I’m being taken advantage of, how do I regain control?

A young lady I will call Mary writes:

While working at a fabric store, a business owner asked if I could sew prototypes for him. He said he only needed someone who could sew simple items. He was paying $10/hr so I went on to sew many prototypes for him.

Two months later he said that he wanted my pattern. I asked for a raise for the hard work I made on this pattern. He doesn’t want to give me a raise nor will he give me credit for creating the pattern. He said he would write me a letter of recommendation and mention my contribution as “HELP IN DEVELOPMENT”. Bottom line is, no one helped me. I worked alone in the office he provided for me, and created the whole instruction manual myself (with detailed, symmetrical computerized how to pictures).

Since the duties and required skills of your job had increased, the best time to have asked for a raise would have been when you began to develop the pattern. As it seems to stand, you’ll have to rely on your employer’s good will to get a bonus. The only exception would be if you developed the pattern on your own time and for which you were not compensated. If you were on your own time, your employer wouldn’t be entitled to anything you’d done -barring of course, that you were salaried or had signed an employment contract.

As far as getting credit… if you’re going to make patterns regularly, you should know you won’t ever get credit for it (or so seldom that it is nearly never). Not only that but you shouldn’t seek credit or even use recent customer’s names to market your services. Put it this way, if someone wanted to knock off one of your previous customers, the best way to do it would be to hire their old pattern maker so this is why it isn’t considered proper to do it.

I can’t debate that you were probably underpaid but there is little to be done about it after the fact. Consider the alternative, that you had hired someone to render a service for you that you don’t know much about. How would it be if the worker came to you after the job was done and said X portion of the work cost more than you’d agreed to pay? If you don’t know much about it, it may seem to be all the same job and you may get the idea that the worker was trying to get more than his due. I think you would agree that the worker should have come to you before doing that portion of the job to say X costs more so you could have negotiated beforehand. What I mean to say is that it is possible that your employer doesn’t know much (I would say that is highly likely since he was looking for stitchers at a fabric store) and for him, drafting and sewing is the same job. Many people think this is the case; I have seen many ads on Craigslist where someone soliciting stitchers will require that they each make their own pattern -which as an aside, is nothing other than an unmitigated disaster in the making. In sum, it is better to assume incompetence rather than malice.

Unfortunately, this is one of those times you will probably have to chalk it off to a lesson learned.

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  1. KS says:

    The message from the lady doesn’t say if she gave the pattern or not. :( I hope she hasn’t given to him yet.. If not, now is the time, to quit.

    If you already provided the pattern, there’s nothing you can do at this stage. Either way, quit and move on.

    Next time, if they ask you to make prototype, ask for their block upfront. If they don’t have one, tell them it would be much extra to create one.

    So sorry you were taken advantage of at $10/hr.. That seems too less pay for for prototype even before taking the pattern into consideration.

  2. Dee Dee Butler says:

    Kathleen,what would you include in a contract to protect yourself? Or would there be a contract at all?

    Thank you for this information!

  3. Natasha E says:

    Several years ago I worked as a instructor/sales associate in a knitting store. We were expected to write patterns for customers and knit up samples as part of the regular paycheck. ($12hr) I only wrote patterns for the store I never knit instore samples but mainly because I was too busy creating class samples. Those I didn’t mind so much since I go paid $10/hr per student sometimes with 12 students in a class.

    When it comes down to it if you agreed to it and you got paid then that puts in the the same category as unhappy underpaid workers everywhere.

  4. Sarah_H. says:

    For future reference, as soon as the work escalates from what one is hired to do, you need to renegotiate the contract. Mary was hired to sew. As soon as pattern work entered the picture, there should have been a change in compensation.

    Is this an ongoing situation? Nothing says you have to keep working for this guy. You could try to stick to the sewing you were hired to do, unless you just want the experience with patterns. Experience is valuable. Everything you learned working for this man will make you more valuable to someone else, both the pattern work and the experience with the technical drawings.

  5. Marilee says:

    Mary was hired to do a job. She agreed to do it. I completely agree that once she realized it would take additional time and skill to do it, she should have gone to her employer and asked for better compensation, or made a decision at that time about how much extra effort she was going to need put into the job. Certainly, she should have been compensated for whatever reasonable time she spent working on the prototypes. If she was “on the clock” when she did the work, she’s not entitled to anything after the fact.

    However, in the here and now, the employer holds all the cards from her creativity because he paid her to do the work for him. It’s really the same as with any employment situation … the employer owns the work product [unless they had negotiated a different arrangement], not the worker. It doesn’t matter if it’s construction, engineering, designing flow charts, window dressing, architectural drawings, etc.

  6. Jen says:

    In terms her legal rights, this situation may depend upon the state that “Mary” works in. The pattern work may still be considered part of her job, and if she works on an hourly basis, the employer–a fabric store– is likely obligated to pay her for that work. (Note: employer vs. a client). With employment like it is these days, Mary faces a tough choice if the employer resists paying her wage. If she’s a not a contract worker (distinct from an employment contract) and she is paid hourly OR salaried she can get info and/or file a complaint with the local dept of labor for unpaid wages. Salaried wages may be subject to a cap for the purpose of a complaint, but in some states still qualifies for the protection. Of course, even though it would be illegal, the employer may fire her for filing a complaint. (Separately, there is the concept of quantum meruit, which would also obligate the client to pay for the work done, on a basis of fairness).

  7. Hi Mary

    Unfortunately as already explained above, any work you do whilst on the employers time, using the employers resources, is owned by the employer.

    Only you know the working relationship you have with your boss and how much you want your job, if he is the type of bully that would sack you if you refused a duty, and how much he wants you to write more patterns. If you feel he really needs the services and he is a fair minded boss, it gives you the opportunity to negotiate with him.

    For any future requests some things you could point out to him:

    a) by writing patterns for him you are increasing his revenue

    b) the duties are outside your normal scope of duties (hope you have a contract or position description of some kind that lists the duties you are expeced to do)

    c) with your specialst skills you are assisting him to provide additional services/products

    d) to hire a professional pattern maker he would be paying a great deal more

    This boss is simply taking advantage of you, and trust me, he knows it. You have a specialist skill he needs, if he were to pay professionally for the service you are providing him it would be costing him a lot more.

    Look up the rate of pay pattern makers are normally paid in your area and use that as your negotiating point, you may be happy to offer him a reduced rate to keep you on staff as his pattern maker, remember though that anything you develop will belong to him if you continue to do the work as an employee.

    Offer to write the patterns in a consultative capacity out of hours, again you may be happy to negotiate a reduced rate for him. That way you get to keep ‘development’ rights, get paid specifically for what you are doing, and you remain in your regular job at the fabric store, he gets the service at a cheaper rate than he would if he took it elsewhere.

    If he is a decent person, he will respect what you are asking, if he is an #$%hole he wont care and personally I would be looking for other work and giving him nothing.

    You have specialist skills that many people would pay good money for, dont allow yourself to be used and taken advantage of. Remember, anything you negotiate get it written in your contract of employement, or as an agreement for services provided as a sub-contractor. Protect yourself.

  8. Grace says:

    I’m taking this online class about copyright:

    Even if you are not enrolled in the class, all the class materials are available via links from the page above.

    Pay attention to the works for hire sections. Your employer owns your designs if they fall under the scope of normal work for that job. If you were hired to sew simple items, and paid $10/hour to do so, then pattern-making is outside the scope of your job. No one can reasonably claim that they hired a pattern maker for $10/hour.

    Politely tell him that he paid you to sew and you did.

    If he wants to pay you to be a pattern maker, then he needs to write a contract and pay you like one. Hold on to .your. pattern.

  9. Kathleen says:

    Reading these comments, I am dismayed that people presume malice of the employer. There is no need to describe someone as abusive or use expletives to do it.

    Remember: Never attribute to malice, that which can be explained by stupidity (Hanlon’s Razor). I mentioned this in my post, please heed it.

    As I said above, I believe the employer didn’t know any better. You have no idea how many emails or calls I get from people who do not know there is even such a thing as pattern making much less that stitchers don’t provide this service as a matter of course. Many land on this site, hunt and peck around till they find the About page and call or write me about doing some sewing for them. If I mention the matter of patterns, they say that is my job as a “seamstress” (see, they don’t even know it’s not my job) and that if I need something like that, I should provide it if I want the work.

    Most of them do not say this arrogantly; they genuinely do not know the difference. You all know differently because you hang out here but you are not the average person on the internet.

    Another tack: I’ve seen patterns made by people who were paid $10 an hour and in my opinion, they were overpaid. I feel it would be an error to presume that “Mary” is qualified to the extent of others you know from this site (or know to know from this site or similar ones). I’m not saying Mary is incompetent by any means but professionalism by declaration all too often falls short of competencies expected among peers.

    It boils down to this: Mary and her employer entered into an agreement. If Mary expected additional pay for the pattern portion of the job, she needed to state such because it is extremely likely (again, based on my 20 years experience working with newbies and do recall this guy was looking for hired help in a fabric store!) that the employer did not know these were not the same job. There remain many places in the world where sewing and pattern making is the same job (all of Asia, best as I can tell).

  10. Dee says:

    I agree with Kathleen’s last post. Giving people the benefit of the doubt has saved many of my working relationships! I’m currently on the “other side” so to speak. I am a business owner wanting to produce a product for which there are extremely few experts in my location. I was lucky enough to find one small shop with the necessary expertise to make patterns and sew. They custom-make and manufacture small amounts and I think in the custom-make area it’s quite common for the service provider to keep the pattern (right?). However, I want to manufacture (small amounts first, starting in the service provider’s small factory and see how it goes) so I need to own the pattern and am of course happy to pay for it. But they won’t sell it to me. I am looking for other pattern makers, but feel that it would be important for me to understand the practical reasons why I need to own the pattern (the design is my own). What could happen if I sell products that I don’t own the pattern for?

  11. Kathleen says:

    All of my jobs are “custom-make”. I do not own the patterns for any of them; the customer does.

    It is common for small shops, being out of the loop, not knowing what is acceptable. They’ve been doing what they’ve been doing and you’re the first to complain so in their mind, you’re the problem.

    Imagine the worst; that is the potential extent of your problem.

    I wrote a book on how to do all this, consider reading it.

  12. Dee says:

    Thanks! Yes, it did seem strange that the shop was charging me for time spent making the pattern without me actually owning it afterwards.

    Am definitely planning to order the book once I’m in a country where shipping costs aren’t exorbitant and mail actually arrives.

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