking to reduce not increase costs.”

Another example from last week: “Call and tell them I WILL NOT be paying the $1400 bill from Boss’s phone. Apparently he went over plan limit. Well I won’t pay it.”

I showed Boss, and he apologized for her rudeness and asked me to call telephone company and get back to Jane. My email: “Hi Jane and Boss, I’ve followed up your invoice with as requested. Attached is a list of all the calls and data used that explains the charges. They suggested you might want to look at moving up to a larger data plan. I asked on your behalf, but they won’t waive your bill unfortunately because there hasn’t been any error on their part, the data did go well over the limit of your current plan and they did send automatic SMS notifications to let you know. They’ve also warned that as the bill payment is so late, if the invoice isn’t paid in the next seven days that they’ll switch off the service to the phone.”

The phone got cancelled and she wrote to me and colleague: “Useless. Both of you.”

What’s your advice on how to communicate that we really don’t want to be involved in their personal finance discussions and that her emails upset us to the point of interrupting our flow of work, we both leave the office feeling super down in the dumps, and it’s slowly chipping away at our motivation to be there?

Obviously, something needs to be done because this is festering for us both. Is it best to bring it up with our boss? He is likely to brush it off and tell us to ignore her. Both of them? We love working there, love our customers, and are working hard for them and both put in unpaid overtime most weeks because we care about the work we do.

Boss claims wife Jane is just moody. We both need the jobs and money (both single parents and flexible job options in Australia are not easy to come by) but it seems in any other normal company, you could take these emails to HR. What do you do when there’s no HR department and you’re not an employee?

First, just to make sure this is clear, your boss’s wife’s behavior is totally ridiculous and unacceptable. I think you know that, but sometimes when you work around loons, they start changing your norms and your sense of what’s okay. So for the record: This is serious loon territory. (I especially love her utter shock and confusion when you dare to ask to be paid for your work.)

Anyway, I think you’ve got to decide how much you’re willing to push back on this. In a reasonably healthy workplace, it would be completely appropriate and absolutely not at all unreasonable to say to your boss, “Hey, I am not okay with Jane talking to me this way. She’s being rude and insulting, involving me in your personal finances, and making it hard for me to do my job. Can you please ensure that she stops?”

Now, obviously, you’re not working in a healthy workplace, but that fact alone doesn’t mean that your boss wouldn’t be responsive to this kind of statement. There’s a decent chance, in fact, that right now he’s just taking the path of least resistance — and since you and your coworker so far have let Jane get away with her behavior, it’s easier for him to just allow it — but that if you said “no more” and meant it, he’d find it easier to tell her to chill out than to lose both of you or to have to deal with two really unhappy employees.

Or perhaps not. This is his wife, and it’s possible he’ll coddle her at all costs … but if he has any sense, he’ll realize that this will be an issue with the employees after you too, and that eventually he’ll need to address it.

Anyway, there’s no way to really predict with certainty, but unless you think he’ll fire you for setting boundaries, I’d speak up. It’s possible he could fire you, but it’s pretty unlikely. The more likely bad outcome is that it just doesn’t doesn’t resolve the situation.

And if you do end up there — with her behavior continuing after you’ve said “this isn’t okay and it needs to stop” — then at that point you’ll need to decide if you’re willing to put up with Jane’s behavior as a condition of the job. If that happens, then a a minimum I’d say that you should look elsewhere and see what your options might be; you shouldn’t assume that you’re stuck until you’ve actually tried to leave.

And this is indeed worth leaving over, if your boss refuses to deal with it. You’re being routinely insulted and forced to deal with an angry, hostile loon.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 398 comments… read them below }

  1. Cynical Lackey*

    Get out as soon as you can. sooner or later she is going to stop paying you and you will lose a month or two of earnings. There are obvious money issues; perhaps due to poor budgeting, and there is a good chance they will shut the doors and leave you screwed.

    1. The Wall of Creativity*

      And make sure you leave the day after being paid. Don’t bother with a notice period – they don’t deserve it.

      1. grasshopper*

        I came to say exactly this. Make sure that you’ve got your money because once you give notice it will turn into a battle to get any further payment from them.

      2. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        Also, stop working unpaid hours. Go to the boss and asks if he wants you to stop working them or start charging for them and then do it.

        1. K.*

          Totally agree re: the unpaid hours. Jane already seems to think paying for time is optional, and working unpaid hours reinforces that.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Jane seems clueless as to how an employment arrangement works altogether. If she thinks they have money issues now if the Op and her coworker walk out she’d be royally screwed because then nobody would be taking care of the customers! I’m astounded how abusive she’s being and how clueless she is. Op what are the employment laws like in Australia? Anything you can cite to boss and her regarding this?

            1. I'm a Little Teapot*

              Yeah, it sounds like you’re illegally misclassified as an independent contractor so they can get away with this crap. (Not sure what the Australian equivalent is.) I’ve been there. Get out with no notice and don’t worry about burning bridges; these people are scum.

            2. Selphie_trabia*

              Hey OP, Workcover is your friend here. You and your colleague BOTH need to make a complaint there as they need more than one person to start an investigation. Having papers (contracts etc) to back it up is helpful. Mind you, that won’t help with the outside bill paying situation, but it will with your late pay. And stop working for free. You can get back pay for your extra hours if you have recorded it well and you’re willing to fight for it. Small business owners often think that they can exploit young workers – I’ve been in your shoes before.

              1. Liv (OP)*

                OP here, thanks so much for your advice. Sorry to hear you’ve been in this place before. Apparently because we’re independent contractors she’s allowed to pay us late as it’s viewed as paying an invoice, and all we can do about it is stop working (but then I don’t get paid) or take her to small claims court (I’ve done this in the past with previous clients and it’s almost not worth it although I would go there with them if they ever stopped paying). I can’t claim any back-pay under the current structure either as I’ve voluntarily done the hours without instruction from Boss, but I’ll certainly be bringing it up with him that I will no longer be working for free.

                1. Selphie_trabia*

                  Hi Liv! I was about to edit my comment! I meant to say that you need to speak to the Fair Work Ombudsman. NOT to Workcover. I was writing my resume and happened to be thinking about them at the time of writing the comment and got the two mixed up.

                2. Selphie_trabia*

                  Addendum: even as an independent contractor, the ombudsman can still take your case. A lot of businesses classify regular workers as contractors to avoid certain messy taxation stuff. It isn’t right though.

                3. ReanaZ*

                  Yeah, Fair Work is yur place to start. They’re super great (at least in NSW) and full of excellent information. Usually they try a serious of steps before ‘taking a case’ and opening an investigation, such as voluntary mediation, etc. But they do take sham contracting super seriously.

            3. snuck*

              The legal situation depends on what they do and how they do it.

              If they are doing the same hours every week, in a general admin type role (like ringing the telco and changing phone plans?) then they aren’t likely to be independent contractors, they should be on an award wage and the company should be paying them.

              If she’s on a workplace agreement that still applies.

              If she’s in a contract like she’s a sub contractor (legal or not) she shouldn’t feel any obligation to give notice, it’s not a job, it’s a sub contract arrangement – read the terms of it and see what’s needed (and follow or don’t as you wish).

              There probably is some legal harrasment lines crossed here, if she has it all on email perfect – she (and her colleague) can take them to the various ombudsmen here and get the EEO/Harrassment clauses handled (sorry not up to date on the small business versions of this) but it mightn’t be worth all the grief, payouts are small, take a long tiem to get and generally won’t resolve the issue if it’s this bad already (and the business can just fold leaving you no where to go).

              I’d start job hunting now, and be available to start immediately. Not sure what sort of hours you are trying to work etc but I know there’s roles out there that can work, particularly if you band together with your colleague and talk about a job sharing role maybe?

            1. ted mosby*

              Well they’re NOT now that she had the audacity to ask them to pay for ink for their own office. Cue the world’s tiniest violin…

              1. Cactus*

                Seriously. WHY is this Liv/OP’s problem? Why does she even need to know about this? Jane is in major TMI territory, and is also extremely self-centered in a way I don’t see too often. Wow.

        2. Liv (OP)*

          OP here. Thanks for the advice. We’re going to talk to Boss about unpaid hours and take a hard line on them from now on. I’ve written a loooong comment explaining what’s been going on below. The issue has been that as Colleague and I are both only there once a week, the emails and enquiries for Luxury Teapot Experience company will go unanswered for up to a week if we don’t do the extra replies from home and it causes absolute craziness when we do come in because we are so behind and have angry customers. But you’re right, we should be paid for that or Boss should answer them if he doesn’t want to pay someone (soooo not going to happen).

          1. Observer*

            It’s also soooo not your problem. If your boss is not willing to pay you the extra couple of hours to do some triage during the rest of the week, then that’s the price he’s going to have to pay.

      3. Anon Accountant*

        Ditto to everything you posted. It sounds like they’re mishandling their money and/or have a lack of of. It won’t be long before your aren’t paid at all. I understand that you like your customers and all but why are you putting in unpaid “overtime”? Are you willing to spend that time searching for some other employment or other consulting opportunities to earn income and actually be paid in a timely manner?

        1. Liv (OP)*

          OP here, thanks so much for your advice and concern. re the overtime, it’s tricky. If colleague and I don’t answer the emails that come in from customers, they are waiting sometimes a week to get a response. When we come into work it’s us that have to then deal with angry customers on email and phone and despite bringing it up with Boss he ignores all emails and refuses to answer the phone, so we are left untangling the mess and are then so behind on the work we were supposed to get done that day. What started with answering an email here and there after work to keep the peace has blown out of control and you’re right, we need to deal with it. I’ve written an update comment below (long!) that sheds some more light, but I really appreciate you all commenting on how not okay this is, it’s been a wake up call, for sure!

      4. Mike C.*

        Yes, this. This is a crazy, toxic workplace, and you need to protect yourself.

        Also, stop working overtime for free. If they’re understaffed, they need to hire more people. If they can’t afford it, they need to figure it out – it’s their business and their responsibility to ensure that things run appropriately.

      5. MashaKasha*


        I worked for a male version of Jane (albeit more polite). I left on payday, 15 minutes after getting paid (in cash), and refused to give them a notice period.

        The phone-bill story in particular reminded me of that guy. He once sent me to a small business next door to get some of his PC hardware fixed, with these instructions: “Don’t accept their asking price. Try to bring it down, talk to them. You’re a woman, you know what to do.”

        (I go there and they give us a replacement piece of hardware to use until they’re done with ours, and say to pay when I come pick it up.)

        “I like the replacement better. Keep this one. Don’t go back to these guys.”

        (Three months later… this is the early 90s)

        “I need an email account set up. Don’t go to company A, I have unpaid phone bills with them. Go to company B and have them set it up.”

        (I go there and it’s our hardware guys from before. They were very happy to see me. I on my end, was very happy to go back to the guy and tell him he needed to return the replacement part and give them their payment asap.)

        So all of that pretty much clued me in that, if I were to quit with a two-week notice, I’d just end up working crazy hours for two weeks for free. So I didn’t give notice. I just walked out 15 minutes after he paid me. He was mad, but who cares.

          1. snuck*

            Yup. And while there’s laws to protect them, it doesn’t help and usually the delay is months before you get your money…. And those laws may not apply if you are in a subcontractor position with them – you will be just another creditor getting cents in the dollar if the business gets wound up.

            Any small business with this crappy a cashflow (and screwed up books! Money for printer ink shouldn’t be conflicting with soccer camp – one is house hold bills for crying out loud!) isn’t going to survive long, and they obviously don’t consider wages important.

    2. Andrea*

      This is what I’m thinking, too. I’m worried on the OP’s behalf that the checks are going to start bouncing. Maybe not, maybe the finances are fine and Jane just like to poor-mouth. I’m really offended at Jane’s response to receiving an invoice for hours worked and acting like it’s somehow optional or negotiable after the fact, and trying to guilt the OP into saying that she doesn’t need to get paid or something. And OP, if I were you, I would immediately stop with the unpaid overtime. You’re showing that you will indeed work for free in some instances, and you should quit that. I’d use that extra time to look for a new job.

        1. Ezri*

          I keep imagining how this woman gets through day-to-day life grilling anyone who asks her for money.

          “What do you MEAN I have to pay for these groceries? I want to reduce my food expenditures this month, not increase them! My son has soccer camp you know! Useless, all of you!”

          1. Cactus*

            I keep imagining that she thinks of Liv and Liv’s co-worker as her two teenage daughters, who she’s scolding about asking for expensive gifts when they knooooooow they have XYZ other expenses and a trip to Europe planned. It…doesn’t work that way in business.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        I’ve had a boss who didn’t pay and guilted me out of pursuing it after the fact. People like that are expert manipulators who will make you doubt your own memory of your agreement with them.

      2. ted mosby*

        yea apparently everything is. tell them we’re not paying the phone bill? It’s just. not. optional.

        “polite explaining that we have a contract and it is services in exchange for money”

        no one should have to explain HOW A JOB WORKS to their company.

      3. Anderson*

        I think she is trying to induce them to work more hours for free. Probably because she thinks that going on holidays with her son is a noble cause and the world needs to help

  2. Dawn*

    I suppose that since the poster is in Austraila they wanted to start WTF Wednesday early for those of us in America :)

          1. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

            The phone got cancelled and she wrote to me and colleague: “Useless. Both of you.”

            It would be at this moment, that I would forward this email to her husband and tell him that I will NOT be insulted like this and that it WILL stop. I will then give him the option to speak to her first and then if it happens again, I will speak to her. At that point I will make arrangements so I can walk out the door if/when the time comes.

                1. JL*

                  Or he could be one of those people who considers himself to important to do the menial task of reading his own email…

                2. Liv (OP)*

                  OP here. Yep, that’s right. He doesn’t really check his emails more than once every 2 weeks and can’t concentrate long enough to get through more than a few, gets overwhelmed and then none get actioned or responded to. Emailing Boss is like sending email to a big, black hole.

                3. Observer*

                  @Liv (OP) However, you should keep forwarding this stuff to him anyway. In the US, if a boss doesn’t know about something but SHOULD have, he’s still responsible. I imagine that it’s much the same where you are – pretty much anywhere where there are the least semblance of reasonable work laws, I would say. I simply cannot imagine any judge, jury or arbitrator saying “Oh, you don’t read emails? That’s totally reasonable and it’s completely not your fault that you didn’t know that your wife was trying to cheat your workers and trying to get them to cheat your other vendors.”

            1. Jazzy Red*

              OP, this would also include: taking your personal stuff home; making sure you have NO person emails/documents/etc. on the work server; have contact information for your clients in case you want to work for one of them in the future; update your resume or CV now and start a job search (this is not a firm commitment, it’s just being prepared); and make sure you have some money in the bank.

              This business is going to crash and burn soon, and if you’re caught in it, you will suffer more than the owner and his crazy wife.

  3. Violetta*

    Wow. If you wanted to do unpaid, volunteer work, I assume you’d at least choose to do it somewhere where you’re not constantly berated!

  4. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    OP, I am amazed that you’ve held out for this long without snapping. I think I would have run out of f***s to give by now and said it how I thought it. Congratulations on your self control!

    That said, I think that you have to go to your boss and make clear that this is a deal breaker and he can either let her continue to be involved in his business or you (ideally both of you) are going to leave. And start looking anyway, because something tells me that even if he does stick up for you she won’t take it well.

    And seriously. This is Not Normal and Not Ok. She is bullying you, and you are well within your rights to stand up for yourself.

    1. Arbynka*

      Yes. I consider myself to be pretty calm person, but if instead of my pay I would get “We don’t have money growing on trees, explain why I should shell out money” I fear there would be some major snap.

      1. Folklorist*

        For me, it would have been the “slow learner” comment. I would throw that back in her face so fast and hard she wouldn’t know what hit her. (Seriously?! She hasn’t learned yet to budget for employees and blames them for screwing with soccer camps and overseas vacations?!) This whole letter had me wanting to punch a wall on OP’s behalf!

        1. Artemesia*

          All this. And the fact that the business money is somehow mingled with money for soccer camps and vacation suggests an extremely incompetently run business. The day is coming soon when you just don’t get paid or the checks bounce. You need to be beating the bushes for a better job and to get out of there and when you do, make sure they are not owing you money as you will never get it.

          1. JessaB*

            Heck if you are not an independent contractor responsible for your own taxes, please check with the tax authority and make sure whatever deductions are coming out of your cheque are actually going to them.

            My husband found out one time that we owed a bloody fortune to the IRS because his taxes were taken out but not paid over. I almost got sued by my student loans back in the day, I had a garnishment and my boss was subtracting but not sending in. It wasn’t SUPPOSED to be garnished anyway (it was deferred for heck’s sake,) and I won the fight with the loan company, but he owed me nearly 3000 that he took out of my pay but never forwarded in.

            If she’s co-mingling household and business funds and is sloppy about paying you, make sure she’s paying your taxes in, because it’s on your head even if she subtracted them, if they don’t get paid.

            1. Artemesia*

              Super good advice. One of the things that failing companies like this do is stop paying taxes — but not stop deducting them.

                1. stellanor*

                  My friend’s boss stopped paying her insurance premiums and she found out when her coverage got cancelled. He promised he’d resume paying them… then stopped paying her. Then he told her that despite the fact that he’d been withholding her taxes, she was an independent contractor and responsible for paying her own taxes.

                  Then he fled the country.

            2. snuck*

              Australian here.

              If she’s a contractor submitting an invoice she is responsible for her own taxes, superannuation and all other costs.

          2. AnotherAlison*

            Not to defend Jane, but for a small business, income can be managed this way without illegally commingling funds. Our household budget for vacations, etc. definitely includes my husband’s income from his business. If we had a vacation planned, and he suddenly needed a new piece of equipment for the business, that would throw a wrench in the vacation plan. That doesn’t mean I was writing a business check to pay for the vacation. He gets paid from the business.

            1. Cecile*

              It’s not really responsible to make blanket statements like that as its likely to change substantially depending on country laws. I’m a Sole Trader and could manage my funds like that, but (as I’m discovering) if I am a small company of one, I cannot – although I can pay myself a salary and use those funds, or pay myself dividends and use those (after paying appropriate taxes)

              1. JessaB*

                Yes and just because tax issues are a pain in the keester, even a sole business person should pay themselves, make a line item in the books, and make it regular. If your “salary” is x % then every two weeks or whatever, write yourself a cheque for x%. First thing it helps you look at your profits, and second thing it keeps you straight if you’re audited.

              2. AnotherAlison*

                But it is okay for everyone else to make the statement that Jane is mishandling funds because she mentioned a personal expense in relation to a business expense?

                The way I intended was just as you say — you pay yourself a salary or dividends. We’re an S-corp in the US, and that’s how it works. If Jane pays the OP’s check and can’t pay her husband because they now do not have enough money to cover both business expenses, it affects her ability to turn around and write a check from the household personal checking account for the trip or camp or whatever.

                I’m fairly sure what I said applies most places. If your income depends on your business, your business income affects your family finances. The two do not have to be intertwined or literally from the same bank account for this to be true for a small business of any structure.

                1. Liv (OP)*

                  OP here. Thanks so much for your comments and advice. I’ve left a long update comment below that will shed some light, but I agree, I don’t think she’s mishandling funds, more what’s happening is that the business is now making money (and incurring running expenses) and Jane has not realised separating the personal vs bus accounts would make her life a lot easier and things a lot clearer. Doesn’t excuse her rudeness, I agree, but I also think these people are just used to spending, spending, spending and it’s catching up with them finally.

                2. Observer*

                  Legally and technically, you are correct. Practically – yes, she is mishandling money. Her (family’s) personal expenses cannot be balanced against the expenses of the business. Especially since she’s talking about luxuries.

            2. snuck*

              I’m not sure this is the case in Australia.

              In Australia in a business that turns around more than $50k (which this business must to pay three staff) then the business must have a Australian Business Number, must file quarterly tax statements and so forth. To do so it will need it’s own set of books. It doesn’t need it’s own bank accounts, but the statements and account details are readily available to the ATO if that’s where the business is being operated from and generally other businesses won’t give accounts (like telephone accounts) unless it’s to an ABN holding business. That phone account wouldn’t have been opened without an ABN (and who lets a business phone get cut off??? and telcos in Australia tend to be good about data once or twice so how many times had they abused the data blow out?).

              So yes. THere’d be a separate set of books. Me thinks the wife is assuming all money in all accounts belongs to her, but some is actually business money.

              A business that makes a profit can transfer that profit into the owners account, but that is then counted as income of the owner, and income tax will be owed on it.

        2. TempestuousTeapot*

          I’m still reeling from that one myself. Let’s see…

          Dear Jane,
          Your darling son’s soccer camp and your vacation plans are personal business. My contractual and prearranged work in exchange for pay contract is a professional business arrangement. I have worked, you have received proof of that work, which has provided a benefit to your business, and you are now required per that contract to financially compensate me for that work. I’ve considered explaining the slow learner part to you, but considering expert pinions and all…

    2. neverjaunty*

      Boss already knows. OP definitely needs to set limits with him – not Jane, who’s not her boss – but he is doing a really sleazy Good Cop routine here. Jane is doing all his dirty work for him (not paying bills, intimidating employees into doing unpaid work) and he meets it with a shrug and an apology, while nothing changes. Why should he stick up for OP? This way, he gets to pretend to be the put-upon husband while making sure the business pays for his kids’ soccer games, his family trip overseas….

      Do not pass go, OP, do not assume that Boss is on your side or will help you with Jane. He will not, and he has no incentive to do anything other than pretend Jane is out of control.

  5. louise*

    My blood pressure went up just reading this! I’m not a violent person at all, but started envisioning myself punching Jane. Clearly Jane is the slow learner: if you keep using services/products/contractors, the bills will keep coming–even if you paid them last month. Wow.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Reading about her husband’s behavior made me even angrier. He is the business owner and OP’s actual boss, and he brushes off complaints about her behavior and does nothing except vague apologies. If Jane is the queen, he’s the king, and he’s content to pretend that he can’t do anything about how Jane handles the part of the business he’s assigned to her.

        1. MsChanandlerBong*

          That is exactly how my FIL behaves. His wife treats his employees like garbage, constantly talks about how they can’t afford to pay anyone (they pay their employees $7.25/hour and then go out and buy $250 bottles of Scotch and $300 dinners), etc. But he doesn’t speak up about any of it. The same thing with their personal relationships; she treats everyone like garbage, and he sits there like a jellyfish and doesn’t say a word. My husband no longer has a relationship with his dad because of it.

          1. neverjaunty*

            It’s possible Boss is a jellyfish. It’s also possible that he’s happy to tolerate and enable her bad behavior because it means he can play the Put-Upon Good Guy, while still getting all the financial benefits of OP’s unpaid labor, money for soccer games and vacations, etc.

              1. Liv (OP)*

                OP here. Thanks everyone for weighing in. I think you are right, Shannon. There is an unspoken tension between Jane and Boss and a lot of resentment towards him as she is working her butt off, Boss is happy the spotlight is off him because of fear of being exposed that he does no work. I think there’s something in the other comments too, there’s a lot of good cop/bad cop vibe here now that I see it through your eyes… I’ve left a long comment below shedding some more light.

          2. Liv (OP)*

            OP here. I’ve left a long comment update below but I just wanted to say oh gosh, that sounds awful. So sad that it’s affected his relationship with his son. I hope they can mend it in the future.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      The problem is that she’s not slow, she’s amoral. She doesn’t care if she or her husband or her company agreed to something, she doesn’t like it and will try to bully others into giving her what she wants just to get her to stop. It’s theft of services, really, and it doesn’t make it ethical if she gets some vendors to agree under duress to her revision of terms.

      1. Adam*

        Agreed. She is the queen of her little corner of the world, and it doesn’t matter if the whole castle is burning down around her ears. Nothing is right unless it’s her way. This is not fixable. I think OP’s best option is to secure whatever payment she’s due, secure an escape route, and sprint through it like she’s aiming for gold.

      2. Imperatrice*

        This. In conversation with boss, it might be helpful to frame it that way. “I don’t know if you are aware, but what Jane is doing is dangerously close to theft of services.” I’m guessing he is just taking the path of least resistance at this point (apologize, finagle his wife into paying, let her continue with her reign of terror) and if he can be made to see that what he’s really doing is setting himself up with some shady business practices and skirting the line of legality, he might just perk up. If you can phrase it in a helpful way (“I wanted you to be aware for your own good” vs. “I’m threatening you”), I think you’ll come out on top here.

        1. JeanLouiseFinch*

          The next time Jane sends an email indicating that she refuses to pay the OP, she should simply send Jane and Boss an email quoting the section of the statute requiring payment within X period of time, assuming that Australia has one, and then quote the portion of the statute with the penalty spelled out (where I am, refusing to pay for work done is a misdemeanor and can result in imprisonment and/or hefty fines.) Then she can add something like “Please govern yourself accordingly.” No threat, no attitude. This worked with a former boss of mine. Oh yeah, and stop the unpaid overtime – keep track of all time worked. If Jane makes a fuss, she should simply tell Boss that if she wanted to volunteer, she would be working at a charitable organization.

  6. Cucumberzucchini*

    OP, are they current on paying you? If not, you need to get paid asap or stop working. I echo all others that you if do end up quitting you don’t owe a notice period and you need to make sure to quit the day after pay day. This is insane.

  7. K.*

    I’d leave, both because she’s a shrew and because she’s either bad with money, things are drying up, or both. She’s balking at paying you for your work. If this were a start-up, I’d be thinking “Oh, they’re going to come in one day and there’s going to be a lock on the door and the furniture will have been repossessed.” Also, “she’s just moody” isn’t a valid argument – she may well be moody but that doesn’t give her the right to speak to you that way, or to withhold payments.

    I’m also confused about why there doesn’t seem to be a distinction between personal and professional accounts. She won’t buy ink for the printer because her son is going to camp? What?

    1. Kelly L.*

      The third option is that they’re doing OK, but she’s just incredibly stingy and hates spending money on anything, but I wouldn’t stick around long enough to find out. The odds aren’t good.

      1. Andrea*

        This is exactly how my parents are—just really stingy and miserly. And so yes, that is a possibility, but I agree, no need to hang around and discover the reason.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yep. My dad could have a hypothetical million dollars in his pocket, walk into Starbucks, get charged two bucks for his coffee, and berate the clerk with “TWO whole DOLLARS? That’s RIDICULOUS! What, is there GOLD DUST in there? That oughta be ILLEGAL.”

          1. moss*

            ugh… this reminds me of my mom who thinks I should push for friends&family discount with our electrician… No, Mom, I can afford to pay him and he has a family to support also. I’m not going to nickel & dime my ELECTRICIAN.

            1. Ruffingit*

              Geeze seriously. You’d think the last person you’d want to nickel and dime would be the guy who could rig things to set your house on fire.

        1. collegeemployee*

          But before the letter writer leaves, she needs to forward email that she has received from the boss and his wife. Why? These people have no ethics and who is to say that they won’t try to blame their framer their “disgruntled former employee” if things go badly for them.

    2. Bekx*

      It sounds like a guilt trip to me. “Well, since you clearly are printing too much now my poor Jimmy can’t do camp. Maybe you should be more responsible with your printing.”

      1. Afiendishthingy*

        OP should start playing with margins, font size, spacing like a 9th grader trying to make their term paper longer. With lots of full color clip art.

        1. Liv (OP)*

          OP here. I almost wet my pants laughing at this. My sister used to bump up the spacing during high school to make her essays look longer.

    3. TL -*

      Yeah neither soccer camp or overseas trips sound like a family that is really struggling to me, though the phone bill gives me pause.

      1. Shannon*

        You’d be surprised. My mother could find money for all sorts of frivolous things – anything at the mall, camps, refusing to eat leftovers (alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, but, that’s another story) and be absolutely broke when it came time to do things like pay rent, taxes, car payments or food bills. Some people just don’t budget or prioritize.

        1. Liv (OP)*

          OP here. I’ve left a long comment below but you’re exactly right Shannon. Frivolous spending, high salaries and wealthy backgrounds have caused utter unawareness of money in/money out.

    4. stillLAH*

      Yes! The personal vs. business accounts is what struck me too! As your employee, I don’t care if your son is going to soccer camp or if you’re going abroad. That isn’t my issue, I work for the business!

      1. TL -*

        You know, you’re right. The wording makes it sound like they’re paying for the trip based on money that’s in their business accounts, not their personal accounts.

        I know a lot of self-employed people don’t take a salary in the traditional way but that’s not comforting.

        1. mander*

          Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about. They might be treating all the business expenses and payments like their own personal money, which is Not A Good Thing and in the UK at least this could be illegal, IIRC. Or maybe it’s just that if the bank or the tax people find out they could be hit with fines from the bank and a very detailed audit.

          Run for the hills, OP. These people are going to screw you over big time.

      2. RVA Cat*

        No kidding. It sounds to me like Boss needs to separate his business account from his personal account, and probably take control of the business funds himself.

        Jane probably thinks of the money as “hers” because her paycheck is going into the same (personal joint?) account your Boss is erroneously using as a business operating account. Also it sounds like the difference between her presumably steady income and the variable cash flow of Boss’s business is causing marital tensions that she is unreasonably dumping on you.

        1. Koko*

          I can’t imagine that that isn’t a nightmare in April when taxes come due. How do you report interest earned or account fees if it contains both wife’s personal paychecks and expenses as well as the company’s money??

          1. Rana*

            No kidding. I’m a one-person business and even so I have a separate checking account just for the business. If I want to use any of that money for personal things (as opposed to taxes, business expenses, etc.) I have to pay myself by transferring it to my personal account. I can’t imagine the nightmare it would be if I had employees and everything was all jumbled together.

          2. Liv (OP)*

            OP here. They have an accountant they send everything to once a month (who charges them a bomb I’d say) to go through every line of their bank account, code everything correctly and submit BAS statements and other Aus tax office reporting. I guarantee you they wouldn’t have a clue what’s what. Scary.

    5. NonPro Pro*

      Yes. The lack of distinction between business and personal expenses would make me run, run, run out of there as fast as I possibly could. This is probably not going to end well.

    6. Not Myself*

      You know, that might be why they have the wife doing the accounts rather than, you know, an accountant. So many red flags. I’d bet money there’s some shady dealings going on in the books.

    7. Karowen*

      I read it more as by paying you, the business is making less money therefore we’re making less money. I sort of always assumed that, if someone is the sole proprietor, they may get x% of net profits instead of a traditional paycheck of X/week. Paying business expenses would eat into those profits and reduce their final take home.

      1. Koko*

        Which is why most small business owners don’t pay themselves a profit share until the end of the fiscal year as a bonus. You can’t always foresee unexpected business expenses; it’s prudent to leave your profits in the company as a liquid cash reserve to cover liabilities and expenses that crop up. I can see a bad year or quarter derailing an expensive family vacation, but routine printer ink purchases shouldn’t be having an unexpected impact on soccer camp.

    8. Ezri*

      ‘Also, “she’s just moody” isn’t a valid argument’

      This. I’m moody. Moodiness makes me rant about jerk drivers on my commute and spend rainy afternoons snarfing ice cream and bawling at rom-coms. It doesn’t make me a complete and total a** to people I have a professional responsibility to.

  8. Lily*

    is it possible that she is not completely in the loop? I mean, acting irritated about the invoice of a contractor and asking what it is sounds more than “just” rude.

    1. Squirrel*

      Being out of the loop is one thing, but she is repeatedly insulting the OP and their co-worker; that is unacceptable for any reason.

        1. Observer*

          I’m sure there is. But, whatever it is, it’s not being out of the loop. The original question is one thing, but the rest of it, including the follow up the next month can’t be attributed to that. What I’d really like to know is if there are either marital problem or mental health issues at play here. (I don’t really, but it strikes me that either one could explain what’s going on.)

          1. Liv (OP)*

            OP here. thanks for all your comments. Yes, there’s tension/problems I think. I’ve left a long comment below with more info, but I used to believe Jane thinks Boss is doing more work and is on top of more than he really is. Now I believe she KNOWS what’s he’s like and she’s frustrated/annoyed, realises he’ll never change but is still in love with him or loyal to him in some way, so it’s easier for her to focus that frustration elsewhere. Maybe she also doesn’t want to expose him (even though we know what’s going on)?

            Mentally, I think they both come from wealthy backgrounds and have grown up with an elitist attitude that’s very hard to shift.

    2. Natalie*

      It sounds like these two employees bill her every month, though. After the first few bills you’d think she would remember!

      1. Charityb*

        Agreed. Realistically I don’t see how she can be ignorant of this situation.

        They’ve been sending her invoices for a while now and she has apparently paid them (albeit late). Unless she thinks that these are the most polite muggers ever, she has to have some inkling that her husband’s business has some relationship with these people.

        I think that the real issue is that her and her husband’s personal funds are mingled with the business’s funds, to the point where paying business invoices and buying office supplies feels like she’s taking money out of her own pocket rather than from the business’s. Fortunately, as the person in charge of finance, Jane is the one who is in charge of managing this issue.

            1. Liv (OP)*

              OP here. Ha! If I end up walking from this job, at least I know I am good at POLITELY MUGGING. Hehe. There’s hope for my future yet.

          1. Kelly L.*

            That was one of the reasons I hated food service. I LITERALLY JUST SLICED TOMATOES, AND YOU PEOPLE ATE THEM ALL.

          2. Afiendishthingy*

            I feel this way about utility bills. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE, I just paid for electricity LAST month!

            But I don’t actually call them and say that.

            1. Liv (OP)*

              OP here. You guys are so funny. Thank you for making me smile.
              Jokes aside, this is all So. Very. True.

    3. Biff*

      This is what I was thinking — it sounds like she thinks these invoices are ON TOP of what they are already paying the employees — she doesn’t seem to realize these are wages. The fact that she’s going on about decreasing costs makes it sound like she thinks this is not regular wages, but potentially extra projects not called for.

    4. JB (not in Houston)*

      But the OP said “The invoice details each day I worked and what was done, rate and taxes, etc.” And she’s already explained once that they have a contract and she’s working as agreed. There’s no more “in the loop” to put her in, she has all the information she needs. She’s being a jerk. There could be any number of reasons for that, and none of them should be the OP’s problem.

    5. olympiasepiriot*

      If she handles the finances, she is officially In The Loop. I’m a volunteer treasurer for a 501 c 3 and, although my Real Job ™ is demanding, I know what the expenses and income are, are for, and how to allocate them.

      She is sucking everyone working for this place into whatever conflicts are going on maritally. The OP and coworker need to stop replying.

  9. Violetta*

    This person has a full-time job somewhere else. Do you think she’d be totally cool with it if, at the end of the month, her boss was like “sorry, gotta send my kid to theatre camp, no salary for you!”?

  10. Allison*

    Gotta love this woman’s priorities. Things like sending the kid to soccer camp and traveling overseas are must-haves, but god forbid people wanting to get paid for their work get in the way of such things! Seems like this couple are terrible with money, and I’d start looking for a new job so I can get out before I start getting paid in IOU’s.

    1. Daisy Steiner*

      Honestly, I feel like it wouldn’t matter what the other expense was – the insane part is that she’s trying to negotiate on whether to pay someone who has done work for her. I’d be sadder and more sympathetic if she was struggling to pay for dental bills or the mortgage, but it wouldn’t change what needs to happen – she needs to pay OP for services provided.

    2. Janice in Accounting*

      Yep. That’s about the point I really went through the roof. Not only is this woman verbally abusive, but entitled to boot. Hopefully OP can talk to Boss and he is sensible enough to handle this.

    3. StarGeezer*

      The treatment of the OP is inexcusable, but it could be that the business is losing money. If that were the case, her anger at the business expenses eating into the “family budget” is understandable. Of course, her frustrations should be directed at her husband (and possibly getting him to shut down the business), NOT at the OP.

      1. Liv (OP)*

        OP here. I’ve left a long comment below too with more info. Business is definitely making money (now that colleague and I are actually answering the phone and email enquiries that come in and sending invoices to clients). The issue is Boss ignores the phone, takes 2-3+ weeks to a reply to an email and thinks the business will ‘run itself’. He says constantly he wants to be hands-off.

        This was fine before colleague and I started as customers tend to disappear if you don’t respond to them, but now that we are responding to people, answering their queries, getting them booked into Luxury Teapot Experience, the business is moving along. Of course, what comes with that is more money coming in, but also more expenses. Things get wear and tear, you use more office consumables, insurance goes up etc etc. I don’t think they have worked out whether the expenses outweigh the money coming in (i.e., is it actually a viable business?) and how much work the business owners need to do in order to keep it profitable and how much they can farm out to us/employees/etc.

        I work for another small business on another day and the owner works for 8 – 9 hours, 6 days a week to keep it running. Boss at Teapot company watches TV when we are there, ignores the ringing phone (on the days we aren’t there it goes to a message bank and the customer’s get called back when we are next in — embarrassing), and only replies to some emails 2 – 3 weeks after receiving them. I’m not a financial planner or controller, but I think you’re so right on this point – if he won’t work in the business and they can’t afford to hire us to manage everything without losing money, he either has to step up and start looking after customers or shut down the business, otherwise they are supporting a director’s salary (or % of profit) without him doing any work (which might be ok for some businesses, but in Australia most small biz owners that I know or have worked for are all working their butt’s off).

  11. Miri*

    Then, after I sent October’s invoice a month later, she said: “I’m not sure if you’re a slow learner, but I’ve told you already we don’t need increased monthly bills and we are looking to reduce not increase costs.”

    This is amazing. I’m just wondering, how long has this been going on? Was September your first invoice?

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      The irony being she is a slow learner in that she doesn’t understand employees don’t get paid once and then never again.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, she’s like the jokey stories about little kids who are stunned to realize that they still have to go back to school the *second* day. “How can you need more money? We paid you in 2012!”

          1. Katniss*

            Reminds me of Homer on doing taxes:

            Lisa: You have to pay again this year.
            Homer: No. Because, you see, I went ahead, and year-wise, I was counting forward from the last previous…D’oh!

            1. Anonsie*

              Perfect! I was imagining the Futurama bit where Bender adopts a bunch of kids, and when one of them says he’s hungry Bender yells “every other day with you kids it’s food food food!”

    2. Angela*

      This part of the letter really makes me wonder if she’s actually aware that the invoice is for hours worked or if she thinks it’s some sort of additional expense. Maybe the boss is telling the wife that they are paid a salary in some other way or did agree to work as unpaid interns/volunteers/whatever.

    3. Liv (OP)*

      OP here, thanks for your comment. Nope, I’ve been there since last year, so she’s been getting them every month for over a year now… Some months they just get paid, but always late.

  12. TheExchequer*

    I used to get similar attitude from my bosses’ wife at my previous job. Trust me on this: if a job consistently pays you late (and especially if they blame you for late payment), the relationship you have with your boss/company is unlikely to improve.

  13. Brandy*

    Worst boss of the year nominee??

    Truly, what a witch, acting like you have gall to be expecting to be paid.

  14. entrylevelsomething*

    When you talk to your boss, your co-worker and you should have a united front. I feel like losing one worker would suck for them, but the possibility of losing both- whether that’s through firing, or potentially both of you quitting- would probably be untenable, and might help your boss listen to your concerns more.

    1. Penelope Pitstop*

      Yes! A united front from the two of you on a terms of engagement is a good call. But I second others – cease and desist working for free and begin looking for replacement income right away. Good luck – hope you find something suitable very quickly.

    2. BRR*

      I was thinking this as well and was wondering other’s thoughts. If the business is really suffering financially, it seems that having the entire workforce leave is a good bargaining chip

      1. Afiendishthingy*

        Well, we know the colleague is another entitled whiner who wanted to be paid the EXACT SAME MONTH as OP. So hopefully they’ll see eye to eye with OP.

    3. CMart*

      Or, if this workplace is anything like my husband’s, at least OP will have a friend to commiserate with about the sudden unemployment.

      I seriously had to wonder if my husband had written in, but changed details to avoid detection, because the dynamic between Boss and Wife are so horribly familiar. Here’s how things went when some of my husband’s coworkers took a stand against Horrible Wife’s behavior: Boss let them quit, all three of them (the only employee left was my husband), and now tells the story about the time all of his employees quit for seemingly no reason.

      Bosses like this are spineless and delusional. I don’t have high hopes for OP and coworker being able to turn things around.

      1. Neverah*

        But what happened after? Did conditions change or did your husband finally run out of there screaming?


        1. CMart*

          Neither. That incident was two years ago and he still comes home every Saturday (the one day a week Horrible Wife is in) upset and demoralized.

          He has the patience of a saint, a passion for what he does, a love for the people (students) he works with, and a salary that’s hard to match, so there he stays.

          As a fun side note, I just read him this letter and his response was “Huh. That wife person sounds a lot like ‘Janet’, but Australian, apparently.”

          1. Liv (OP)*

            OP here. Goodness, that sounds terrible. They are very lucky to have your husband working for them and caring about what he does.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            We say that all the time in our house! Funny story, I read somewhere that that error wasn’t scripted, Dan Castellaneta actually made that mistake in character, and of course they left it in, as it was quintessential Homer Simpson.

        1. Minion*

          Been watching The Flash. As a result, I prefer to refer to myself as a “Smartster”. Which is often, because the Smartster often refers to herself in the third person. Makes her look more smarterest.

      1. Boo*

        BAHAHA +10000 for the Drop Dead Gorgeous reference.

        No advice from me I’m afraid. My mind is just too boggled right now. Amazing.

  15. Rowan*

    Wow. I’d make sure you have a firm handle on whatever the Australian process is for if your job stops paying you and the minute one of their payments to you are late start it. I know you need to email her your invoice, but can you set up an inbox rule so that her emails 1) get automatically forwarded to Boss so he can deal with stupid questions like, “Why are we paying you for your work?” and 2) get put into a folder so you don’t have to see them as soon as you they arrive and can mentally prepare yourself for the vitriol?

    1. Rowan*

      Sorry, I can see that you’ve said that your payments are consistently late. Can you find out if there’s a legal expectation for how long they have to pay you and let boss know that he could get in legal trouble if it gets breached? He seems like the more reasonable one here.

      1. Natalie*

        Or if there are late fees or interest rates for late payments spelled out in the contact, start adding those charges.

    2. videogame Princess*

      I wouldn’t hesitate to go to the government as soon as I’d quit. I don’t know what rights you have in Australia, but there may be more than what we Americans get. At any rate, I would not be terribly reluctant to burn bridges with this company.

      1. selablad*

        Australia has pretty good workplace laws as well as government agencies that enforce them. The Fair Work Ombudsman would be the place to start. They can also deal with claims relating to unpaid hours (if you have documentation) and, depending on OP’s situation, determining whether the OP might actually have been an employee as opposed to independent contractor (regular agreed-on hours and physically being in the office point to possibly OP being an employee). Sham contracting (where the employee is told they’re a contractor but legally aren’t) is pretty common in small business as a way to avoid paying legal entitlements… like minimum wages.

        1. Liv (OP)*

          OP here, thanks so much for your comments and advice. Longer comment below and I’ll update soon, but I wanted to let you know I’m investigating Sham contracting now with Fair Work. Thanks so much for your help, I appreciate it.

  16. Snarkus Aurelius*

    What was your boss’s reaction when the phone got cut off?  That will give you an indication of how he feels about her and her behavior.  

    Two problems: she clearly doesn’t understand the business and she clearly doesn’t have a clue as to where the money is going.  (Do consider the fact she does know and doesn’t care because her family’s expenses are more important.)

    The good news is, OP, neither is your fault.  The bad news is you two should get new jobs.

    She’s controlling the purse strings.  Regardless if she knows what’s going on or not, she can unilaterally decide not to pay you, and your boss sounds like he doesn’t care.  First it was the phone, and it’s not a stretch to say you two are next.

    You two need to confront (and I’m using that word intentionally here) your boss to let him know a) this behavior isn’t cool, b) the bills need to be paid, c) you need to be paid, and d) bill questions and complaints need to be handled by him because you don’t make those decisions.

    1. Collarbone High*

      “First it was the phone, and it’s not a stretch to say you two are next.”

      This is very, very true. Long ago, I did bookkeeping for a struggling family-owned company. At first they tried diligently to pay all bills on time, and were willing to forgo taking a profit in order to pay the bills. But they were in over their head, and they started slipping. And like any bad habit, once you start slipping, it gets a little easier and a little deeper each time. Once you’ve gotten away with missing a payment, or only making a partial payment, why not do that each month? And the money gets sucked up elsewhere. And then that expense just never goes back into their mental budget.

      If they have no problem stiffing the phone company — which can impose penalties such as cutting off service — they’ll have no problem stiffing employees who have much less leverage.

  17. AdAgencyChick*

    Normally I’d be jumping on the pile of “get out now!” responses. But, OP, I get it — employment options that accommodate a single parent’s schedule are not easy to find.

    I would still say to look around as much as you can, but in the event that nothing is turning up, one more thing that might help? maybe? is “I” messages. Some unreasonable people actually turn into human beings when addressed with an “I” message, perhaps because the phrasing of it doesn’t feel like blame but gets them to put themselves in your shoes.

    “Boss, I’m really frustrated because I can’t seem to pay necessary business expenses without being belittled. I can do my best to ignore Jane, but I need to be able to pay the expenses to do my job.”

    “Jane, I’m really upset because I can’t seem to pay business expenses that Wakeen has authorized without being called names. I feel stuck in the middle and I don’t know what to do. Can the three of us sit down in a room [or on the phone, if this is a remote situation] and figure out what the best solution is?” Of course the best solution is for her to simma down, but saying that out loud will get you nowhere ;)

    1. Adonday Veeah*

      I think you’re giving Jane too much credit for sanity, and the boss too much credit for the ability to stand up to her.

    2. The Optimizer*

      If I were snarky, which I am, I might also reply with something like “I would like to be paid for my services so I can feed my child and keep a roof over their head” the next time she replies with ridiculousness about her child’s soccer camp.

      1. Sunshine*

        Or… “I understand! Kids and vacations can be expensive for us all! What is it you need from me, exactly?”

        The OP doesn’t mention if/how she usually responds to the BS, but I literally would not be able to resist. “I fail to understand how any of this is my problem. When can I expect payment for my services?”

        1. Lindsay (not a temp anymore! yay!)*

          But this is exactly what she needs to hear! Maybe (read definitely) not in those words, but the first thing that crossed my mind was that she needs to be responded to by questioning how else she expects to pay the employees for their services, and if there was a different way she was expecting that invoicing information that would make it easier for her to understand…

          On paper, it would look nice and professional, and in my head, would be dripping with passive/aggressiveness.

        2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Yeah, I would be tempted to say, “I’m confused. Are you suggesting that I work for free because of your personal family expenses?”

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        And don’t forget “I’m already decreasing your spending by not charging for all the overtime I’m working, but I’ll start adding it to my invoices”.

      3. Jess*

        Agreed. I’d have been sorely tempted to take her at face value and forward her message to her husband with a note saying that I’ve enjoyed working with him but Jane has just fired both of us; she said we were useless and that the business would no longer be paying us.

        Then make him sort it out. She’s a monster and he’s a spineless weasel.

    3. Liv (OP)*

      OP here. Longer comment below with more info but I just wanted to say thanks for your advice. Colleague and I are meeting with Jane and Boss next week, we’ve tried sending/talking to both with these kinds of messages but they get completely ignored or if we say it in person, Boss just replies with the “oh Jane is just grumpy! Don’t worry about it!” Last time I saw Jane was over 6 months ago so all contact is via email. I will be sure to update.

  18. boop*

    In addition to all that has been said, (and wow, I would not have put up with that for as long as OP has, this must be a pretty amazing job otherwise!) I have to wonder why this woman is handling the finances. She’s clearly not involved in any other way, and she makes it sound like she has absolutely no desire to, either.

    It sounds like she’s working full time, and managing the life of her kid(s) which is already an insanely huge load to take on. Sending the kid to camp? Maybe I was just a REALLY sheltered child, but organizing a full and enriched life for a kid seems like going an extra thousand miles beyond standard, and who has time for that, let alone running the entire finances of a freaking business on top of it. I’m just gonna start making crazy assumptions and suggest that she just got roped into it because she was already responsible for family finances, and husband thinks “oh what’s another small set of bills and stupidly complicated tax processes?”

    Perhaps he doesn’t want to do anything about it because he knows it will eventually end up with him having some kind of actual responsibility in maintaining a functioning home and family.

    / end careless and assumptive rant because i’m a jerk

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I used to manage the finances for my husband’s small business when he was at the scale of ~him+3-4 employees (service workers) and no office staff. I worked full-time at a demanding, professional job, had an elementary-age kid and a toddler. I didn’t interact with the employees, and if I did, I wouldn’t have been such a B about it, but I do have a theory about Jane’s behavior. The situation she is in IS a lot of pressure, and it’s possible that Boss’s business is not making ANY PROFIT.

      Jane is effing fed up with Boss’s shit. Jane is making all the family income and providing cash infusions from HER job to make keep his business going. He has employees he’s paying who are possibly administrative rather than revenue-producing, and it’s frustrating to keep paying these overheads when no revenue is generated from the business. That’s just a theory, and absolutely no excuse for her rudeness and ridiculous comments to the OP, but it definitely sounds like there is family dysfunction that is not going to change.

      1. The Whitewalker Formerly Known as Jon Snow*

        I agree wholeheartedly. Take this for what it is worth as I don’t know any of these people but I think the solution is marriage counseling. OP, you and your coworker are easy targets as I suspect the boss and Jane have some sort of major dysfunction going on here. It makes wonder about the son and what crap he takes as a result of their lack of communication with each other. Poor kid.

        Good luck whatever you decide.

        AAM …. is it too early to have this one put on the ‘please update’ list?

      2. Ad Astra*

        You may be on to something. Even unreasonable people have reasons for behaving the way they do.

        I do think OP’s long-term solution is to GTFO. It may take a while to find something that fits a single parent’s schedule, but this can’t go on any longer than absolutely necessary. There is no saving this gig; there is only enduring it.

      3. neverjaunty*

        Yes, this. It sure doesn’t excuse her behavior, but it explains it – and it also explains Boss’ allowing her to act this way to HIS company’s employees, as well as brushing off her complaints.

        You cannot fix these people, OP.

      4. Adam*

        That’s a pretty valid possibility, and all the more reason for the OP to run like mad as soon as she gets the chance.

      5. Anonsie*

        I got a vibe like that off it as well– her angry emails aren’t for the LW to see, but the HusbandBoss, who is copied.

        That’s a sinking ship if I’ve ever seen one.

      6. BRR*

        Definitely not an excuse, but I can also see Jane under a ton of pressure. Where she’s forced into this position because it’s the best option and also a terrible option.

      7. Liv (OP)*

        OP here. You are spot on accurate I think about what’s going on. Longer comment below but YES YES YES.

        The issue is Boss thinks business will run itself and he can be “hands off”. He ignores the phone and customers are only responded to once a week when colleague and I are in the office. I think he secretly enjoyed it when the business wasn’t making money because it meant 0 responsibility for him. He generally takes 2-3 weeks to answer emails, which is not okay for a Luxury Teapot Experience business, it makes customers angry and frustrated.

        From a comment I left above in case you didn’t see it:
        This was fine before colleague and I started as customers tend to disappear if you don’t respond to them, but now that we are responding to people, answering their queries, getting them booked into Luxury Teapot Experience, the business is moving along. Of course, what comes with that is more money coming in, but also more expenses. Things get wear and tear, you use more office consumables, insurance goes up etc etc. I don’t think they have worked out whether the expenses outweigh the money coming in (i.e. is it actually a viable business?) and how much work the business owners need to do in order to keep it profitable and how much they can farm out to us/employees/etc.

        I work for another small business on another day and the owner works for 8 – 9 hours, 6 days a week to keep it running. Boss at Teapot company watches TV when we are there, ignores the ringing phone (on the days we aren’t there it goes to a message bank and the customer’s get called back when we are next in — embarrassing), and only replies to some emails 2 – 3 weeks after receiving them. I’m not a financial planner or controller but if he won’t work in the business and they can’t afford to hire us to manage everything without losing money, he either has to step up and start looking after customers or shut down the business, otherwise Jane is pretty much supporting a director’s salary (or a % of profit) without him doing any work (which might be ok for some businesses, but in Australia most small biz owners that I know or have worked for are all working their butt’s off).

        Meanwhile, Jane works harder and harder and gets more and more frustrated. Toxic.

        For the record, other than some of the marketing work, Boss could EASILY do the work he pays colleague and I to do as it is administrative, (responding to email enquiries, booking people in on a calendar, sending confirmations, generating invoices, answering the phone and ordering office supplies), he just doesn’t want to and flat out refuses to.

    2. madge*


      Jane needs to suck it up or hand the finances over to her husband. I work full-time, plus do the financials, marketing, administrative, etc. tasks for our business (four locations) and do most of the parenting tasks for our young son (by choice; I enjoy it). I manage to do all of this without being a complete witch *and* I just signed our son up for soccer this morning. No overseas trips though so obviously I should not pay the next invoice from our independent contractor.

      OP, can you at least start putting out feelers for another job? Whatever is going on in their marriage/finances/business, it’s not likely to be something you can fix. Jane can not handle her workload and her husband has refused to protect you from the fallout. I am really, really sorry. I can really appreciate the need for a flexible schedule and the difficulty in finding that. I really hope the best for you.

    3. the_scientist*

      It is both curious and concerning that the boss is so checked-out and hands-off with regards to the finances of *his* business. I’m sure the wife is doing the books because Boss doesn’t want to (or claims he can’t/doesn’t have time) and they can’t afford to hire a bookkeeper. But as a business owner you have to take some responsibility for your finances, and that includes ensuring that invoices are paid on time and that employees are paid (in full, on time)! The fact that boss seems to be effectively shrugging his shoulders and saying “sorry, I can’t do anything about it” is concerning and bizarre because really, that means Jane is the one running the business now.

      1. Anonsie*

        Oh yeah. Jane is busting hump to take care of her husband’s little business that he can’t be arsed to handle and she resents the hell out o fit.

    4. Liv (OP)*

      OP here. More info in a longer comment I left before, but wow, you have NO IDEA how accurate this is. You should totally start reading tarot cards or something.

  19. cs grad student*

    I would get with your coworker and tell your boss together that from this moment on, neither of you will be communicating with Wife. You both will email your invoices to Boss and he will forward them to his wife and deal with her questions.

    1. Liv (OP)*

      OP here. Longer comment left below with more info but on this, Boss doesn’t check his emails for weeks unfortunately and probably doesn’t know how to forward an email (I’m not kidding). The invoices would never, ever get sent on.

  20. Helka*

    Do you see the red flags, OP? They’re covered in blinky lights that spell RUN AWAY, FAR AWAY and they are wielded by cheerleaders in outfits that are also made of blinky red flags. The cheerleaders are chanting rhythmically THIS HOUSE JOB IS FULL OF BEES and perhaps you should stop to watch their pretty little red-flag display.

    I don’t really have any good advice that others haven’t already given, but I’m just going to suggest that you run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.

  21. Rebecca*

    I have nothing to add to the above, but wow oh wow someone is more insane than my manager. This is not a good thing.

    YOU NEED TO GET OUT NOW! It’s like in a horror movie. There is blood coming out from underneath the closet door, and a deep, gravelly voice is saying “GET OUT”. Do not open the door and become the victim in the movie. RUN AWAY RUN AWAY RUN AWAY!

    Seriously, this is messed up.

    1. LBK*

      Yes, this is not a time to go poking around the attic to find the source of the weird noises you heard last night. This is a time to get the hell out of the house before you get murdered by a demon.

      There’s nothing redeeming about this situation – there are good jobs with good clients and good work in other places that don’t involve dealing with someone who’s clearly having a delusional break from reality.

    2. Charityb*

      I don’t know, I think it might be worth it to head up to the dark attic alone and poke around looking for clues. Maybe there are a bunch of old unpaid invoices are up there.

  22. Katie the Fed*

    OK, if this were me, I’d sit down with boss and say that it’s a battle to get paid every month and get reimbursements for legitimate business expenses, and you can no longer do it this way. I would INSIST that you will send to him and he has to do the payments. This guy is spineless – I really doubt he’ll fire you over a legitimate request like that. He can deal with his wife, unless of course she tells him to fire you. Then he might but frankly I think you’d all be better off.

  23. Katie the Fed*

    BTW, isn’t it a little…legally problematic to mingle home and business expenses to this extent? It sounds like they’re one and the same.

    1. K.*

      This is what I was getting at when I said there doesn’t seem to be a distinction between personal and professional accounts. It sounds like she’s running the household finances and the business finances from the same account, which strikes me as wrong for many, many reasons. I guess she could be robbing the business account to pay the personal, which … is also wrong.

    2. jhhj*

      I would not necessarily assume it is this — the owner might be only taking a salary when he can afford to, so other expenses cut the salary he can pay himself and therefore money he has for camp or whatever.

      (I agree with all the red flags, I just don’t necessarily think that the “now we can’t pay for vacation” line is exactly one.)

    3. AVP*

      It’s technically possible in the United States to run a business like this (not sure about Australia, where the OP is located), but it requires a lot of documentation and a great CFO / CPA who is super on top of everything and knows where every dollar is and why it was spent and where. Something tells me that’s not what is happening here.

    4. Bend & Snap*

      I work for a married couple that did this. I once made a $200 mistake and the wife turned purple and hissed in my face that my incompetence was taking food out of her kids’ mouths.

      I guess private riding lessons were more important than food.

        1. Violet Rose*

          Ooh, I had a boss who must’ve been stung by the same evil bee – he complained that I took too many bathroom breaks, and that was five hours a week where he was (personally) giving me his (personal) money out of his (personal) pocket for me to do nothing. Keep in mind, five hours per week was a highly exaggerated number arrived at via complete ass-pull, and he conveniently ignored the fact that we all worked 9-6 with a 30 minute lunch.

          I later got sacked for daring to tell him that I wanted to work out my month-long notice period because I needed the money. (That extra thousand pounds would’ve made my life easier by far, but the extra three weeks of sweet, sweet freedom I got instead was a great consolation prize.)

      1. Kate M*

        Kind of off topic, but the people who use the phrase “taking food out of my children’s mouths” and similar ones are usually terrible people. I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard a poor person say this. It’s the same type of person who uses their children as an excuse for everything they don’t like (“but we can’t have gay marriage because WHO WILL EXPLAIN IT TO MY CHILDREN?”/”we can’t have any adult programming on tv because THINK OF THE CHILDREN). It’s your responsibility to feed your kids, not your employees.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          I will happily explain gay marriage to your children, ranting person. “You see, Billy, when people grow up sometimes they want to make a family with another grown-up. Sometimes they have kids, but sometimes they don’t. Your mom and dad decided they wanted to be a family. One way to tell the world that you’re a family together is to get married, like your mom and dad did. Well, sometimes a man decides he wants to be a family with another man, or two women decide they want to be a family. So sometimes two men get married or two women get married to tell the world they’re a family. Want some carrot sticks?”

    5. CMart*

      It’s only legally problematic if they try to classify their personal expenses as business expenses when figuring out their business income. Otherwise it’s just a “really bad idea” since having to disentangle the two will likely be a nightmare.

  24. Student*

    Have you tried telling Jane directly that her behavior is unacceptable and needs to stop?

    Have you tried telling your boss that Jane’s behavior is unacceptable and needs to stop?

    It’s not obvious to me whether Boss knows the full depth of what his wife is saying to you, or that it bothers you; it can be really easy to ignore email cc messages that are not directed at you.

    I liked an earlier suggestion where you ask Boss to deal with his wife directly if she won’t stop, and you funnel all communication through him.

    It’s usually worth trying to get people to stop stepping all over you directly, unless you have a good reason to fear them. Jane certainly sounds awful, but it doesn’t sound like she can or will fire you (or she’d clearly have done so already). Your boss clearly likes to avoid conflict. Sounds like a low-risk, possibly high-reward option to just confront one or both of them.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      I got the feeling that whatever service the OP is doing is needed because if not, for “spendage” purposes, the Boss and his wife would have terminated OP’s services and did the work by themselves until the finances improved. Doesn’t seem to be the case here. I def agree about getting the boss to deal directly with his wife. I don’t know the OP’s personality but I think a direct “I was hired by your husband to do a job, which I do, so I deserve to be paid on time and treated with respect, which is code for watch how you talk to me because my rent is more important than your son’s soccer” conversation is very necessary.

      1. Liv (OP)*

        OP here. Thanks for both of your comments. Longer comment below with more info but just on this:
        Jane works a long hours at high pressure job, there wouldn’t be enough time in the day for her to do the work herself.
        Boss, however, just refuses to. He could easily do the work of colleague and myself in less than 2 days and only have to hire someone a few hours a week for the parts he couldn’t do. He’d still have 3 full days “off” but he ignores the ringing phone and takes weeks to reply to customer emails (and even then, ignores many of them).

        We’re going to sit down with them next week and straight out say: It is impossible to do our jobs and that Jane’s behaviour is not okay.

  25. Chickaletta*

    Start looking for another job now! Your situation is eerily similar to the one I just got let go from: small company, boss’s wife didn’t work in the office yet controlled money and major decisions, she was difficult to communicate with, condescending, the boss coddled her, etc. We all just sucked it up.

    Until I got let go without notice one week ago.

    Boss said it was because the company didn’t have money for my job position after all, but I’m pretty sure that his wife was behind it. She was upset that I had requested a day off of work even though boss approved it, and she loudly complained about it to the office manager which is the only way I knew she was upset about it because she never told me she wasn’t happy about me taking time off. Suddenly, without warning two days latter, I’m let go.

    You can talk to your boss about it like AAM suggests, but if they’re married and she’s got a hand in the business then you know those two are tight and it’s a very difficult bond to break business wise. They’re going to stick by each other. Boss has his wife involved because he trusts her, and maybe a little bit intimidated by her. He’s not going to shit where he eats, so they say.

    Look for other jobs while you’re still employed.

    1. AnonInSC*

      I just want to say I’m sorry and good luck with your search. That is horrible. I hope you are able to receive unemployment.

      1. Chickaletta*

        Thanks. I applied for unemployment yesterday, so we’ll see. Right now I’m trying to figure out my next move. My resume is already littered with several jobs that lasted less than three years and I was really hoping this one would be the one that lasted. Everything went well in the interviews. Three months it lasted. I feel like I have career vertigo.

  26. Arbynka*

    “We have a LOT of bills. Just yesterday you asked me to pay for ink for the printer which I can’t do because my son is going to soccer camp and I have expenses happening there. And now you send me this and also sent me a bill. We are going overseas in December but thanks to you it looks like we’ll have to cancel because we can’t afford it. You are increasing our spendage, we want to be decreasing it.”

    OK, this is as far as I got for now, I think I will need a nice warm cup of coffee (with some Kahlua) before I attempt to finish this letter. O.M.G.

    1. Chinook*

      “Just yesterday you asked me to pay for ink for the printer which I can’t do because my son is going to soccer camp and I have expenses happening there”

      One question – how much is ink in Australia if it can stop a child from going to summer camp? OP, maybe that is the business you should look into.

      1. Anonsie*

        I don’t know, didn’t someone once compare the cost per ounce of ink vs other extremely expensive things like fine caviar and wines, and the ink was just about always more expensive? More than Dom Perignon or something.

          1. Afiendishthingy*

            Ohhh. Does that mean I should stop mixing it with orange juice and serving it at fancy brunches?

    1. Liv (OP)*

      OP here. I’ve left an updated looong comment below but will update again when things have progressed!

  27. LizNYC*

    –STOP doing any UNPAID work and overtime! You deserve to be paid for ANY work you do.
    –When you submit your invoice and get yet another insulting email from Jane, talk (either in person or via phone) to your boss directly (he’s skipping over the emails you copy him on), and say, “Every month, Jane questions my invoices and says I’m out of line for requesting the pay we agreed upon at the beginning of my time here. How can we not go through this dance every month so I’m paid on time and Jane isn’t questioning my valid invoice? I need to be paid XX days after I submit my invoice (or by the 15th of the month or whatever).”
    –Know that your boss is incompetent and not great at making decisions since he decided to have his wife handle the business finances when she treats people like dirt. Also, she probably treats him like dirt, and puts up with you. YOU don’t! You didn’t marry her!

    –Get out.
    –Realize that if this company is intermingling personal and business expenses (which it sounds like they are), they could not only be breaking business laws, but WILL end up running out of money for sure. And it’s going to come out of the pay they owe you!

    1. Not Myself*

      And research your local employment laws. You need to know your rights so you can stand up for them.

    2. Rana*

      I’d also see what you can do to keep in contact with your current client list. To me it sounds like you – and your fellow contract employee – are the ones who are doing all the actual work. Given that for all practical purposes you’re acting like an independent contractor with this place more than a bona fide employee, if I were you I’d be tempted to look into luring some of those clients away and starting my own business (perhaps even in collaboration with my coworker). Working for yourself couldn’t possibly be more stressful than dealing with this ridiculous situation. And, yes, “poaching” clients can be unethical, but so is resisting paying your employees.

  28. JoAnna*

    I once worked in a similar setup. In fact, until it was mentioned that the OP was in Australia, I was starting to wonder if it was the same place.

    My advice: get out now. It will only get worse from here.

  29. Tamsin*

    The phone service was shut off. Seriously. This is a bad, bad sign. (It already was bad that she was balking at paying the workers.) I know you like the job right now but all signs are pointing to you getting financially shafted big time.

    1. Chinook*

      “The phone service was shut off. Seriously. This is a bad, bad sign.”

      I would say this is a bad sign, but not necessarily of their financial health. I once had to deal with my boss’ AMEX being declined while travelling because our accountant in the US head office didn’t think he had to pay it on time because we were in a different country. So lack of payment could also be a sign of incompetency.

      1. LBK*

        But the letter makes it pretty clear it wasn’t incompetence, it was stubborn refusal to pay a bill that she was clearly 100% responsible for paying. I don’t think it’s necessarily a sign of financial health but rather a sign that she’d rather suffer the consequences of shirking a financial obligation than accept responsibility for it, and that kind of stubbornness can happen whether you’re wealthy or poor.

        I think Tamsin’s point wasn’t necessarily that the company should be worried the company will go under but that there will likely be a day when the wife views the OP going broke or quitting as an acceptable trade off for not paying an invoice, much like she viewed losing phone service as an acceptable trade off for not paying that bill. I’m actually pretty surprised that hasn’t happened yet and that the OP has been getting paid at all.

  30. Lillian McGee*

    Wow. I don’t have anything constructive to add other than this would get my Irish up in a Bad Way. I’m already writing vitriolic email responses in my head… do not be me.

    If there’s an Australian equivalent of the Department of Labor you might wanna program them into your speed dial just in case.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      “this would get my Irish up in a bad way” is flipping hilarious. I just pictured Maureen O’Hara slapping the crap out of John Wayne!

      1. Violet Rose*

        I’ve heard “got his Irish up” as a euphemism for something else, so now I’m sniggering like the extremely professional person I am (not)

  31. Sharkey*

    Often I think there is a knee-jerk reaction towards quitting one’s job when someone talks about problems in the work place, as if people don’t need income or as if they will find a perfect job with no problems somewhere else. This one crosses a line for me, though. The OP and her colleague should talk to the boss and try their best to resolve it since the issue is the boss’s wife rather than the job itself (which OP seems to love). However, if the boss refuses to address the issue, I certainly hope the OP starts looking elsewhere. I understand loving the job and the customers but life is also pretty short and being perpetually put down no way to live. The way the OP talks about their job and how they perform it, I wish I could hire her! Best wishes, OP. I hope you can find a reasonable solution but know that you’re too valuable to put up working with an abusive person. (While I agree the wife is a loon, I also believe that this behavior is abusive and prefer to label her as such.)

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Often I think there is a knee-jerk reaction towards quitting one’s job when someone talks about problems in the work place, as if people don’t need income or as if they will find a perfect job with no problems somewhere else.

      I would never urge someone to just quit at a moment’s notice, but I do think in a lot of cases (obviously this one is extreme) you know the culture is not going to get better any time soon, so it’s best to start looking for a job and get out of there as soon as you can. “As soon as you can” could be two months or a year or two years, but it’s a frame of mind change. Instead of “How do I deal with this and fix this?” the frame of mind is “What other job can I get and how soon can I get it?” Obviously people have bills to pay and most aren’t independently wealthy and able to quit at the drop of a hat. It’s not about quitting right away.

      1. Tamsin*

        I agree, and also think that it’s compassionate to give someone a head’s up when the warning signs are that a particular situation could get much worse — and leave the OP with no pay for a month’s work or more, which can cause far far more problems than someone who has never experienced this might imagine.

        1. Xay*

          Right – based on the Jane’s emails, they have financial problems of some kind and it is better to start looking for a stable situation now than when Jane and Boss decide they can no longer afford you or the business shuts down.

      2. K.*

        Right. There’s no such thing as a perfect job. Everyone in the world has days where they think “Ugh, this sucks,” whether they’re a neurosurgeon or a cashier. But abuse should not be tolerated in the workplace. It’s freeing to realize that the problem isn’t you, that it’s the culture or one particular person, and that removing yourself is the best thing for you if the environment isn’t going to change.

      3. Kate M*

        I get that, but I also just think that a lot of times, it’s laying out the options people actually have. People usually have around three options: 1) live with the problem, 2) try to fix the problem, and 3) leave if you can’t live with the problem. Advice usually begins with option 2 (trying to fix/address the problem), but if that doesn’t work, then you’re left with either your job being important enough to you to live with the problem, or the problem is enough to make you leave.

        I think a lot of people just need to hear it spelled out like this. A lot of people ask things like “how can I make someone stop doing this/start doing this/change their behavior). You can’t make someone do anything – you can try to address it, but short of that working, you look at what the realistic picture is, and decide on your course of action from there.

    2. MashaKasha*

      Totally agree. This ship is going down anyway. It is only a matter of time before Jane stops paying OP anyway (because in her crazy version of reality, that’s an effective way to “decrease the spendage”.) OP needs to start working on an exit route asap. And save a bit of money if at all possible. There’s no telling when things will go belly up at the current place.

  32. Menacia*

    So let me get this straight, this woman gives you sh*t every time you put in an invoice to pay you for the work you’ve done, completely unacceptable! That your boss is cc’ed on her responses and has not put a stop to it is also completely unacceptable! She is allowed to treat you like crap, husband has no power. This won’t change until YOU do. Either stick up for yourself by calling her out on her bullying behavior, or quit.

  33. Anonymous Educator*

    We are going overseas in December but thanks to you it looks like we’ll have to cancel because we can’t afford it. You are increasing our spendage, we want to be decreasing it.

    Actually, since she and her husband are using services that cost money (i.e., the services of OP and co-worker), they are the ones increasing “spendage.”

    I echo the advice that you should just leave as soon as you can. And, yes, in this case, there’s no need to give two weeks’ notice. Just get paid and get out of there as soon as you have something else lined up.

  34. Adam*

    *writes initial post. deletes all curse words and starts again*

    Everyone else has already said it but here’s one more voice to add to the chorus: get out. Get paid whatever you’re owed and don’t work for them a second longer. I understand you have a challenge with caring for your children and needing the income, but there has got to be somewhere else you can do that. Don’t willing submit yourself to this purgatory any longer then necessary. This woman is either severely unhinged or an amoral modern day Scrooge and your boss is a spineless stooge. Neither one is worth your your time, health, and sanity.

  35. Jady*

    Jeez. I could not have put up with that for so long.

    I would echo others: run away. It’s just a matter of time before they refuse to pay you. It’s not worth the risk.

    In the mean time – a possible solution would be to force your boss into the middleman. Tell him you cannot tolerate the abuse any longer, the treatment is unacceptable, and you will no longer interact with the wife due to this behavior, and their personal finances are none of your business and you don’t want to be dragged into it.

    Then, stop sending the invoices directly to the wife, and send them to only the boss. He can forward them to the wife and deal with her nonsense.

    Depending on the email program you use, you may be able to send an auto-response to the wife should she email you directly. I would set this up with the autoresponse of ‘Please contact Boss as I am unavailable’ and then filter all her messages to the trash.

    1. the_scientist*

      Yeah, I really think this is the way to go. OP, listen to what other commenters are saying here- if their finances are this unstable, one day you’re abruptly going to find yourself out of job and possibly out a month’s pay or more. The boss in this situation sounds both checked out of the financial aspects of his business, and also totally spineless. If he’s as spineless as he seems from your letter, he won’t fire you for refusing to deal with his wife any more. Go to your boss with your coworkers and just say that the name calling and abuse from Jane is unacceptable, so you’re going to send invoices to Boss from now on. And then ignore any emails from Jane- just forward them onto Boss with a note saying “as per our earlier discussion, can you please follow-up with Jane on this?”.

      1. LBK*

        I like this but I’m also hesitant about it, because as spineless as the boss is, I don’t know if he’ll stay that way if he’s pitted against his wife – even docile animals can bite when backed into a corner. I can very easily see someone who feels no obligation to defend an employee reacting differently when it comes to defending a spouse. Frankly, given how much of a tyrant the wife seems to be, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s afraid of her and that fear might outweigh his fear of having to fire the employees if he’s pushed.

  36. Patty*

    I’d be tempted to send her a copy of my household budget… or at least the stuff you couldn’t pay unless she pays you. Perhaps with a sarcastic note about enjoying the trip, my landlord will wait… But, she probably wouldn’t get it.

    Perhaps the solution is for you to not respond to the mean e-mails?

    1. collegeemployee*

      Unfortunately, she strikes me as the type who is hypocritical enough to respond by lecturing the letter writer about the importance of budgeting.

  37. S.I. Newhouse*

    Fear of being fired would certainly not be a deterrent to me to speak up in this case. I think that would actually be a good outcome — assuming there is adequate unemployment insurance in Australia, something I truly do not know — because this situation is untenable, and it seems to me that this OP needs to look for other options now. (Yesterday, really.)

    1. Brisvegan*

      I can’t resist commenting to answer your implied question.

      Here in Australia, the US system of unemployment insurance doesn’t really exist. Correct me if I am wrong, but I get the impression that in the US if someone is laid off etc, they have an income for a short period paid from their employer’s insurance. We don’t have any employer based insurance of that type.

      We have government social security payments that usually pay a subsistence living stipend indefinitely, with various names depending on the person’s age, situation etc. This LW may be eligible for a supporting parents pension, depending on the age of their child, or an unemployment or youth allowance payment. Most social security payments have a short delay (usually few weeks) before starting, so that could be a concern. Another issue is that they are not particularly generous, which may make things very difficult financially for the LW. Also, our current government is toying with ideas that reduce or seriously delay payment, which may be a real concern for the future.

      The other thing you see here is that occasionally people may take personal income protection insurance or have it as part of their mandatory superannuation, to act as a financial cushion that is more generous than government payments. LW, since you are working as a contractor, even if things go OK, you might want to look into this. This might be especially important if this business is as precarious as it sounds.

  38. JB (not in Houston)*

    I just want to reiterate what Alison said. Working for someone like this can, over time, slowly get you thinking that this is an ok way for someone with authority to behave. It is not. You should not have to put up with this, and the way she’s treating you is just wrong. Don’t let this become your new normal.

    1. Natalie*

      Seriously. And it can get worse without your noticing.

      There’s an urban legend that if you try and drop a frog into hot water, it will jump right out, but if you put it in cold water and heat it up it won’t do anything. This happens to be false (and kind of gross, who’s boiling live frogs?) but it’s an incredibly apt metaphor. Be the first frog.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        “Be the first frog.” That’s a great way of putting it, and I’m totally using that in the future. And you are so right about how it can worse without your noticing (been there, done the second frog thing).

      2. Cactus*

        I remember thinking about the second frog in relation to my former job when things there got REALLY bad, about 5 months before I left. I told my then-manfriend about it, and he informed me that it was a total myth: the frog always jumps out. I don’t think I had been so happy to hear anything in MONTHS. I already had one potential exit strategy in the works (grad school, which ended up working out–I got my acceptance a month after these events), but that weekend I started brainstorming other plans just in case. Things at that job got better, then worse, then better again (then worse, then better) before I left, but I was so glad to know that I would leap.

      1. MashaKasha*

        She’s probably been getting away with it her whole life, somehow. Have you seen any of the stories online about people who keep sending their half-eaten or mostly eaten food back each time they dine out, claim there was something wrong with the food, and get out of paying for it? and then brag to their friends or family how they always get to eat for free because they complain a lot? That’s what Jane reminds me of. Somehow Jane’s whole life appears to have taught her that, if she screams loudly enough at a problem and calls it names, it will go away. OP is trying to politely convince her otherwise (as does the phone company!), it’s just not working.

  39. Biff*

    I wonder if Jane is completely confused and thinks that the invoices are either:

    1. Spending above and beyond what they pay for the employees time or (e.g. Jane thinks they are hourly, and are hitting her with expense reports of some kind):

    2. Spending that the employee authorized and had done on behalf of the business. E.g. Monica was told to figure out some advertising, and therefore, she is presenting Jane with the invoice for the services she contracted.

    I think it would be a weird misunderstanding, but if Jane is only peripherally involved and not a trained payroll/business accountant…. she could be really, really confused.

    Of course, that doesn’t explain how rude she’s been. Sheesh.

    1. LBK*

      Even if there’s an extremely slight chance that she legitimately doesn’t know these are required business expenses and not optional/frivolous, it sounds like the OP has taken great pains and patience to explain everything to her. I don’t know what’s unclear about “This invoice is for the work I did last week, let me know if you want me to break it down further”.

  40. The Cosmic Avenger*

    Since everyone else has pointed out the varying flavors of crazy emanating from Jane, let me be the first one to say that Alison’s answer was very unfair to loons! They’re beautiful creatures! I love sitting by the lake at sunrise with a cup of coffee and listening to the loons, oh yah, dontcha know? :)

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      True! It would be lovely to work with loons. And grebes and snipes, too. Now I want to go bird-watching.

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      A loon would be a bad boss (or finance person) but for entirely unrelated reasons. “Uh, Claude, I need your signature on this invoice. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘oooo-ooooOOOOO-oo!’ Or by that noise. Are you laughing at me? All I need is your- darn it, Claude, why do you always dive to the bottom of the lake whenever I try to talk to you?”

    3. esra*

      They are beautiful murder machines. They’ll actually spear other baby birds to keep them out of their territory.

  41. Observer*

    I’m going to echo all the people who say that you need get out of there ASAP. I get that you need the money and a flexible schedule. But based on what’s going on your chances of losing this job AND at least a months worth of pay is very, very high.

    Also, not a single minute more of unpaid time. It’s not your problem that the place is understaffed, and you need to dedicate as much time as you can to improving your marketability and looking for another job.

  42. knitchic79*

    My emotions are a jumble of full on snorts of laughter at Jane’s gall and an intense desire to smack the back of her head in the hopes it’ll reset whatever system is failing.
    Seriously OP you are worth so much more than this. I know jobs are hard to find when you have little ones to think of, but start looking. Better to get out as much on your own terms as possible…there is no financial security in your future if you keep on with these loons.

  43. 42*

    >>”… sometimes when you work around loons, they start changing your norms and your sense of what’s okay.”<<

    Alison, I want to let you know that this is one of the most astute things you've every written (and you write much that is astute). Wonderful observation, and wonderful point to drive home. OP, please take extra care to be conscious of this. It can creep up on you.

  44. alice*

    OP, I think I used to intern at your company. It was the exact same situation, right down to every last detail. Luckily, my position was temporary. Get out, fast.

  45. Sprocket*

    Honestly it seems like she doesn’t want either of you working there. My guess is that some type of “we can’t afford to have employees” discussion with her husband lead no where and now she’s just trying to drive you batty so that you quit. Get paid and then do yourself a favor and find another job.

  46. Rahera*

    I’m really sorry to read this, LW. Jane sounds disturbingly out of touch with business reality and also pretty nasty. She is extremely rude and way out of line. Wishing you all the best, hope you can resolve this or get out soon.

  47. Former Retail Manager*

    OMG! I am so sorry for you and your co-worker, OP. This woman is horrible. And I am also sorry to say that I find it highly unlikely that Boss is ever going to address the problem with his wife. If he’s already been CC’d or forwarded e-mails that she’s sent and wasn’t appalled/embarrassed enough right then and there to stop her, it’s doubtful he ever will. Probably best to move on as soon as you are able. Best of luck!

  48. insert pun here*

    A friend of mine (actually a friend, not me talking about myself but saying it happened to a friend) was in a situation that was similar in tone if not specifics. So I just want to bring up one thing that I noticed about my friend’s experience, which is that it can be really hard to shake off an experience like this once you move into your next job (which I hope is soon.) Please tell yourself: this is not normal, people don’t normally treat each other this way, and you shouldn’t be expecting something like this to happen again, because this is bananas crazy behavior. And keep telling yourself that, until you believe it 100%.

  49. Anonsie*

    I know, realistically, that the LW is not in any position to do this but… I like to let folks like this make their own bed rather than try to gracefully get around them acting like a lunatic to keep things afloat.

    So if someone were to tell me twice to stop sending them invoices for the work I did for them because they’re trying to save money, I’d tell both of them “Alright, if you want to end this contract early, per the terms of my employment agreement you need to do xyz and pay $abc.” I guarantee you Jane and Husboss would have something more interesting to say if they weren’t allowed to just spout whatever they wanted and have it go under the rug immediately.

    No no no, you said you couldn’t pay me anymore. That means we are ending the contract, right? If it’s not, you’re going to have to explain to me exactly how that’s not what you meant and what you do want.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I agree in calling their bluff, but I wouldn’t make it about the unpaid invoice. In the OP’s position, I’d like to think that when I talked to the boss about the problems paying the invoices, I’d say something like “So, Jane is pushing back hard every time I submit an invoice. If you need to reduce my hours, we need to work that out ahead of time, before I’ve worked them. Should I work on X, Y, or Z, or should I keep doing all of those as I have been? If you want me to keep doing all of the work I have been doing, then you need to work that out with Jane ahead of time.”

      Or I might just stop working until I was paid for the previous month, and I wouldn’t fight her about it. (I have out-stubborned a cat on more than one occasion.) But then I fully understand that the OP might not be able to afford to do that.

      1. Anonsie*

        That’s pretty much what I’m thinking. If I submit an invoice for my time and I get a response back going “we CANNOT afford to pay this, I do not want any more bills like this,” I would reply entirely seriously to that. “Alright Jane and Husboss, this is time already worked so it’s not negotiable, but we need to agree on how to go forward now. Do we need to re-do my contract to reduce hours, or are you looking to terminate it entirely? Per the terms of the contract, if you decide to end before xx/xx agreed upon date then you would need to do blah and pay* blah severance.”

        *I don’t know, does that apply for your typical Australian employment contract? If so, it would be a pretty good “I dare you to call my bluff on this.”

        I am 100% the LW is not in any position to do this to the extent we’re talking but I bet she could go in that direction somehow. I wouldn’t do this just to Husboss alone, because I think it’s important to not let everything Jane says when she’s angry just evaporate like that. The point is to go, hey, if you say something to me that you don’t mean because you’re having a hissy fit, it still counts.

    1. HM in Atlanta*

      Also – the health and safety reference isn’t just for physical safety (like it would be in the US, for example). Australia is one of the countries that has a duty of care interrelation between employer and employee/contractor.

    2. Cactus*

      I seriously wish this existed in the US. Not everything on this list happened to me, but the aggressive behavior, pressuring for inappropriate behavior, and unreasonable demands did.

  50. Pearl*

    I worked at a small business where the wife did the bill-paying because the husband was very, very bad at anything administrative (we occasionally had to call her to beg her to call his cell phone and tell him he had patients waiting and to stop working on other stuff because he would MOVE when she called). In that case she was helpful, although there were definitely times when she pushed back on paying for things, including questioning why the bill for my services went up two weeks after she asked me to add 5 hours to my time working there per week… *facepalm*

    Quitting and job-searching are very hard, especially when you took this for the flexible hours benefit, so I understand if you don’t think you can make a move right now. I would suggest being very plain with your boss that the invoice squabbling needs to stop. You were hired to work a certain number of hours at a certain rate of pay, and you cannot be abused in reaction to submitting your invoice. If possible, maybe you could submit your invoices to the boss directly instead of Jane. If she is still paying them, he could submit them to her for you.

    In the meantime I would save whatever you can for a rainy day – because this sounds like a person who would fire you without notice (in my situation, my hours were cut in half and I was informed of this that morning when I got to work), or suddenly not pay your bill because they literally ran out of money. Job-searching is very draining, but you may want to start checking websites once a week if you feel you can tough this situation out.

    I would also be very careful to shore up your mental health during this time. Remind yourself consistently that this is abuse. You are making no mistakes. It is not weird or selfish to want to be paid promptly for your work. This behavior does not reflect upon you. Even if you need to stay at this job for the time being, you want to shield yourself because being treated in this way can put toxic, self-hating paths of thought into your head.

    Good luck.

  51. Techfool*

    Does she actually have any power? If not, maybe you could try finding it funny, and reply thus:
    That’s great, thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    Okay, I’ll look out for your payment, thanks!
    or just ignore it.

  52. HRChick*

    “Your personal spending and finances are none of my business. This is an invoice for services legally contracted by Boss. If there is a technical issue with the invoice, please let me know. Otherwise, please know that, as an employee of Boss’ business, I am entitled to pay for the hours I work under this contract.”

    If it continues, tell the boss that due to her unprofessional behavior and verbal harassment, you will not be working through Jane anymore. Any communications from Jane are blocked and all invoices will go directly to him. Would be interesting to see how it goes if you don’t give him a choice in the matter. Might not go your way though :-/

    I will say that, if you can, you should start job searching. I know what seems like empty advice considering the difficulty of finding a position like yours, but it can’t hurt to have your resume out there.

    1. fposte*

      “It is not legal in this country to demand employees work for free in order to fund your private luxuries.”

      1. Artemesia*

        If an employee said this to me, I’d fire them on the spot. Of course, I wouldn’t be Jane — but if the goal is to keep the job until something else comes along, be careful.

        And working through the boss sounds wise BUT he is not the bill payer and is unlikely to be on top of that, so that will bring new issues to deal with.

        1. fposte*

          In reality, I totally agree with that–it’s just not something you can viably say and expect the outcome you want.

          But ultimately, that’s what Jane is demanding, and it’s almost certainly not legal in Australia any more than it is in the U.S. And I wanted to couch it in those specific terms just for solidifying the point mentally.

  53. Rosebay*

    Man, that sucks. I hope you and your colleague find better options than this out there, LW – I’d definitely be looking if I were you.

    There’s a lot of voices saying this woman’s behaviour sucks: definitely true.

    I’m going to go out there and say I think the boss’s is worse: it’s his job to make sure his employees and contractors get paid, he’s asked his wife to do it, and she’s clearly hating every second of it and having to do it at the same time as sorting out all his personal finance. His phone got cut off? Really? And this dysfunctional couple thought it was appropriate to ask the LW to call up on his behalf?

      1. Rana*

        Yup. He’s enabling this situation, and refusing to take any responsibility for it. He benefits from this being a battle between his wife and his employees, because then he doesn’t have to deal with it. He just gets to sit back and let them figure out how to keep the business running (or not).

  54. Temperance*

    You need a new job. Single mother or not, there are people and places who will hire you and won’t treat you like this. This woman sounds like a jerk and her husband sounds like a doormat who is happy to let the jerk steamroll everyone and everything in her path.

    As an aside, if you’re an hourly contractor, you should NOT be working additional hours for free. I don’t know much about Australian labor law, but that wouldn’t work here in the US.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      The bad news is it’s hard to find a flexible job like this one in the OP’s area. The good news is the OP is only working one day a week. Unless she is in some sort of highly specialized work that’s earning quite a lot in that 1 day/week it seems like there would be options to replace what sounds like it is likely in the $150/week income range.

      A few weeks ago, a thread talked about home cleaning. . .people mentioned home cleaning independent contractors bringing kids to the job. 2-3 jobs per week could replace her income. VA work could be another possibility. I know she wasn’t asking for advice on pursuing a new career, but it seems like she feels stuck in this job when she doesn’t have to be.

  55. asteramella*

    If nothing else, stop working unpaid overtime.

    It may help to develop a canned response about late payment too. “Unfortunately, I am unable to do further work until all invoices are paid.”

  56. Avery*

    I agree with everyone that you need to find another job because the business sounds financially unstable. I would start putting money aside for the day that wifey decides to stop paying you, as well as look into your country’s rules for collecting unemployment (especially in a scenario where you have not officially been laid off from a company, they just won’t pay you).

    Until you can find something else, is it an option to stop responding to her questions unless they are legitimate?
    I started doing this with a prickly coworker at my last job to see how she would react. She still sent confrontational emails from time to time, but she didn’t call me out for not answering them. Her behavior became easier to ignore once I figured out she was all bark and no bite (although yours may be a biter).

    When you send her your invoice, I would include a polite reminder of when payment is due. I doubt if it will cause her to pay on time, but it may get her payments closer to the due date. She sounds like she is overwhelmed with no budget in place to anticipate expenses.

  57. asteramella*

    Also, it looks like you can call 13 13 94 to speak to the Fair Work Ombudsman about your rights as a contractor. Couldn’t hurt to find out.

  58. I'm Not Phyllis*

    So, my initial reaction was to tell you and your coworker to RUN RUN FAR AWAY, but realistically I know that’s not always an immediate option, especially if you’re a single parent. Also, if you believe in the work you do there’s an emotional investment.

    That said, this is not ok. Your boss is a poor manager, and his wife is an abusive bully. So what should you do? For starters, I’d make it clear to your boss that you’re not going to deal with this abuse any longer. From now on, your invoices go directly to him (not as a CC – he’s your boss and I’m assuming the owner of the company?) and he can deal with the money part with his wife. However, make it clear to him that you expect to be paid for your hours worked. (Really, if they can’t afford to pay their staff they shouldn’t have them.) Any email that comes from his wife goes directly back to him so that he can deal with it.

    And if this doesn’t work (and don’t put a long timeline on it – you’re looking for swift change here) then I hate to say it but you shouldn’t stay. This will only get worse and it’s not something you want to stick around for. But do what you need to do so that you can look for a job in your own time. You may also want to research a good employment lawyer, as they may be able to give you some free advice in a consultation. PLEASE keep all your paper work and documentation and yes, as the others above have said, I’d skip a notice period if you decide to leave.

  59. MsChanandlerBong*

    For a minute, I really thought this was about my FIL’s company. His wife is a complete loon, and she’s also stingy when it comes to the employees (but not her $75 pillowcases and stays at the Four Seasons). She treated everyone so terribly that my FIL had to build a replica of their manufacturing shop in his basement; the employees refused to continue working with her in the main building.

    1. Chickaletta*

      Oh, has she asked you to spy on the employees yet? I wrote above in the comments that I worked in a similar company until a week ago when I was let go. They had their daughter and SIL spying on employees (checking in when boss was on vacation, making phone calls at 4:55 pm looking for the boss when they knew he was out, etc). I always wondered what their children really thought of this, if they realized how crazy it all seemed.

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        Thankfully, I had a falling out with my FIL’s wife about 18 months ago and haven’t spoken to either of them since, so I no longer have any involvement with the business. The “falling out” was me calmly asking her not to scream at me on the telephone. Haven’t heard from her since, so I guess she’s not able to speak to me in a calm fashion!

        I tried to help them with marketing, but they are stuck in the 1970s and wouldn’t listen to any of my suggestions. Let’s say they make different kinds of widgets (purple widgets, red widgets, blue widgets, and green widgets). I wanted to update their website, do some SEO to attract organic traffic, and add a “request quote” form (my FIL refuses to publish a price list because he doesn’t want his competitors to know what he is charging). My FIL wouldn’t let me have a page for red widgets, a page for blue widgets, etc. He made me create one page with a title of “Red Widgets | Blue Widgets| Purple Widgets | Green Widgets.” The site text is all about the history of the company, not about what the company can do for customers.

        Then I tried to set him up with a Paypal merchant account. He doesn’t accept credit cards, so he’s had to take checks from overseas businesses, which is somewhat risky. He’s been burned a few times by accepting checks and shipping the parts before the checks could clear. Paypal charges a measly $5 per month for the functionality we needed, but he refused to pay it. He made me pick the free plan, which forces customers to sign up for Paypal just to pay him. I am frugal, so I understand wanting to cut costs, but how ca you refuse to pay $5 to make it easier to make money and then go out and spend $200 on dinner?

  60. olympiasepiriot*

    This post requires a background soundtrack of Malcolm Tucker ranting. In fact, if I could post an autoplay clip if Malcolm Tucker at his finest, I would, even though I am morally opposed to autoplay.

    If you don’t know who he is, wait until your computer speakers can’t be heard by anyone at work before you search.

  61. Kristen*

    You need to get out of that situation quickly. They are putting you in the middle of not only an unprofessional work situation but also straight in the middle of their marriage issues as well. Been there, done that and will not go back! If your boss doesn’t not have any way of dealing with his wife to either curb her responses to you/coworker or make it so you don’t have to deal with her than he probably doesn’t have the skills to run a business.

  62. Tess McGill*

    As I read the OP’s letter, my head was nodding. I have been there. Something similar to this has happened to me. But after 251 comments, I wasn’t going to bother chiming in, because everyone has said (over and over) what I would say. However, my “Facebook memories” just popped up with a memory from five years ago today. It said (word for word): “On my second hour on the phone trying to get the office phone lines fixed. Please kill me. Kill me now.” It brought back a flood of memories from my job that was slightly similar to the OP’s situation. My boss never paid the bills. He was in debt up to his eyeballs. Employees paychecks bounced. Phones were cut off. The office (3 professionals, 3 support staff) would get collection calls from his mortgage holder and GMAC (car loans) every single day. His wife once stormed into the office because her car had been repossessed and towed away. He was consistently late paying the rent for the office (causing all the employees to continuously lie to the building management) and often the rent checks would bounce. Yet his children had all the latest toys, an xBox and Wii each for his two sons (I know because I wrapped the gifts). A car for his older teenager to drive. Expensive trips staying in very nice hotels. All of my friends kept saying that I needed to just quit. Leave now and don’t look back. But at the time I needed that job. It didn’t pay much, but I needed that paycheck. And important at the time, I needed to have that job on my resume for one year. So I stuck it out for exactly one year. My checks never bounced because I would cash them at the bank they were drawn on and deposit the cash at my bank, rather than just depositing the check at my bank. However, on more than one occasion, the bank that the check was drawn on refused to cash the check. I would call the boss from the bank and told him I needed my paycheck that day. I never once accepted “I’ll take care of it tomorrow” or “come back to the office and we’ll work this out”. Every time he pulled that, I would tell him no. So he would be forced to drive to the bank and pull money from another account at the bank in order to pay me. One of the professionals in the office had his paycheck bounce so many times, he demanded that the boss pay him with a money order every month. I kept my head down, worked hard, did my best to be proactive and always look ahead to upcoming tasks, and tried hard not to complain (although this became impossible at the end). I made it exactly one year and left. The boss actually wrote me a glowing letter of recommendation. I had hid my disdain for him for an entire year, and had not expected the recommendation letter. Right at the end of my time there, the boss helped a client receive a large payout for the sale of a house. The client was a long-haul trucker, so he was rarely in town, and gave the boss authority to take care of everything. As I was collecting my items from the printer one day, I came across the printed bank statements that clearly showed that the boss had deposited the client’s payout in the operating account (instead of the trust account) and then had proceeded to use the money to catch up his mortgage (3 months behind) and make three car payments (3 different cars). All the evidence was right there in black and white. The last two weeks on the job, the client began calling and asking for his money, which the boss no longer had, so now he was scrambling to open an account at a new bank and get a line of credit. I still don’t know if the client ever got his money. I bring that story up because I suspect that the OP’s boss (and his wife) are probably mixing money in accounts and not keeping everything legal. After I left I got word that a few months later the office manager confronted the boss about the debt the company was carrying, the bouncing checks, the collections calls, etc. all while the boss was shopping for new cars. The office manager knew the boss mixed money in the accounts, knew he couldn’t make payroll and pay the bills, yet he was using payments from clients to buy new cars. She confronted him about this issue and he went totally bonkers, screaming, yelling, threatening her and blocking her exit from the office. She finally was able to collect her things and leave. Here’s what I want to say to the OP: Do I believe you need to run, not walk, away from this job as quickly as possible? Yes indeed. However, I really understand why you need this job and the paycheck and why getting another job isn’t as easy as snapping your fingers, and that walking out leaves you unemployed for who knows how long. At the very least, I would tell the OP to begin looking for a new position immediately. It’s so easy for all of us here to tell you to run away and leave this job immediately. But only you know everyone involved and their personalities, as well as the intricacies of working in this office. Only you know how the puzzle fits together and why you are still working there despite the craziness going on and in the end, you have to figure out how best to either navigate this situation or leave the situation. AAM and other readers have offered great advice regarding dealing with the boss and his wife, so I will refrain from adding anymore, other than to emphasize one point from AAM: “Sometimes when you work around loons, they start changing your norms and your sense of what’s okay.” This was me too … I was so used to the lunacy, that I just continued to dismiss it and kept working. It was only after I quit and a friend I ran into at the grocery store happen to mention to me “how much happier I seemed lately” that I realized that I had been held hostage in crazy town. Please know that I sympathize with your situation 100%. Good luck!

    1. Liv (OP)*

      OP here. OMG, that’s seriously terrible. I hope you are okay now. Thank you for your emphasised point or what’s normal too, I really needed to hear it, and so did my colleague.

    2. OldAdmin*

      I’m very late to the party, but Tess McGill’s analysis above of reasons to *stay* in a crazy job, grin and bear it while defending one’s interests is spot on.
      I worked for a crazy small business myself long long ago – bouncing pay checks, angry overworked wife, clueless husband and all.
      I also could not afford to walk off the job in a horrible economy with no unemployment insurance and no job alternatives in sight. Basically, I was deeply depressed in the job and got worse and worse… until Boss and Wife decided to cut pay in half (but full hours), meaning the employees could pay rent or eat, but not both at the same time. We were threatened with immediate firing if we did not sign. I refused, was fired (and threatened by the company lawyer to boot), scrambled extremely hard for months, and finally found work just before having to default. Phew.
      OP, I haven’t finished the comments yet, but all the best.

  63. Kassy*

    They can’t go on their overseas trip because they have to PAY you for your WORK according to your CONTRACT? My stars!

    But that’s the entrepreneur’s life. Your expenses come out of YOUR money. Don’t like that? Go get a job working for someone else with a paycheck that you can count on and which is independent of the business’ expenses.

    I would ask point-blank if the terms of your arrangement are still workable for them, or if you need to work fewer hours or find a new position altogether. They need to know that you’re not going to blow this off any longer, and that this is the severity of the situation. It’s not enough to just get paid – it’s a business arrangement, and not one which should be inducing personal feelings of guilt in anyone involved.

    1. MashaKasha*

      Based on what happened with their phone bill, a job with a paycheck won’t help. There will always be those pesky mortgage companies, car loan companies, utility companies, all demanding Jane’s money when Jane already told them she’s going on an overseas trip! Except, unlike OP, these creditors are not going to be terribly forgiving.

      I would definitely want an update on this. I’m curious how long this person can get away with this (redacted).

      1. Kassy*

        That’s a good point. If you’re not a great money manager, the amount of money available often does little to help the situation.

        I hope OP updates in the future!

  64. Meredith*

    Quitting immediately is likely not a viable option, so I would use the tactic of being very rational and calm when dealing with her and using a two pronged approach – repeating back to her what she said so that it’s very clear who is being unreasonable; and repeating your calm, rational request like a skipped record.

    Jane – “We DO NOT have money growing on trees here. Explain to me why I should shell out money?”
    You – “Jane, As previously discussed, this is the invoice for the work that I have performed for this company. I definitely understand that money is tight, however when Boss hired me, we agreed upon this rate of pay. As someone who works full time yourself, I know that you can appreciate that we all need to paid for the work that we do. When can I expect payment?”
    Jane – “Well now we won’t be able to do (blah blah personal stuff you don’t care about)!”
    You – “I’m sorry to hear that. As previously stated, this invoice is for work that has already been done and needs to be paid per our contract. When can I expect payment?”
    Jane – “Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!”
    You – “I definitely know how that feels! As stated previously, though, this invoice is for work that has already been performed and needs to be paid per our contract. When can I expect payment?”

    Basically the idea here is to agree/commiserate with her and then go back to your point about needing to be paid.

    Other scenario – after the phone bill incident when she called you useless, one response could have been – “I’m very sorry to hear that you are unsatisfied with the result. I definitely want to do everything that I can to assist you and the company. I’m sure that you are simply frustrated and didn’t mean for it to come across as insulting, however I must ask that we refrain from personal insults in our professional relationship. For the future, given that I’m sure we can both agree that I do not have the power to control the phone company’s policies or decisions, how would you have liked me to handle this?” This response puts the onus back on to her and politely points out that her expectations are unreasonable, as well as draws a boundary regarding the name calling (while giving her the face-saving option of pretending that she didn’t mean it that way).

    Once you’ve done the polite boundary, when she does it again you can then push back a little firmer – “Jane, I understand that this is a frustrating situation, however I must insist that all personal insults cease immediately. We are both professionals who are trying to find the best solution for the company and while I, again, understand the frustration, I know that we will deal with it in a professional manner.” Notice my use of the word “professional” several times. You are reminding her that you are not a family member that she can bully – you are a contractor in a business relationship. Also, by staying calm and collected and maintaining YOUR professionalism, you are putting her wildly inappropriate and UNprofessional behavior in start contrast.

    At that point I would get the boss involved. I’m a fan of the word “unacceptable”. As in, “Boss, I need your help. I have asked multiple times that Jane discontinue using personal insults and yet it happened again today. This is unacceptable, incredibly unprofessional and it cannot continue. I like this company and the work that we do, but I’m sure you can agree that name calling in a business relationship is unacceptable and must stop. How do you suggest we handle this?” If he says to just ignore her, push back and say, “I can understand that this situation puts you in a difficult position, however that is not a viable solution for me. What about (all communications go through you/whatever solution you think will work)?” and stick to that. Anytime that he suggests that you just ignore it, come back with “I’m sorry, that is not a viable solution for me. How do you suggest we go forward?”

    This is a shitty situation, OP! If you can get out, do so ASAP. Until then, be direct, calm, polite, UNFAILINGLY professional, and document EVERYTHING.

    1. Temperance*

      I’m not sure this is the best course of action, if only because Jane has proven herself irrational. Lecturing her about how to be professional will probably not get the desired results.

  65. Schnapps*

    So I’m not sure you’re allowed to do this in Oz, but up here in Soviet Canuckistan, I add a little something to invoices for contact work. I put in a line at the bottom that says something along the lines of: payments not received within X days will be subject to a X% surcharge.”

    So a reminder for yourself and when date X comes along, you send a second invoice. With late payment charge and new total and the same line at the bottom.

    I find that gets responses right quick.

  66. Liz*

    Seconding the suggestion of having a look at the Fair Work Australia site. There’s a handy guide to the rights of contractors versus employees here:

    If you’re doing admin or clerical work, you might be covered by a branch of the Australian Services Union. If so, I’ve found their hotline and website extremely useful.

    Good luck! I’d love to hear how this matter progresses.

    1. Liv (OP)*

      OP Here. Thank you for the advice, Fair Work were extremely helpful. Amazed at the service the offer! I’ve written a separate comment and will update when I have more news.

  67. P*

    Hello friend! Depending on which state you’re in, the part-time flexible job market is quite robust at the moment! Certainly in Victoria. So please don’t fret too much about needing to not leave this situation. If you’ve never considered moving into Local Government, especially if you’re clerical, I highly recommend considering it at this time.

    As you mention submitting your contracts for payment, may I also ask: how is your Super situation? Do you need to worry about your HECS repayments? Are you a member of a union? Even as a contractor you can join the relevant union.

    I second contacting the Fair Work Ombudsman.

    As a contractor, unless your contract stipulates it, you can almost certainly quit with no notice.

    Good luck! Your situation is dodgy as.

  68. Can't Think Of A More Clever Anon Name Today*

    Oh OP,
    This whole thing is just… a lot.

    I’ve read through most of the comments here, a lot of sound of advice and wonderful words of encouragement, that I need not repeat.

    I do hope you update us all as to how you handle this going forward, as we are all legitimately concerned for your situation!

    Best of luck.

  69. Ruth*

    Jane needs to understand that even though she is married to the business owner, that money is not all theirs. After costs comes your spends. I don’t understand how people can not see costs such as rent, phone bills, taxes etc. that you are effectively contracted to pay, as legal things they have to pay. It’s like they pick and choose! Effectively, it’s still not their money until they’ve paid for all their business running costs- including their staff, as their staff help to run the business.

    Jane aggravates me! How about she comes to say these things to the OP’s face.

  70. Heather*

    I would look at going to work for one of your customers – you already have a great relationship. Or better, if you don’t have a do not compete clause become an independent contractor directly with the companies you’re already dealing with. If nothing else I would absolutely ask to get paid for overtime. By not asking for it you are telling your boss that you, your time and contribution isn’t that valuable.

  71. Liv (OP)*

    OP here.

    Oh my goodness. Firstly, thank you so much everyone that left a comment and of course to Alison for her wisdom. I cried several times (and laughed just as many). I truly, truly appreciate all your thoughtful advice and take on the situation.

    Alison is dead right: both my colleague and I had normalised the situation. Honestly, before we read all the comments saying what crazy-making this all is, how abnormal and not okay the communications were, it sounds stupid but it just never occurred to us that this isn’t normal.

    For those that were curious about certain things, you’ll be surprised how accurate so many of your observations are. I’ll try and cover them all here, apologies in advance for the length:

    *The Boss*
    – Does not check or read his emails so sending him invoices doesn’t work because he just doesn’t read them let alone forward them to Jane.
    – Spends most of each workday out having coffee or watching TV (yes, seriously)
    – Has never had a job and comes from a very wealthy family
    – Likes the best of the best of everything
    – Is very relaxed, laissez faire kind of person but when challenged will raise his voice so loudly it’s frightening and has the conflict resolution method of “if I speak the loudest, I am right/I win and that’s it, end of story” or the complete opposite where you see him tune out and his eyes glazes, nodding and okays but then nothing happens. Generally though, he is pretty chilled out.
    – Truly does not seem to understand his obligations as an employer and believes he is above the regulations or that they don’t apply to his small business. I’m not saying it’s right, but I do think he’s not intentionally being entitled, he just really doesn’t understand.
    – Instead of being respectful and concerned about employer/director obligations, he is indignant and annoyed about all the ‘red tape’ and mutters constantly about the government won’t give businesses a fair go and that they make it too hard to run a business.
    – Positive things: lets us do the work however we want, insistent on high quality of product/service, doesn’t micromanage (quite the opposite) and is very generous to customers with a very high quality offering. Despite everything that’s going on, he is not a bad guy and I think he’s just gotten in too deep (more on this soon).

    *The Company*
    – The company sells an absolutely beautiful Luxury Teapot Experience. Seriously, it is exquisite and not difficult to sell if you do the right thing because people fall over themselves for it. Very high quality, not cheap, in the AUD$10K range per sale.
    – Before colleague and I started last year, the company had only sold 2 Luxury Teapot Experiences in 5 years.
    – Boss and Jane LOVE telling people they own Luxury Teapot Experiences Company because people ooh and ahh. It is definitely a status symbol. They let their friends & family have Luxury Teapot Experiences for free and often go themselves.
    – Boss and Jane don’t seem to compute that there is a cost involved for running each Luxury Teapot Experience, and that when you give one away for free, it’s free for the giftee, but a cost to them.
    – For the 5 years and only 2 real sales, Boss was answering all customer enquiries and updating the website himself. He is old school and hates email and on average takes 2 – 3 weeks to answer emails.
    – There are a lot of follow up emails for each Luxury Teapot Experience enquiry, this is not a decision someone drops so much money on lightly; it’s gorgeous, but really expensive. You can imagine how unnerving it would be to part with that much money and then not have your emails answered for weeks, and then when they are not have all your questions responded to.
    – Luxury Teapot Experience was a “hobby” business for Boss (his words) and he loved the it so much they just wanted it in their life to share with friends and family regardless if it made money or not, (however money always seems to be a point of stress).
    – They tried to sell Luxury Teapot Experience company for years but no buyers because it wasn’t making any money.
    – Colleague and I started last year. He put in an ad for 2 positions to look after answering emails and marketing because he decided he didn’t have time to attend to the emails and, his words, ‘simply didn’t want to any more and I’m happy to pay others to do it’. He got 2 positions because he thought office would be lonely with only 1 (!?)
    – Since colleague and I started, we upgraded the website, added FAQs, arranged photography of Teapot Experience, created canned responses to initial enquiries and respond to everyone within 24 hours. BASIC STUFF, and we did it all in-house between us, no outside costs for photographer, web developer etc.
    – For the last 8 months we have sold several Luxury Teapot Experiences a month, the total when I was last in equalled to AUD$380K. Colleague and I do all aspects: enquiry, info, prepare and send invoice, instructions, follow ups, etc, Boss is not involved at all and wouldn’t know when the next LTE is or who bought it or how many we sold last week. We think the sales are awesome and amazing considering for 5 years prior, only 2 sales came in.
    – There is now a waiting list for Luxury Teapot Experience.
    – With an increase in business, obviously there comes more administration, wear and tear, more money to move and more obligation. Boss and Jane don’t seem to realise this and we think secretly Boss wishes it was how it was before because there was nothing for him to be responsible for with no sales.

    – Jane works hard at a very highly paid, well respected job. I am talking VERY highly paid.
    – Those that commented they think she is under a lot of stress, I think absolutely yes, she is. As rude as she’s been, I feel sorry for her.
    – I don’t think she’s really on top of finances and has mixed their bank accounts into one because previously the company wasn’t making any money so there wasn’t much to sort out!
    – We never see her and she never replies to our emails or email responses, so we don’t know what Boss is communicating with her, if at all.
    – She’s definitely aware that the invoices are for our time and not over and above any other arrangement.
    – She’s aware that the business is now making money and is busier, but I don’t think she’s done a profit and loss or looked at exactly how much more money is coming in and how busy it’s become. Odd, because the money is going into HER account! But see next points.
    – The reason they don’t have money is because they have a crazy amount of debt. They are open about what this is to us which I find a little odd and uncomfortable.
    – The debt is because they like a certain lifestyle and are happy to spend her salary on this: houses, holiday house, boats, holidays away, cleaners, nanny, Paleo chef that comes and cooks dinner three times a week, constantly new “things” in the house each week (tv or coffee table books or a gadget or a look, a new car! that kind of stuff). I think she makes so much money and he comes from wealth that they overspend and don’t realise how much money is actually going out. I remember when I was a kid telling my Dad I wish I was rich and my Dad laughing at me and saying the joke was I already was compared to so many people and that the more you earn the more you spend and I’d be thinking the same thing even if I was a billionaire. It’s true, I think doesn’t matter how much some people earn, they will always live above their means and some people never look at what’s coming in and out of their bank account because they’ve never had to worry about it.

    *What’s going to happen now*
    Colleague and I seriously thank you all for showing us how abnormal this is. I think we were inadvertently supporting each other to accept the conditions.

    This is going to sound crazy, but we both are very worried about Luxury Teapot Experience customers. They are good people, they’ve paid deposits and the waiting list for certain months goes 3 years in advance. We want them to be looked after and not screwed around, but after reading all of these comments, we know it’s not our business and we can’t take ultimate responsibility.

    We’ve called Fair Work and understand our rights and are meeting with Boss and Jane next week to have an honest, open discussion. We’re both found it really hard to find work that lets you have flexible hours, I found out yesterday to get unemployment benefits (not that I want them, I want to work and contribute), I’d have to quit all the jobs to qualify and I just can’t afford to do that right now. I don’t think either of us are going to stay there long term though, we are both actively, officially looking! I will definitely update again soon.

    Thank you so much again. Life changing!

    1. P*

      My curiosity re: what company it is is KILLING ME. Good luck, Liv! It’s definitely not your responsibility, yours or colleague’s, to worry about LTE customers (although it’s totally natural to have those feelings about them). Please do let us know how it goes! Also I’m so glad to hear Fair Work was great – I’ve never personally had to use them and I’m always pleased when our slightly socialist system works in someone’s favour.

    2. CADMonkey007*

      Great update and I’m very curious what this luxury teapot experience is that people are shelling out for!

      To me, it sounds like boss is a lost cause. If switching jobs isn’t an option and you need to stick around for awhile, try a different, more friendly approach with Jane. For whatever reason she has made you the scapegoat for all her problems, so basically, you have to convince her you are not her enemy. Just be careful not to make yourself into a doormat!

      (I have no idea how to actually do this.)

      1. Cactus*

        For some reason (possibly just the combination of beautiful +Australia +photography), I’m thinking scuba diving is involved.

        1. Artemesia*

          Yikes What comes to mind if these bozos are running it is that couple that got abandoned underwater to the sharks on a dive trip. All that was every found was a note on a waterboard from them begging for help.

    3. LBK*

      Wow. I’m amazed at how relatively level-headed you sound about all of this – seriously saint-level patience. Please keep us posted, I really want to know how things go with your discussion! I think maybe one tiny silver lining is that few people usually have the opportunity to directly impact a business’ success without owning it themselves, so you’ve got absolutely killer additions to your resume here. Who else here can claim their work led to a 2000% increase in sales?

      And I think after surviving this, any other workplace is going to be a dream. It will be wonderful if somehow your meeting leads to dramatic changes in the job, but if that doesn’t happen I think you’ve got a bright future ahead (things can certainly only get better from here!).

    4. Cucumberzucchini*

      Maybe you and your coworker could take your knowledge and create your own Luxury Teapot Experience company? You have all the contacts and knowledge. You just need a website – which you already know how to do and start from there. Once you and your coworker walk away the existing company will probably fold. Do you have a non-compete? Perhaps you could reach out to original LTE clients about your new business. Since Boss and Jane are treating you so poorly and seem so incompetent I don’t really see an ethics violation.

        1. Kerry (Like the County In Ireland)*

          I would actually consider putting out feelers for the two of you as a team. What you’ve done is an incredible achievement. You might be able to pitch yourselves as a team who are great workers but with the flexibility you need to be able to split the work with your teammate instead of taking orders.

      1. Rm*

        I have a feeling the business is using Boss’ s existing assets like a hot air balloon or luxury sailing boat or their property and it would require quite a lot of capita to replicate. Otherwise, wouldn’t we all be doing that!

      2. Katie the Fed*

        I agree! You already know how to run the business! And it’s not like they’ll be able to compete if you leave because they’re completely inept. Take the business and run :D

    5. PX*


      OP, having read through all the comments, obviously your situation is crazy, but omg I feel like there is so much potential to make lemonade out of these crazy, crazy lemons. It seems like you and colleague are essentially running the business now – do you think you, colleague or Jane would be interested in making this more formal/full time? Sit down, discuss that maybe Jane shouldnt be doing the finances but that you two can handle it. Boss becomes essentially a stay at home dad (or gets a small salary) and everyone is happy?

      You mentioned before that crazy boss wanted to sell it but couldnt find any buyers because it wasnt making money. Given what you’ve done to turn the business around, if he tried selling it now (hopefully to owners who actually know what they are doing), is that something that could potentially work in your favour?

      Obviously if you’re not interested in becoming a small business owner this might not appeal to you, but I look at this and for whatever reason actually feel like there is a lot of potential in this after all :)

    6. Sunshine Brite*

      Yikes, I hope you find something good soon! It’s never good when a business can’t point to their profit/loss numbers easily and have the finances be so intermingled.

    7. Turtle Candle*

      I’m so glad you were able to get this confirmation that this is Not Normal and that you’re not crazy for being upset by it. That’s huge! (I know from things in my past that it can be really easy to internalize dysfunction as ‘just the way things are’ and even resist learning that it’s not true, so I’m just really happy for you.)

      It sounds like part of what’s going on is that Jane thinks that Boss should be doing the work of updating the website and contacting people rather than paying someone else to do it, and is angry that they have to pay you because he doesn’t like to answer email or wants to be ‘hands off’ or whatever. And is lashing out at you and your coworker instead of Boss because… she loves him, she’s afraid to lash out at him, she likes picking easier targets, who knows. That absolutely doesn’t excuse it–good lord no, in fact it’s arguably worse to scapegoat a subordinate because you’re mad at a partner–but it does clarify the situation somewhat.

      I think this even more emphasizes that you need to get out ASAP–if you’re getting tangled up in marital dysfunction as well as in a seriously atypically difficult work environment, I just don’t see this ending in any positive way. But it sounds like, despite your need for a flexible schedule, you and your co-worker are attentive and conscientious (caring about your customers is a hugely important and yet surprisingly rare skill all by itself!); I am absolutely confident that you can find someone else who appreciates that more. It might be worth looking at similar types of roles: high-value luxury goods or experiences where a high degree of quality customer service is expected.

      And best of luck.

    8. MashaKasha*

      I confess I lost it at “Paleo chef”. Are those people for real? hahahaha

      I REALLY REALLY REALLY like Cucumberzucchini’s suggestion. Sounds like, at this point, you and your colleague know more about running this kind of business than Boss and Jane do!

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