I am a foreigner from overseas I just arrived in UK 3 months ago.

I have been working for a small startup in UK as CTO, my employer didn't want to give me an employment contract of any type, or founders agreement, he said he had given me so many vested shares but I have given him no info/passport/id for him to put the shares against or sign anything, he pays me weeks late.

I received a better offer at another company.

The CEO has been sending me unethical messages and now wants to take me to court to try and get back everything he paid me, unless I submit to his mutual agreement and send back all the money he paid me.

What should I do?

  • 1
    "he said he had given me so many vested shares but I have given him no info/passport/id for him to put the shares against": did he put it in writing? If not, can you document his promise through other means? He may owe you those shares in any case, or you may already own them even if he did not have your passport number; it's not necessarily required to have a copy of your ID.
    – phoog
    Jun 18 '19 at 15:16
  • 6
    It's worth noting that in the UK an employment contract doesn't have to be written down to be valid, and after a certain amount of time a standard one is legally deemed to be in force for things like notice periods et al.
    – user4210
    Jun 18 '19 at 20:12
  • 2
    You need to learn the most important sentences in English. The first is, "No". It's useful in a wide variety of situations. The second is, "You must contact my solicitor, Mr/Ms XYZ, regarding this and any other matters. His/her number is 12345 678901. Good day". Obviously, contact the solicitor ahead of time regarding your back wages, the harassment from the owner, etc. Say this all in one go, talk over the top of the other person, and hang up when you've said your piece. Make a record of date and time the former boss called, and keep your solicitor up-to-date on this. Jun 18 '19 at 23:50
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    have you been in possession of a U.K. visa that permits employment? This doesn't have anything to do with his ridiculous demands, but it is a zinger you might get hit with if this thing gets too formal... Jun 19 '19 at 0:52
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    @alephzero I see no evidence that the employment is illegal. As far as I know - I am not a lawyer - a verbal agreement between employer and employee is legal in the UK. Also, all citizens of the EU (and some more European countries) are allowed to enter the UK and work without any need of a visa. The OP hasn't told us what county they are from (only "overseas"). Jun 19 '19 at 11:16

What should I do?

Don't get intimidated, don't sign/accept/submit to his "agreement" now that you are securing employment elsewhere, and make sure that henceforth all your communications with the CEO & his startup be --or continue to be-- in writing.

The CEO's attempt to be reimbursed is pure non-sense because hitherto there is no mutually agreed clause between you two to that effect. Generally speaking, compensation is for the professional's work, not for his employment spanning "n" pay periods. Having there been no employment/founders agreement of any type, he will be unable to prove that this was agreed any differently in your case.

Furthermore, the CEO's threat to seek reimbursement of your earned compensation unless you submit to his "mutual" agreement not only amounts to extortion, but it also reflects his cluelessness about contract law. For instance, that contracts which are signed under hardship or duress are voidable.

By contrast, submitting to his conditions will needlessly impose on you the burden of proving duress once you decide the situation is unsustainable. This is in addition to the legal weight with which your acceptance and subsequent conduct would support the CEO's allegation(s) that you two have "at all times" been in a cognizable contractual relation.

Being realistic, it is highly doubtful that a startup which pays you weeks late is able --or even willing-- to spend money on a lawyer for nonsense like this.

  • 4
    Perhaps he was paying late because of cash flow problems stemming from legal fees related to other former employees. But I agree that it's probably bluster and he's unlikely to hire a lawyer. Why else would he not "want to give me an employment contract of any type"?
    – phoog
    Jun 18 '19 at 15:26
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    @phoog "Perhaps he was paying late because of cash flow problems stemming from legal fees related to other former employees" Haha, absolutely. Being cash-strapped is understandable and unfortunate, but the context altogether suggests that the CEO is a mess in terms of morals and of running a company. Jun 18 '19 at 20:43
  • 4
    @IñakiViggers Thanks for the response, has really uplifted my day after getting bullied this morning. I still haven't been paid for last month as well but I'll take it as a loss unless he takes this to court.
    – EthicalGuy
    Jun 18 '19 at 21:51
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    @Ethical He won't take it to court because he knows he won't win. You've done work and he has paid you for it. Unless he's an idiot, he's well aware that he won't win - and I think he is, since he wants you to sign a contract to say you'll pay him - and he's just probably bluffing to try and get money from you
    – Llama
    Jun 19 '19 at 2:04
  • @Iñaki Viggers I was also going to give two weeks notice, I came in on Monday after I finished(day one) he took my key to access the building as well as all the accounts I handed over to him as he found a freelancer to continue where I finished. I then I messaged him: I'm not sure if you need me to come in now. He said "Yep that's fine" then said any attempts to access documents, logins, any IP will be reported, and I cannot access the facilities without approval(Fair enough requirements) then said the next day I only gave him two days notice with all the other abuse.
    – EthicalGuy
    Jun 19 '19 at 12:54

What should I do?

I would take one of two approaches. Either

  1. Ignore him until he actually takes you to court, at which point hire a lawyer, or

  2. Hire a lawyer now and demand that he communicate with you only through your lawyer.

I would prefer the first course of action because I assume that either he will run out of steam eventually and stop bothering you, or he will actually go to a lawyer who should point out to him that he has no basis for the demands he is making and refuse to take the case.

If he persists in harassing you, though, at some point you'll want to go to the second option. This will cost a bit of money, but it might be worthwhile if it protects you from the stress of his bullying.

As implied in another answer, I note that putting you under pressure to "submit" to his demands is not consistent with the meaning of "mutual agreement." I agree with that answer when it says that he is unlikely to be willing or able to hire a lawyer, and I wonder whether that is the reason he avoided giving you a contract in the first place: he didn't want to spend money on a lawyer.

  • 5
    The "hire a lawyer now" is dangerous, because he can deal you the "death of 1000 cuts" - just keep contacting your lawyer over and over with matters that are trivial, but not quite trivial enough to be blatantly vexatious, and your lawyer has to deal with every one, and you get the bill the lawyer's time on every contact and research. Jun 19 '19 at 0:53
  • @Harper that is a good point.
    – phoog
    Jun 19 '19 at 1:59
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    @Harper That's common in the US, but not so much in civilized countries. Note the difference between en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_rule_(attorney%27s_fees) and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_rule_(attorney%27s_fees) . In the UK, where the OP says he resides, "death of a 1000 cuts" is a dangerous thing to try unless you have a very solid case (and even then).
    – Will
    Jun 19 '19 at 7:44
  • @Will The English rule certainly applies if the case goes to court, but if the CEO never takes it to court, then it is very hard for the OP to recover his costs. Jun 19 '19 at 9:51
  • @MartinBonner True to an extent, but the CEO would need to be very careful to not give his employee enough of a case for the CEO ending up being the one to be taken to court -- a dangerous game of poker either way.
    – Will
    Jun 19 '19 at 9:58

Don't bother spending your money on a lawyer: those threats sound like bluff. You can always hire one when your former employer brings you to court, which (taking into account the absurdity of his claims) will most certainly be "never".

Don't sign any agreements now, unless you need something to be signed (and in that case, make sure you understand what you're signing). You can collect messages from your former employer (if they call, tell them right away that you're going to record the call) and see if you can sue them for extortion. You will need a lawyer for that, and based on what you described it will likely not worth the trouble.

  • 1
    "Extortion" is not a civil wrong in England and Wales. (It's a crime, but I doubt the OP wants to get into a private prosecution.) He might be able to sue for "harassment" but it would have to get pretty bad for that to be worthwhile. Jun 19 '19 at 10:39

Get a lawyer.

Maybe he actually has legal standing, maybe he hasn't. A professional lawyer can look at all the paperwork and then advise you what to do. Anonymous strangers on the internet are not going to be of any use to you, because they don't know all the details.

  • 6
    We strangers never know all the details of an OP's matter, but we can certainly highlight the legal implications of what the OP describes and provide some starting points for him to do further research if he deems it necessary. Jun 18 '19 at 13:49
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    Probably a lawyer will say that you can actually sue him for having employed you without a contract.
    – Pere
    Jun 18 '19 at 21:14
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    @Pere There is an implicit contract. If I start working for you and you don't stop me, and you pay me and I keep what you give me, then we have an implicit contract.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 18 '19 at 22:00
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    @Pere Sue him on what grounds? Jun 18 '19 at 22:00
  • @DavidRicherby - I don't know about UK low, but in other countries employing somebody without a contract is against employees rights and it can even be a crime. noticias.juridicas.com/base_datos/Penal/lo10-1995.l2t15.html If the OP were in Spain I'm sure the employee could at least get the employer fined, and he would likely be entitled to some compensation. The only defence the employer could claim is that theirs wasn't an employer-employee relation, but according to the OP's description that would be hard to prove. Even if UK law is very different, the employee has the high ground.
    – Pere
    Jun 19 '19 at 14:49

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