I turned down a job — and the recruiter sent me an invoice

A reader writes:

I was in the awesome position of interviewing for two roles through recruitment agencies and receiving offers for both. Both roles were aware that I had another strong offer on the table, and negotiations started between myself and the two agencies.

As I was available immediately, both roles wanted me to start ASAP and had suggested start dates that were within a working week of the initial offer. Within a few days, I made my decision and I explained my choice in an email to the recruiter of the role I was turning down.

The recruiter wanted to discuss the matter further and I declined. He indicated by email he was upset that I was turning down the role so close to the start date.

A month later, I received an invoice from the accounting team of the recruitment team — no other communication — just an invoice made out to me for $50 for a background check they had completed. I responded to the accounts team saying that I believed this cost was for their client, and as I had no relationship with them, it wasn’t an invoice for me personally (assuming it had been mistakenly sent to me as the subject of the background check).

The next day, I received an email from the recruiter directly, who informed me that as I had behaved unprofessionally and without integrity, as an act of good faith I should pay this “insignificant amount” rather than ask the (very large international) agency to absorb it.

I wanted to write a strongly worded response about my ideas of professionalism, but I am going to sit on it for a day or two. Ironically, if he had emailed me and outlined his point of view earlier — without attacking me — I probably would have paid the invoice out of feelings of guilt/good faith.

So am I obliged to pay this? And if I’m not obliged, should I pay it to save face professionally?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 198 comments… read them below }

  1. Alfonzo Mango*

    I’m laughing at the very poorly photo shopped glasses they put on that stock photo.

      1. R.D*

        If they aren’t photo-shopped, they are broken. There is only one earpiece, so I’m not sure how they are staying on her face.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          I think they’re back in fashion now. A friend’s gen-z roommate has these. They look cute on her!

          1. Glasses Lover*

            19 year old here. I have glasses like that! If you have to wear glasses, why not go all in and have fun ones!?. I have had the same prescription for 5 years so, while I keep my nice neutral pair of glasses for more professional settings, I have 4 other fun pairs of glasses: bright blue, bright red, these, and totally clear frames.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        As a teenager of the 90s, this round wireframe trend and trend of the glasses everyone I know had in 1987 (see Olive from Little Miss Sunshine) are both horrifying. Glad I have had Lasik and am not yet wearing reading glasses!

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yes, I think I’m still traumatized from them the first time around! It was flat-out impossible to find anything else for a while, and it was right when I was a kid of a certain age and really wanted to be cute. Combined with some horrible haircuts, I looked like a scruffy owl most of the time. It’s so nice to have frames that don’t obscure my entire face.

        2. it's me*

          Yeah, as someone who’s 40 I’m definitely not feeling the need to go back to wireframe round metallic glasses.

    1. sacados*

      I just think it’s great cause, something about the combination of maybe the glasses and also the fact that her shirt is kind of enormous on her — reminds me of those pictures of toddlers dressed up in adult-size business suits pretending to work in an office. ;-p

    2. Cheryl*

      “Very poorly Photoshopped?” Are you sure?

      You shouldn’t be. I did a reverse image search and found a bunch of other photos from the shoot – all stock photos for “invoice”. The model is wearing the same glasses in almost every photo, from all different angles. They’re real.

  2. Richard Hershberger*

    Send a counter-invoice for your time. If you are feeling nice, make it for $50. If not, then $100.

    1. Accalia*

      So, funny story….

      I found out about this years after the fact but….

      The recruiter that placed me at my current job tried to bill me for a background check after i was placed. I laughed it off and said to take it up with my employer as I hadn’t been informed nor agreed to pay for the background check.

      Well…. they did, tried to raise it as I defaulted on a bill with them. Except my company never asked for a background check from recruiter, and instead of paying sent a lovely nasty gram back to the recruiter firing them, and seeking repayment of tens of thousands of dollars in commission as breach of contract penalties.

      Apparently the recruiter basically said “I’ll see you in court about that one…. then no showed resulting in summary judgement in my companies favor.

      Not sure how much of that was banter on the part of my friend in HR and how much is real…. but I’m hoping that it’s 100% real.

        1. Accalia*

          I made the same choice.

          It sounds like something my company would do, and it’s awesome so it is true, even if the historians might disagree….. If they do, they’re wrong!


      1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

        If it’s real, it’s horrifying and unprofessional on the recruiters’ part – not just trying to bill for something that hadn’t been agreed to, but running a background check without authorization! Depending on where you live and what they did, that ranges from ‘unethical’ to ‘illegal’. I run background checks on job candidate for a living. I would be EXTREMELY fired if I ran one without proper authorization.

  3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I remember this letter. I’m still cackling at the audacity of this jabroni recruiter.

    Say it with me everyone. You cannot bill someone for something they didn’t agree to pay for in the first place. Just throw it in the trash where it belongs.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Hilariously, billing people for stuff they never asked for is a very common scam. There’s these people who will call in asking for our printer information, and if they manage to get that information they will send an invoice for a bunch of supplies hoping that someone in payables will just issue a check without asking about it.

      There was also this company that went around aerating everyone’s lawns without being asked to and then just handed out invoices. :/

      So ridiculous.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It’s basically why PO systems were set up but millions of companies don’t use PO systems because they’re small and don’t need them or they’re just utterly disorganized. It’s to keep checks and balances in place.

          I’ve never used a real PO system because I also order everything. No need for the extra paperwork.

        2. Amber Rose*

          Yeah, and our accountant double checks everything regardless. If an invoice comes in, even from a company we deal with all the time, she gets it signed off by the person who ordered the stuff before doing anything with it.

          1. Aurion*

            Yeah, I’m in procurement. If anything isn’t a line by line match no matter how long we’ve been working with that company, the accountant checks with us, even if it works out in our favour (e.g. a credit memo that she doesn’t recognize).

          2. SusanIvanova*

            Double-checking invoices is how a new accountant at the Collins Street Bakery in Corsicana (world famous fruitcakes!) discovered her boss had been embezzling from the company for years.

            1. Collin Street Fangirl*

              Long-time reader first-time commenter who is totally scandalized by this Collin Street Bakery news. I look forward to my annual fruitcake from Corsicana with such joy. I had no idea I was underwriting private jet trips to Aspen with my indulgence!

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Taking the tactics from aggressive window-washing panhandlers…. not necessarily a great business plan.

        1. Gymmie*

          I was going to say this! I remember driving through NYC and my dad always yelling “don’t wash it! I’m not paying you!”

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s a forever scam that’s been around since before even my dinosaur era.

        Same with the frigging “Yellow Pages”. Receptionists get caught up with this most frequently. They will go so far as to call and say “Oh we got an order but we need to confirm your printer!” nonsense at times.

        It’s actually illegal to send these fake invoices via USPS, since it’s mail fraud. And they will often only fax you things.

        1. Red Swingline Stapler*

          The ones wanting to ”check your details” and then sending you a obscene bill for appearing in some obscure online catalog? I feel for anyone trying to sell adverts or update details for legitimate ones like the booklets small towns have for tourists.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Yeah, I got one of those for a thousand bucks at my first admin job. I think I actually wrote back implicitly threatening legal action…

      3. Robbenmel*

        This is my retirement plan. I will sit at home and crank out invoices for random amounts and send them to random people. I bet I do very well.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Every time I get a scam mail, I pop into my bosses office to tell him I’ve found out how we could become rich.

          Turns out that they have cons out there that keep an eye on the “new businesses” created. They send out a letter requesting fees for a “Certificate of Status” that could easily get passed someone who’s setting up their first business.

          Also “Labor Law Posters”, there are a million of those scams out there that try to sell you sh*t you get for free or severely discounted if you go to the legit places.

          1. MichaelGaryScott*

            I’m living this situation right now. Husband setting up new business and I have received both of the letter. Charging $110 for a certificate of status that the state charges $10 for. NEXT. Ordered compliance poster for $24, wanted to charge us $130 for it. I’m in charge of weeding out scams.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              It’s a certificate you don’t even need either! It’s one that you can purchase in the event you need it.

              I had the same scam of a compliance poster with a friend I was helping out! They were like “Only $25” and then called to tell her she ordered the wrong one and the one she wanted was $200! Thankfully she had her alarm bells screaming and called me to ask if that’s normal. “‘It’s not, put a block on your card now.” Ick.

          1. jasmine*

            Ken White isn’t just some attorney. He’s a former federal prosecutor. Don’t mess with him!

          2. Rivakonneva*

            I read the prologue and starting lauging at my desk. Now I must read the whole thing. :)

            Thanks for the link!

      4. AnotherAlison*

        Recent story. . .my husband installed a piece of equipment for a customer ~ May. The equipment was purchased by the customer. Customer had a follow-up question, and my husband answered and directed them to the manufacturer because it was about a component that came on the equipment. He never heard from him, and then we received a hand written letter and a bill for $1500 for services performed by another company because my husband was “nonresponsive” to this customer’s “repeated attempts to reach him.” He had no emails, texts, phone calls, VMs, or even a first hand written letter from the customer. The copy of the other company’s bill indicates they probably took advantage of this guy and billed him for a bunch of stuff that wouldn’t have needed done. My husband would have gone out for free for a follow up service call, if it was requested. Sooo. . .he’s not paying. It’s only been a couple weeks, so we’ll see where it goes.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*


          Everyone should know that these places can’t do anything to you to collect this kind of nonsense anyways. If they tried to sue, they’d have to produce paperwork regarding how it’s a valid purchase. This is why tons of places require a purchase order to do business.

      5. Hush42*

        That first one is a huge issue for us! My company sells Office Technology – including things like Copiers and Printers. Typically we also sell service contracts with the machines that include toner. So none of our clients should be getting bills for toner specifically (just monthly invoices from us). We get calls WAY too often from people who fell prey to “Toner Pirates” as we call them. We try to warn our clients and if they call us about the invoices we advise them to ignore them and that they are more than welcome to call us and confirm any invoices before paying them. It becomes a big issue for us because it’s made a lot of our clients extremely leery about giving us any information from their equipment- and we need monthly print counts from the machines. I can’t tell you how many times I got hung up on when I was the one collecting the counts.

        1. BadWolf*

          Poor customers…maybe you need to set up a passphrase with them so they know it’s you. Like spies checking in.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          LOL I like “Toner Pirates” but I can imagine the massive headache these cons cause legitimate printer businesses, so I’m sad to have the confirmation that’s true. They stink. They always take advantage of the least knowledgeable and harm the real businesses involved.

        3. Mimi Me*

          I work in healthcare and a lot of the patients I deal with have financial assistance from the manufacturers of medications to help offset costs. During my final call with them before we treat them I review benefits and give them my phone # and extension telling them that if they get a bill for services they should call me before paying it. Sometimes it’s a processing error – the claim didn’t automatically crossover to the assistance plan – and sometimes it’s a scam. The older the person getting the bill, the more likely they are to pay it. Once the money is paid, it can be impossible to recoup, but a phone call to me could bypass that headache. Worst call of my life was from a parent who had sold their home for medical bills they really didn’t need to pay. There are too many scammers out there looking to prey on vulnerable people and I have to do my part to help whenever I can.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Thank you for going above and beyond like this. I wish others would.

            I may have paid off some scammy bills with my surgery a few years ago but nobody in the billing department would respond to my inquiries a lot of times and some were just cold as ice with the “IDK just pay it.” responses. I would never have sold my house because come for me, bro, you’ll pry that kind of thing out of my hands. The court systems take a long time to process this kind of stuff and a lot of legislature has changed so that medical bills can’t reek havoc on your credit report anymore.

            My favorite was the robocall from one of the departments saying I owed them $60 and they never sent me a bill and it was a robocall that had no call back number.

          2. Red Swingline Stapler*

            Bogus bills is one thing, but identity theft and real bills is worse.

            How immoral it gets. A recent scam in the UK is targetting people on benefits. Universal Credit is a new system rolling up all separate benefits and it has had its teething problems, to put it lightly. Now when you get put on Universal Credit, there is a five weeks wait. But you need to pay your rent, bills, maybe even eat some. So you can apply for an advance loan that then gets slowly deducted from your handout, once you start getting it.

            So the scammers call up people, either posing as DWP staff, do some other clever phishing and as the UC is all online, they make a bogus claim for UC and then they take out the advance loan of hundreds of pounds. And then the person on benefits
            gets a letter from the DWP telling them their existing benefits have been cancelled, their universal credit claim has opened and they must repay the advance loan.

            And imagine trying to rectify that, say if you are on disability and all your payments stop at a snap and you have no clue what’s going on…

          3. The Limey*

            Bogus bills is one thing, but identity theft and real bills is worse.

            How immoral it gets. A recent scam in the UK is targetting people on benefits. Universal Credit is a new system rolling up all separate benefits and it has had its teething problems, to put it lightly. Now when you get put on Universal Credit, there is a five weeks wait. But you need to pay your rent, bills, maybe even eat some. So you can apply for an advance loan that then gets slowly deducted from your handout, once you start getting it.

            So the scammers call up people, either posing as DWP staff, do some other clever phishing and as the UC is all online, they make a bogus claim for UC and then they take out the advance loan of hundreds of pounds. And then the person on benefits
            gets a letter from the DWP telling them their existing benefits have been cancelled, their universal credit claim has opened and they must repay the advance loan.

            And imagine trying to rectify that, say if you are on disability and all your payments stop at a snap and you have no clue what’s going on…

      6. Junior Assistant Peon*

        There are a few variations on this scam targeting small businesses.

        A shrink-wrapped pallet of printer toner, office supplies, or cleaning supplies shows up, followed by a wildly inflated invoice a few weeks later. Most of the time, enough time has passed that someone at the target company has already opened the shrink wrap and used some of the supplies, making it impossible to return the merchandise, so the victim thinks they have no choice but to pay.

        Usually no one at the target company has ordered the merchandise, but sometimes a scammer calls and tries to get a low-level employee on the phone, then tricks them into agreeing to something.

        Another variant is to just send an official-looking invoice – there’s a decent chance that whoever opens it will just pass it to the accounting department. If the company is disorganized enough, the accounting folks are used to paying bills no one understands. I’ve seen plenty of cases of mysterious invoices that turned out to be legitimate upon investigation.

        1. Natalie*

          For US companies, at least, it’s worth noting that trade regs deem unordered merchandise to be a gift. You don’t need to pay for it, nor do you need to return it.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            This is the same thing to keep in mind if you receive something incorrectly as well. Some unscrupulous companies “have a policy” that you have to pay return shipping on /everything/ that is returned. Cool story, either pick it up yourself or it’s a gift. And send me the thing I actually ordered.

            I’ve had this happen over the years with various vendors. They don’t like me much.

          2. Devil Fish*

            Make sure it’s really unordered merch and not just misdelivered though. If it got to the wrong address, that’s a different thing.

            I had a super unethical boss whose business was closest to the main door and he’d sign for all the packages, which the other businesses really appreciated—until it turned out he was keeping stuff from places he thought might be delivering something good “because it was unordered merchandise that I signed for.” He even did it with food deliveries sometimes. I don’t know how it took so long for him to get caught.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yep, it’s been a thing for ages and lots of places fall for it. So I’m not shocked.

          This kind of BS is also what makes it hard for some of us to get paid and our invoices to get tied up in AP purgatory in some companies. I’ve had them held up for things like the Buyer giving me the wrong GD PO number or for not doing an adjustment that we requested because their pricing was wrong but fell through the cracks and got produced/billed anyways. [My faves are the buyers who are just straight lazy AF and put in too much on a sale and I get paid too GD much and I have to send the money to the unclaimed properties division after 3 years because their accounting department won’t listen to me or accept a credit memo or a refund check because “our system shows we paid you correctly, byeeeeee.”

      7. TootsNYC*

        As a kid I remember my grandparents talking about laws being passed that unsolicited merchandise could not be billed; they apparently used to get mailed stuff like notepads, etc., and then get a bill for it.

    2. Candid Candidate*

      I’m curious what you make of the fact that the accounting team sent it, not the recruiter himself. Seems like that might allude to the fact that the recruiting agency itself is shady AF, not just the recruiter.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        IDK why you’re asking me, it’s in the letter, not my comment.

        I don’t know many companies that have their invoices come from some random person on staff, they all go through accounting. Where would he get the template for an invoice?

        It could be that the OP doesn’t know what their invoices actually look like though and he whipped one up in a word processing program. IDK

        What seems more plausible is that he sent the paperwork off to accounting and they thought OP was actually The Client that was supposed to be billed. Since they could work for multiple small entities that are billed under personal names, it’s not that much of a stretch.

        However you should be receiving a W9 from anyone you’re sending a bill to, so they failed massively there as well.

    3. nonegiven*

      IDK, if you didn’t agree to the background check, can you sue the recruiter for running it without your authorization?

    1. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys*

      Mine was more along the lines of “Name and shame, baby! Scan that invoice with all the contact info and put it up for all to see!”

  4. nnn*

    Is there Glassdoor or something for reviewing recruitment agencies? Because this would be useful information to make googleable…

      1. Ethyl*

        I wonder about letting the company who used the recruiter know about this? I feel like I would want to know!

    1. ArtK*

      I agree. The only unethical and unprofessional person in this scenario is the recruiter. They deserve to be called out for what they are. Scammers.

  5. JJ*

    This letter is perfectly-timed for me, I just ended a relationship with a crappy freelance agency who surprise-charged me $180 for their background check. I had no option as they deducted it from my first paycheck (again, with no notification, I had to call and ask what it was about). I made a big fuss and eventually got it refunded, but they still took other shady fees so GOODBYE.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      GROSS! I’m glad that you fought it out and they weren’t foolish enough to really dig in their heels and make you take it to the labor department.

      You can’t just deduct things from paychecks without frigging paperwork. But it happens all the times because people don’t look that closely at their stubs and they get away with it, so they take the frigging chance. Ick!

      1. Justme, The OG*

        I have been responsible for the paperwork for payroll deductions. It’s annoying. There is no way any deduction passes through here without it.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I’ve always been in charge of payroll, so yeah it’s pretty much the number one rule “No deduction without authorization.”

          Since the penalties for that, yiiiiiiiiiikes. Way more than any amount of operating expenses you’re trying to cover.

          Even when they bring in a new local tax, we’re taught to tell everyone about it and explain that it’s not voluntary, just to save ourselves the head ache of explaining it.

          1. Justme, the OG*

            I work for a university and even when we payroll deduct for things like tuition due from a previous semester or money owed to the travel office for charged items that are not allowed, they’re warned in progressively more stern letters that it will happen. And then that we have submitted paperwork to payroll.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Yep yep yep. I get everything in writing, it’s the one thing I don’t ef with. Everything that has to be paid or paid-back has an “agreement” attached to it stating “We will take it out of your paycheck”. Someone used our FedEx account for a personal thing, it’s all good, we’ve got dirt cheap rates, I made them sign a document for the deduction.

    2. Arctic*

      Yeah, I think this is becoming more common. Not the norm, by any means, but it is now something that happens sometimes rather than a freak occurrence.
      It’s a really crappy business practice.

      1. Fiberpunk*

        It’s flat-out theft. Hopefully everyone who is in a position to do so will bring this to the proper authorities.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Sadly it’s one of those things that flies under the radar and most people don’t know how to file a wage-theft complaint with BOLI =(

        2. Arctic*

          People don’t know to do so and, even if they did, they need the job and then the reference.

      2. Devil Fish*

        Which part: the unauthorized payroll deductions or companies wanting employees to pay for background checks?

        The wide reach of the gig economy/micro jobs has transferred a lot of the costs of doing business onto the employee and conventional employers noticed that happening and said “Why can’t we do that too?!” and started hiring more “freelancers” with contracts that are all cost and no benefits for the contractors.

        A lot of payroll deductions are poorly disclosed in documents that employees are rushed into signing without reading. A past employer had a clause that said anyone who separated from the company in less than 6 months would retroactively be billed $200 to cover the background check and processing. (Also their background check company sucked and most of us had to go to the IRS ourselves to get copies of tax returns to prove our previous work history—anything older than 7 years on our resumes couldn’t be verified and if we couldn’t verify our work history, we were dismissed from the company and then got a $200 invoice!)

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          A hospital that a friend worked for decided they were going to deduct the unpaid bills of employees’ family members. So, you don’t pay your bill, and your daughter works at the hospital? They’d deduct your bill from HER paycheck. IIRC, they were trying to get current employees to sign something allowing this, which is how people found out about it. I don’t think it got very far.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            “Gee, Jane, I can’t figure out why 75% of our staff has quit and we can’t find new staff.”

          2. Devil Fish*

            I’ve signed agreements for all kinds of stupid deductions I should have never had to pay because the reality was if I didn’t agree to it, I would be fired (in low-paying minimal-benefit jobs, natch), but deducting other people’s unpaid bills is some next level terrible shit. I’m glad the employees didn’t go for it.

            1. Devil Fish*

              Maybe they got the idea from some restaurants making the waitstaff financially responsible for their dine and dash tables, but the difference between the cost of a midrange meal and pretty much any medical procedure didn’t seem all that relevant to management?

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                Aren’t payroll deductions that bring you below minimum wage illegal, even if they’re bills for damaged goods, dine and dash, etc? (Not that illegality stops a lot of employers.)

                1. Aine*

                  It’s completely illegal, but employers count on the waitstaff either being unaware of the law or too afraid of losing their job to do anything.

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      Oh HELL no. Mind sharing the name of the agency, if it’s not too small/identifying, so we fellow freelancers/giggers can tell who to avoid?

    4. Kipper*

      An employer decided 6 months after I arrived to tell us we would be charged for personal use tax of the vehicles we were required to take home in case of overnight or weekend emergencies. I wasn’t paid well so it was a chunk out of that paycheck. They got grumbly when I complained about being charged when I hadn’t taken it home in months.
      I understand the tax, I don’t understand why they didn’t mention it since they have literally been the only one to use it.

  6. noahwynn*

    This is just something I’d ignore after their initial reply saying you owed it. If they send it to collections, they won’t be able to validate the debt and it would be removed from your credit report. Not something I’d spend much time worrying about beyond laughing at the recruiter’s crazy antics and disbelief that his accounting team would actually go along with it and send an invoice.

  7. SarahKay*

    If I had any contacts at the actual company that would have employed me I think I’d be inclined to let them know what their recruiters are doing.
    Certainly, from the employer’s side of the equation, I’d want to know if a company I was using was behaving so shoddily!

  8. Artemesia*

    I would be sending a letter about the unprofessional behavior of this recruiter to his boss. It is entirely outrageous.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      If the recruiter was internal, then yes I would do this. If they were external, I’d go one step further and contact someone at the company that was offering the job.

    1. OP*

      Hey OP here – I think I did an update but it was pretty boring. I ignored the email – was never contacted again and then the recruiter kept trying to connect with me on LinkedIn so I blocked him. I think it was just one of those “you know someone on LinkedIn” situations and nothing malicious.

      Just to give some broader context, I’d only just moved to the country I was living in when this happened, it had taken longer than expected to get a role in my industry, and to be honest I was too afraid of the consequences to contact the recruiter’s management team/international headquarters in what was a tight-knit industry in a new city, in a new country.

      Interestingly, the job I did accept – I was told at my final interview that they wanted to rescope the role to match my skills and the recruitment agency would come back to me with an increased salary offer to reflect the rescope. And then the recruiter refused to budge on money…. so after a conference call with FOUR recruiters telling me I would regret not accepting and how poorly it would reflect on me, and me fresh off the plane in a new country, I turned it down.

      However, by this point I was pretty annoyed at recruiters in general and decided to email the recruiting manager (who gave me his business card at the interview) directly and politely tell him why I was turning the role down, who emailed back immediately, told me to sit tight and sorted it all out and fired that recruitment agency after I was hired.

      So recruiters eh, what a ride.

  9. Anonymous Educator*

    Alison’s 100% correct that even if there was some case to be made for candidates being responsible for background check fees in some instances, that should always be disclosed ahead of time, not invoiced for after a turned-down job offer.

  10. Jennifer*

    This reminds me of guys who send women invoices for what they spent on first dates after being informed there wouldn’t be a second one. Cost of doing business, fellas.

    1. Tasha*

      Reminds me of the bank that sent us an invoice for an appraisal, after we applied for and were turned down for a routine mortgage finance. I sent them a letter that basically said, “You’re kidding, right?”

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        How is that shady though? Part of getting mortgage approval is appraising the home to see if you qualify for the amount of the mortgage. The appraiser did their job and needs to get paid. It’s not free because you didn’t qualify. Or were you turned down before an appraisal was done?

        1. Devil Fish*

          Who typically pays for the appraisal, the homeowner or the mortgage lender?

          If it’s disclosed ahead of time to the applicant, then it’s a sunk cost and it makes sense to get a bill whether you’re approved or not. If it was never disclosed but the lender wants the applicant to pay it because they won’t make any money off the applicant, that seems a little shady.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            We have always paid for the appraisal, both as a buyer and when we refinanced. Sign-off on the cost of doing it with their person and the disclosure that we have the right to choose the appraiser and not go with the one recommended by the agent/broker have been part of every package. Appraisal is not cheap, and I’d be pretty pissed if it wasn’t included in the disclosures/total estimate.

            1. Devil Fish*

              Thank you for the information!

              This is really weird to me because my grandma has refinanced her mortgage numerous times and she’s never said anything about an appraisal, so I don’t know if that’s just because she’s been at the same small town bank for like 60+ years or she just never mentioned it.

              1. TardyTardis*

                Small town bank. They know what all their properties are worth and what the applicant’s real credit rating is, if only because the bank VP has a mom who works at the local beauty parlor and a cousin who works at the county property office.

        2. Tasha*

          It was a refinance with our existing mortgage holder, and no, the appraisal fee was not disclosed in advance. (Plus, the reason for turning us down was based information they already had in our file prior to the re-appraisal.)

          Just like the letter writer, it was the idea of springing a hitherto undisclosed fee at the end of the process that was wrong.

      2. Emily K*

        I did one of those 12-months-same-as-cash 0% deals on some new flooring last year. I set up autopayments from my bank to pay 1/12 of the balance every month and thus paid the whole balance within 12 months so I shouldn’t have incurred interest.

        Well, come month 13 they send me a bill for about $650 in interest (original charge was around $2600) because they claimed not to have received one of my payments until 7 days after the due date. Based on the confirmation from my bank, that would have meant it took 12 days for the check to go from my bank to the lender, since they sent it 5 days ahead of the due date.

        It took three phone calls and I got multiple nasty letters from them, all the while I firmly insisted that I was not going to pay $650 because the USPS apparently lost a check for a week on its way to the lender. On the first call the person I was speaking to on the phone was telling me they can’t be responsible for USPS so they only go by the date the payment was received by their office. I turned it back around and said I can’t be responsible for USPS either, I have proof from my bank the payment was sent in plenty of time to have reached you under normal circumstances, and I spoke with a lawyer who told me that the most common legal standard is to go by the postmark, not the date of receipt. She told me she’d have a manager call me back – nobody ever called and I got another bill in the mail a month later. A couple months later someone else called about the unpaid bill and apparently didn’t have any notes on my file so I had to explain the whole thing again.

        More bills, another phone call – I’m not sure they actually ever did officially agree with me but I at least haven’t heard from them in several months now and nothing has shown up on my credit report yet. I did some research into how easy it would be to dispute the item on my credit report and the answer is – not very. A dispute over how terms are executed isn’t as cut and dry as a dispute over whether there was an agreement to pay at all. Hoping they finally gave up.

        1. Meredith*

          I once had a government office claim they had not received some documents I had mailed (in a professional capacity) on time. Thankfully, I had sent them return receipt and produced the proof they had been signed for a day before the deadline. Cue an argument about how they weren’t ON THE PERSON’S DESK on that particular day and were late, to which I responded that I certainly couldn’t be held responsible for the envelope getting lost in their own agency’s mailroom after it left the hands of USPS, and perhaps they should track down the person who signed for it to find out why they had it for 2 days.

        2. Devil Fish*

          That lawyer is unfortunately full of shit, since businesses don’t keep track of envelopes and therefore have no record of the postmark on the mail they’ve received.

          Sending payments digitally is best because the money is tracked every step of the way, or certified mail if you want to have a record of when the payment was physically received. I really don’t understand why banks are still mailing out physical checks to do autopay (or ever): it is literally the worst and least secure way to send payments.

          1. Emily K*

            They may not keep track, but they should. It’s called “the mailbox rule” (“posting rule” in the UK) and in the U.S. it is case law in some states and actual law in others. In California, for instance, Civil Code section 1476:

            “If a creditor, or any one of two or more joint creditors, at any time directs the debtor to perform his obligation in a particular manner, the obligation is extinguished by performance in that manner, even though the creditor does not receive the benefit of such performance.”

            Courts have interpreted the act of posting a piece of mail qualifies as performance of the obligation, even if the creditor has not yet “received the benefit” (come into possession of the check).

            The mailbox rule also applies to court filings, tax return filing, and claiming a tax-deduction for a charitable gift. The postmark date is considered the date the filing/donation was made.

        3. nonegiven*

          If you do one of those deals with retroactive interest, pay it off a month or two early just to avoid this kind of thing.

        4. TardyTardis*

          You can check to see if your payment cleared the bank before the due date. Citibank used to be really slick about trying to claim a payment was late (especially on very low fixed-rate loans), but I was able to show them that the payment(s) in question was posted by *their* records in time. Oops.

  11. Ptarmigan*

    Yeah, there’s no way in hell I wouldn’t be sending a letter to this recruiter’s supervisor and my contact at the job that was being recruited for. This makes me so angry.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Ditto. I would say something like, “Someone is sending really stupid e-mails with your branding on them. You might want to fix that.” And then just attach the offensive e-mail to it. Works for either the recruiting firm or the client.

  12. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

    I would suggest sending them a bill and categorizing it as “Ask A Manager Entertainment Fee.”

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      PLEASE DO THIS! And also charge double, since the letter appeared here twice. This seems only fair.

  13. Parenthetically*


    “Sorry, I don’t have a line item in my budget for Butthurt Ransom Payments.”

    1. Neosmom*

      How about paying in Facebook Libras (or “Face Bucks” as I like to think of them)?

  14. Falling Diphthong*

    Man, the world of work would be different if post facto bitterness fees were a thing.

  15. Anne of Green Gables*

    So I’m wondering if I’m off base here, but aren’t background checks usually done on the successful candidate once they’ve accepted? So this recruiter jumped the gun in doing a check before the candidate accepted. Understandable, if the background check is required before the person can start, but still a risk.

    1. Justme, the OG*

      A lot of places here won’t extend an offer unless the applicant has passed a background check.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Regardless of the timing, it’s NOT the candidate’s expense unless the candidate has agreed in advance.

      1. Emelle*

        My main job required a background check that I had to pay for with a money order. (I had never done a money order before, so that was fun. Check that one off my bucket list.)
        My very PT job also required one, but they paid me back after I worked so many hours. But I knew I had to pay for both of them before it happened.

    3. Jennifer*

      I thought that too. That’s very dumb on their part. In my experience, the offer was always contingent on passing the background check and in some cases a drug test. They were so certain she would accept the offer they jumped the gun.

      1. Devil Fish*

        Most of the jobs I’ve had said they needed to get a cleared background check (and/or drug test) before they could make a detailed offer. Basically, they’ll say they want to make an offer but no specifics re benefits etc are given until the checks come back clean, and then the negotiation begins.

        Probably varies but company and industry and location, but I think it’s generally pretty shitty to put a candidate in a position where they accept the new job (and probably resign from their current job—especially with a compressed timeline like in this letter) and then leave them with nothing because of an issue with the background check.

        1. Jennifer*

          If the offer is contingent on the background check clearing, then you shouldn’t resign until you’re cleared.

          I get that it varies depending on the industry though.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*


            All of our offers are continent on background, reference, and conflict checks, and applicants are specifically asked not to resign any current position until they are fully cleared. We have only had to pull two offers, but I would have felt even worse if someone had already given up their current employment. It does take a bit longer to onboard people, but it just seems like the more courteous way to handle things.

          2. Devil Fish*

            I completely agree with you, but then the company shouldn’t be saying there will be an offer for a start date in a week or 2 if the background check will presumably take some time to go through.

            I’ve had to nope out of an offer that sounded like it would be a step up in every way because of the part where they wanted me to start the Monday after they got the all-clear to hire me (I was given this info Friday evening) and they were confused why I wouldn’t leave my current job with literally zero notice. I’d known they’d wanted to hire me for almost 2 weeks, so what was the issue?!

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      A lot of times it’s started right after you extend an offer because they can take awhile to come back, that way there’s less time between them formally accepting the offer and the check clearing.

      HOWEVER that’s the risk you take doing it!

      I have ran about 8 background checks in the last six months, all of which were on people who didn’t show up on their first day. Poof Ghosted. Did I send them a bill? No. I also didn’t pay $50 for the background check either, so there’s that.

      1. Sparkly Librarian*

        100% of the new hires that required background checks were no-shows? Really? Or have you done many background checks in that time period, and 8 of them were no-shows? Seems like the second must be it, unless you’re having truly terrible luck hiring.

        How much do background checks cost these days? I’ve been paying about $85 for a LiveScan (for a home study, but the same thing as if I’d been applying for a job).

  16. Alexis Rose*

    I had to a do a background check as part of getting security clearance. They couldn’t even offer me the job until I had secured the required clearance. I had made it through several rounds of testing/interviews and this was the last thing that i had to do before the offer was sent to me.

    My husband is applying to be a volunteer firefighter and had to get a background check done to include in his application package before he even had the interview with the fire chief.

    I think it really depends on the employer/type of job. I also had to get background checks for being a camp counselor and lifeguard (working with kiddos), but I don’t remember when in the process that was.

      1. TinLizi*

        I used to substitute teach for five different districts. I had to do a background check for each one. The district always paid. When a sixth district recruited me as a substitute, but said I had to pay for the background check, I passed on it.

  17. staceyizme*

    It’s a power grab, albeit small one. The recruiter has no standing to ask you to absorb client related business expenses and there’s no moral calculus which would give him standing. People can ask all kinds of things from you. “No” should be the default or your pockets will be picked, metaphorically speaking. I kind of worry about the idea that you should do something for another party if they’re nicer or at least can present a reason. You should emphatically NOT do anything that would cause you to spend time, money or even sympathy unless it aligns with your own values and serves a reasonable purpose. (In my estimation, in any case.)

    1. rldk*

      This is part of Alison’s Inc. series of re-answering old letters from the AAM archives, so you’ve probably read it before!

  18. Alli525*

    My only quibble with Alison’s advice is that OP should DEFINITELY have sent an email to the recruiter’s boss (or at least the info/support email account) to say “this is what your employee is doing and I think it’s misguided and rude.” Someone else in the future is going to receive a similar invoice and will be naive or non-confrontational enough to pay.

    I know it’s not an absolutely necessary step, but it’d be good karma.

  19. Laura*

    This was good advice on how to deal with crazy recruiters. I am admittedly a little sensitive, but the Xanax joke comes across in poor taste. Many people need it for uncontrollable panic and anxiety, so making a joke that it will calm down laughter seems impetuous. But’s that just me, and I’m sure I’m in the minority. However, I love this blog and the info it has given me.

    1. an infinite number of monkeys*

      Definitely! That was the only part of Alison’s response that I disagreed with.

  20. Kimmy Schmidt*

    Not the point of the letter, but am I correct in reading that teachers often have to pay for their own background checks???

    1. Namelesscommentator*

      And their fingerprinting.

      (& their school supplies etc… but that all feels much more widely known).

    2. Justme, The OG*

      Yes. For initial licensure and renewals in my state rather than individual hires. State and FBI specifically looking for child maltreatment issues.

    3. Devil Fish*

      Safe bet to keep in mind that teachers generally have to pay for their own everything. I know so many people who have left education because they couldn’t afford to stay in. It’s gross and they deserve so much better.

    4. Notyetateacher*

      It’s really random. I had to pay for mine to be a sub, and then I got to use that background check for my school when I go into a school to observe, but I was hired on as a para educator for this school year, had to have a background check, again, but the district paid for it this time.

    5. Booksalot*

      DHS child abuse clearance, state police criminal record check, and federal criminal record check/fingerprinting ran me close to $300 just to get a chance to be put on a substitute list. No guarantee of actually getting called, just getting on the list. Districts near me were paying on average $90 a day at the time.

      1. Zephy*

        I mean, I would much rather a school district take that kind of thing seriously and make sure all their i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, but sticking the teachers with the bill is still shitty.

      2. Dara*

        I WISH the district I sub for paid that much a day. Background check, TB test, and fingerprinting didn’t cost that much, but the school system I work in is roughly $45/day.

    6. Elsajeni*

      It’s often done when you’re applying for your teaching license, not when you’re hired by a specific school or district, so in that respect it makes sense — there’s no employer yet who’s interested in hiring you, you’re just asking the state to certify that you’re qualified, so you pay for your own background check just as you pay for your own college transcripts, standardized exams, etc. that are also part of the licensure application.

      1. Luisa*

        Where I live (Massachusetts) it is per-district, not as part of the licensure application. It’s the same company that handles the fingerprints and background checks, though, so I really don’t understand why we have to pay and have it done again for every district! I worked one year in District A, got a summer job with a non-profit, and then got a new full-time job in District B. 3 fingerprint appointments, 3 background checks, 3 payments out of pocket for said checks in the space of a year.

    7. New Jack Karyn*

      In Oregon, I had to pay for my own background check when I got hired as a clerk in a high school. Not a teacher, a clerk. That was like $75, in 2006, and I’d been unemployed for a while.

    8. TinLizi*

      In California, it depends on the district. As a substitute teacher in five districts, I didn’t have to pay. One district wanted me to, so I decided not to sub there.

    9. Loves Libraries*

      In Georgia you have to get fingerprinted and a background check. Largest public school system makes teachers pay for it but smaller private schools have had me sign a release and then they would get it. Public library here is run by the school system and employees have to pay for their own background checks.

  21. Meredith*

    The thing is, the OP obviously can’t save face professionally with this guy. Even if they pay him, he’s not going to want to use them to try to fill a role in the future (can you imagine contacting someone after having this type of tantrum?) and the OP absolutely, positively doesn’t want to work with him again. The OP doesn’t need a reference, doesn’t need a professional favor… so there’s absolutely nothing to lose by deleting that email. Actually, no, I’d move it to a folder of things I want to save forever because they are just so unbelievably hilarious.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Someone else mentioned that above, but how could it? I always assumed a bill ended up in collections because you signed some sort of agreement for payment. But if OP didn’t sign anything, how would they legally be able to send it to a collections agency?

      1. pamela voorhees*

        I assume they’d send it regardless of legality. There’s plenty of shady collection agencies out there who won’t care whether or not the charge is valid.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          They don’t get to report to the credit agencies. They will make you think your credit is jeopardy but that’s malarkey, they have no access to your credit report.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That’s pretty much impossible. The credit bureaus don’t process these kinds of things.

      It’s only when you default on something that you’ve signed a contract for that will show on your report. That’s why they make you sign things when you have big purchases to protect themselves.

      Some scammer saying you owe them $50 and sending you a fake invoice is not going to hurt your credit score.

      This is also where the Fair Debt Collection Act will come into effect as well.

      If a credit agency took it, they would threaten and act like it’s going to hurt you but in reality, they’re going to just turn around and tell the recruiter company to write it off and shred the claim. I’ve had legit, larger bills sent to a collections agency and that’s their response when someone simply refuses to pay.

      Only if you want to drag them into court and have the right paperwork will you ever damage someones credit report in the end.

      1. Joie De Vivre*

        Not always – I had a collection company contact me about the debt (from a rental) of someone with a similar name. I ignored it. I found out later that even though the names didn’t match, the debtor had never been associated with my address or phone number, and either they DIDN’T HAVE an SSN or the SSNs didn’t match – they still reported to the credit bureaus as my debt.

        I got it removed, but it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

  22. Cruciatus*

    Would it be worth it to email the recruiting company about his behavior? If he did this to one person, he did this to other people. Maybe he’s pocketing this money if people actually pay it. Or maybe even beyond that this is just not how they operate and would be horrified to know this.

    I’ve never been recruited so I don’t know if this makes sense, but just thought maybe emailing the company who hired him or the company he’s recruiting for (if they aren’t one and the same) might be worth it. “Hey, Mike just sent me an invoice for turning down a job. I thought it was strange and just thought you’d like to know!”

  23. Candid Candidate*

    I’m curious what you make of the fact that the accounting team sent the invoice, not the recruiter himself. Seems like it may allude to the fact that the recruiting agency is shady AF, not just the recruiter.

    1. Zephy*

      A shady af recruiter probably either has an accomplice in accounting, or has no qualms about spoofing an email such that it appears to come from the accounting department.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Maybe he’s pocketing the money and splitting the take with the accomplice in accounting….

    2. OP*

      haha I don’t think it’s as shady as having an accomplice or spoofing emails. I’ve worked in plenty of environments where expenses or invoices can just be requested by an approved person – the accounts admin person was just doing their job as instructed by the recruiter, I doubt they even really knew/understood/were responsible for the implication of invoicing me for the background check.

  24. Cube Ninja*

    If I’m honest, I’d be awfully tempted to reply with a copy of a dry cleaning bill “for wetting myself with laughter” at their request.

    Once in a while if you’re burning a bridge anyway, it’s fun to use the napalm. :)

  25. PollyQ*

    I suppose it would have been unprofessional to reply “Ha ha ha f*ck you,” but I’m not sure that would’ve stopped me if I’d gotten that email.

      1. PollyQ*

        You will perhaps not be surprised to learn that I myself was a database developer for many years.

  26. Linzava*

    Hi OP,

    Allison is 100% right. I’d like to add, if you choose to email someone above him. Make sure to use the term “invoice fraud” because that’s what it is. People have gone to jail for this crime and phrasing it that way will be harder for the boss to ignore.

  27. Chris C.*

    This response taught me that the word “poing” is French for “fist”. Also, that Inc. needs to invest in a spell checker.

  28. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I’m part of a closed-group on Facebook for recruiters, and someone recently messaged the group with a question. He’d asked a client to take an informal look at someone’s resume – he wasn’t presenting the person for an actual job, they were new acquaintance or some such – and asked for advice. The referred party was thinking about selling their small business and finding a role in the same industry, the recruiter wasn’t sure how to advise him, and the client is an industry expert. The client talked to the person and, surprise, decided to invest in the job seeker’s business.

    The recruiter asked the group, ‘How do I bill for this?’ I’m happy to say most of the group said, ‘You don’t. Your client didn’t hire the person so you can’t charge a fee. He didn’t agree to pay you a finder’s fee for a business venture, so there was no agreement in place. Call this good karma and doing the right thing.’ It’s worth noting the only people who thought differently live in Europe, and things like this are more common. Or so I’ve heard.

    So, maybe there’s hope.

  29. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    *knows that OP has another offer and will end up declining at least one of them*
    *sets a ridiculously close start date*
    *is shocked that OP declines so close to the start date*

    Like… the recruiter did this to himself? He has some gall to try and make the short notice the OP’s fault. That’s before we even get to the inane invoice he sent.

    1. Kella*

      This was my favorite part! They set a start date that was soon because they knew that the OP could be available that soon. The OP took a couple days to decide whether or not to take the job, which seems typical. How much sooner could he have said no without being psychic???

  30. big X*

    Dear lord, I saw the title and audible went “AGAIN?”

    Luckily it’s just the old one! (although I am sure this wasn’t and will not be the last time someone tries these shenanigans)

  31. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    Reminds me of the time I was offered a job through an agency – I declined as it wasn’t right for me at the time, and gave valid reasons why not.

    The agency kept coming back saying that the employer had offered things that were the opposite of what I’d said I wanted, then couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t change my mind. After a couple of weeks, when I eventually persuaded him to let it drop, he flipped out at me, saying he wouldn’t put me forward for any more vacancies, I had messed them around etc.

    Some time later, someone else from the same agency phoned and asked if I was still looking for a position. I said no (I’d found something else in the meantime) and then took great pleasure in explaining why not.

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