update: my new employer is funded by my old employer and they’re making me still work for them

Remember the reader whose new employer was funded by her old employer — and the old employer was insisting that she continue to do work for them? Here’s the update.

Unfortunately, the situation I wrote about only escalated after my inquiry. I did (finally!) get a telephone conference to discuss my time with my manager and the ad-hoc HR/CFO/COO who originally made the agreement with my former employer. My management both agreed that the former employer needed to finish the project on their own because my new employer did not want to pay me for the week I would need to finish running former employer’s work – even though they acknowledged they wanted me to use the results. (To clarify some confusion by readers, think of the work in question as scenario analyses: I had to compile various inputs, put each through the same set of calculations, and spit out completed summary files for each different set of inputs. I had been delayed because I was finding serious errors in the input files I was given, which made the summary files nonsense if I didn’t spend the time fixing the inputs).

When I iterated to my former employer that I did not have time to continue working for free and I would be willing to do consulting work on the side, the response I got back simply asked where they could find the completed summary files (I responded to clarify that my not being finished meant the summary files were not yet completed). Even better, I began to receive emails from the person that was hired to take over the project asking how to re-create the entire year-long analysis from scratch. Mind you, although I would not consider it fully training, I did walk this same person through how to run all steps of the process from my files twice and left a manual — only to find out that the reason she was asking to re-create everything was because, 4 months later, she never bothered to learn or download the software (Access) that housed my files and she was still not aware of basic concepts needed to identify errors in the input files. So, I actually found myself in an even stickier situation- my former employer was livid that I could not finish, I had no one competent to hand off the completion of the project, and my current employer wanted me to use the results but not take the time to finish. At this point, I made the decision that trying to keep my former employer happy and keep a positive professional reputation was most important to job hunting to get out of this situation ASAP. Due to the fact that this replacement employee made it impossible to hand over any semi-finished work, I wrapped up and delivered the fraction of the project summary files that I could finish over the next 2 weekends – on my own time- to try to salvage a positive reference.

However, after this conversation (and a positive performance review), I began to hit retaliation from my current manager: berating my work in front of the rest of the team, avoiding/not reading emails with deliverables, being openly critical of my ideas until the CEO expressed her stamp of approval, and missing phone conferences (I was in a different office cross-country so stopping by was not possible). To top it off, he requested late one Friday evening a huge set of analyses designed to support his “hunch” (his word, not mine – not to be based on any research or numbers) to be finished over the weekend on top of other impending deadlines. Because I really didn’t know how he expected me to fabricate the write-ups when everything I researched over the weekend contradicted his “hunch,” I was writing an email update requesting clarification when the manager called. When I mentioned that further work on his request would conflict with everything we had designed to date, and that further work on this request would prevent my ability to meet major deadlines, he began yelling for a good 20 minutes that I was “not doing my job.” After this particularly nasty phone call, I wrote an email very politely explaining that I did not appreciate the disrespectful tone I had received and asked in the future to keep our appointments (which he requests) so that we could address any concerns he might have about my work in a more timely manner. My requests for a follow-up meeting were ignored every day for the next week, until I was brought in and my contract ended because my work was “too advanced and no longer needed.”

Thank goodness unemployment insurance recognized that I was misclassified all along, like you and many readers commented. My situation is, unfortunately, not unique; I have since been contacted by other candidates asking about this company and they too have had similar situations of unprofessional behavior in the offer process (i.e. contract-only offers and errors/”miscommunications”). While I am unfortunately still unemployed, I am much better now (physically and emotionally) and looking forward to the opportunity to have a fresh start.

So, the morals of my story would follow much of the advice posted more eloquently elsewhere on your blog:
1) Pay careful attention to any red flags in the hiring process, regardless of whether they are framed as miscommunications, because it really is indicative of the company,
2) Be vary wary of managers who are hot-tempered in any conversation that doesn’t fluff their feathers,
3) Push companies about independent contractor/employee status at the offer stage, and of course,
4) Do not take a position with any association to your former employer, no matter the reputation of the new company and no matter how dire your situation.

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. Yup

    Yowza. I’m sorry you went through all that, OP. You sound extremely knowledgeable and skilled in your work, and I hope something good comes your way soon. :)

    On the flip side, both of these organizations sound hopelessly dysfunctional. Egads, you could have a bingo tournament listing all the things they’re doing wrong.

  2. ThursdaysGeek

    Moral 5: If you leave a job, you are in no way obligated to help them finish work, especially if you tried to do a hand off. It’s their responsibility to hire someone competent, their work, their problem. It is not more professional to make it your problem.

    1. Stryker

      Moral 5.1:…Even if you want a positive work reference out of it. A grudgingly nice reference is not worth heartache and ulcers.

      1. Ruffingit

        Agreed and in some cases simply daring to leave the company is going to destroy any good reference you are due anyway because the boss is just that psycho. Do what you can in the time you give (2 weeks, whatever) and then move on.

  3. AMG

    You learned from it, and will never walk into a situation like that again–that’s the important thing. Sorry it didn’t work out better, but happy for you that you are out of that environent.

  4. Shelley

    Ouch. Sorry to hear, OP; it sounds like you’re well rid of both those workplace for sure.

    It definitely sounds like you know your stuff; would there be any employees from either workplace willing to vouch for you during your job hunting? Finishing off summary files in two weekends on your own time is definitely beyond the call of duty, and hopefully there are people willing to go to bat for you, even if your management won’t.

  5. Anon for this one

    Alright, I’ll be the bad guy – is it possible that the employers were right? I mean, just look at how many times the OP mentions in BOTH posts that s/he missed deadlines, didn’t complete work, couldn’t train the replacement, etc. It sounds to me like maybe the OP just wasn’t that great of an employee.

    Obviously, medical emergencies happen (post one). And of course, people get sick (post two). And of course there are lots of bad managers (all managers mentioned in both posts, if I’m not mistaken), bad team members (s/he mentions being the technical lead of a team in post one – what happened to the rest of the team?) and bad employees (the replacement). But whenever someone complains about multiple factors in different offices, I get suspicious. Maybe it’s the employee, if they’re the only common factor.

    Just looking at this from the employer’s point of view, if I have this right: they hired an employee to work on a technical project as the team lead. The employee was sick for several months, and the project fell badly behind. All the money budgeted for the project was likely spent on building the team, leaving no extra money for hiring another person at the last minute in addition to the one who got sick. Then the sick employee who delayed the project comes back, refuses to speed up the process, and fights with the manager. Then the manager finds out that said employee is not only looking for another job, but has already accepted another position and STILL hasn’t finished the project s/he was hired to do. I’d be furious!

    Especially if this person was hired as a contract worker (I don’t think it said but I might be wrong), the bottom line is that they were hired to to a job and didn’t finish it. I understand medical emergencies, but I also understand budgets: if there was a certain amount designated for this budget and it’s already been spent, it’s no surprise they’re reluctant to pay him/her more (especially if the replacement is already in place and getting paid).

    Alright, you may now proceed to rip me apart.

    1. Meg

      I can understand where you’re coming from, but even if the OP wasn’t a model employee, I think the employer’s actions trump any possible issues with the OP in question. She says they gave her a positive performance review – if she wasn’t up to par, they should have sat her down and discussed the issue at hand. And the other behaviors she mentioned (avoiding emails, publicly berating her, etc) are downright unprofessional; any issues need to be handled privately. Finally, even if the OP was a terrible employee, she absolutely should not work for free. Period. And that, I think, is what this really comes down to, and even if everything else was her fault, asking her to work for free puts the blame on her old employer. I get that they don’t want to pay two people (the OP and her replacement) to do the same job, but making someone work for free is completely illegal and morally wrong.

      1. Anon for this one

        1. “Making someone work for free is completely illegal and morally wrong” – Well, except the internship cycle that most people in their 20s are stuck in. But that’s beside the point.

        2. She’s not necessarily working for free. I’m not sure what type of employee she was, but if it was contract or project based, then the company hired her to do a job, paid her while she was still employed (the first post makes no mention of any missing payments while still employed with the first company), and didn’t get the product. She mentions it was a year-long project, so to me, that would imply that this was a limited term position with a set payment agreed upon by both parties, as opposed to a continuing project that would earn a regular salary. She then says that she was out for several months – that’s a huge chunk of the project’s time. We don’t know if she got paid or benefits during this time. However, if she did, then she’s still far behind on the work that she agreed to and got paid for (at least some percentage).

        Additionally, she mentions that the new person asked how to re-do the entire project from scratch. Now, unless this is time-sensitive data that would have expired during the transition between OP and the employee (and the letter would imply that it isn’t, as she was surprised by the request), why would the replacement need to start over? OP blames it on the replacement’s incompetence, but OP blames EVERYTHING on someone’s incompetence. To me, it sounds like the replacement didn’t understand either the way OP had set up the project or the results she was getting, and either decided or was told to scrap OP’s research and start over. We don’t have enough information from the other side of the argument, but it’s very possible that the first company didn’t feel that they could use OP’s data, leaving them with nothing. Of course, it’s also possible that the replacement really was utterly and completely unqualified, but I find it difficult to believe that a company would hire a replacement for the technical lead position of a limited-term project who couldn’t do the work, particularly after the OP’s time there ended so badly.

        We know that it was a year-long project, got behind, wasn’t finished, and now the replacement is at least considering starting the whole project over. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the company to expect OP to do at least some of the work they paid her for. Of course, if this is a longer-term position with a salary, that’s different, but my understanding of the situation is that it isn’t.

        1. Meg

          The internship issue is entirely separate and not actually relevant to the post. For what it’s worth, I’m not diametrically opposed to unpaid internships, although I’m willing to accept being the minority opinion on this one. As for your other points, as far as I know the OP isn’t being hired as a consultant. It’s not as simple as paying her to complete a project. If she’s actually an employee, albeit a contract one, they need to pay her for all time spent working on the project – regardless of how long it takes. If they choose to terminate her contract before she finishes the project, that’s their right, but it means they can’t expect her to work for free. They either need to pay her as a consultant, which means paying her a certain amount to finish a project, or they pay her as an employee, which means paying her for all hours worked.

          And as for her being sick, I’d guess that she wasn’t paid, considering she was a contract employee, but I could be entirely wrong on this, so I’ll let the OP weigh in if she wants.

    2. OP

      As a clarification, I was a full-time salaried employee at Company A, but we often worked on a project basis for anything outside of the minutia of our core responsibilities. So, I often worked on 2-3 projects such as this one above and beyond basic tasks. I was very lucky in even having a job to return to after being out, and felt very grateful to have been working on this particular project in the first place. At Company B, I was hired as an independent contractor but ended up being treated as an employee.

      I was able to meet my deadlines on the project prior to being ill, and the sole reason I couldn’t meet deadlines in wrapping up work after returning was entirely based on the volume of errors in the data that had been generated: to be more specific, when I returned, I found out that the other employees on the team, assigned to the project from a different department (and directly involved in managing the temporary employees on data generation, who then handed the data off to me), did not follow the instructions I had trained them on by generating their own files, thus causing data to be listed for all of years X-Z when years Y and Z were actually different. Should I have been more forceful in shadowing these temps to ensure they understood the project backwards and forwards, or to make sure they felt more comfortable asking me questions – absolutely! – but ultimately I trusted that the data I was receiving from the department was correct and that they were following my instructions. When I suspected the results were not accurate, I taught myself the other department’s software to check for myself, and lo and behold found errors (which were confirmed by the other department). I’ll openly admit that had I been more aggressive in learning the other department’s software to follow along with the progress, and had I forced more frequent progress checks, I could have potentially nipped this whole situation much faster.

      Given the option of a 40-50% error rate in the product and meeting a deadline, or pushing back to fix the errors and miss the deadline, I made the difficult choice to try to pull out a salvageable product from the monies spent. Due to the fact that the budget had been spent on the initial error-riddled data, this meant that I was responsible for the fixes. Similar quality problems with projects shared between two departments were being uncovered by a different project headed by a coworker, and pushing back to fix bad data was (unfortunately) fairly common from what I had seen in his work. The repercussion that it seems like I don’t respect deadlines has indeed tortured me, because the last thing that I want to do is be a flake.

      I originally didn’t want to look for other jobs – I loved my old company and had a great relationship with other employees. But, I was receiving so much hostility for my disability from both HR and my manager after being out ill that I felt their behavior as trying to find any reason to boot me (I even consulted an ADA attorney on the treatment I was receiving to try to negotiate a working solution). As a background note that’s very hard to admit, I was also in a highly abusive relationship at the time of my employment at Company A and part of my absence from work was recovering from an assault. I felt looking for other jobs was a necessity for self-preservation.

      I did also sit down recently and do a serious evaluation of this question myself – is this really me, given problems at both offices? Am I just whining about the competence of team members? But prior to this experience, I have worked with numerous coworkers across 4 organizations without any similar issues. I’ve always had above-average or better performance reviews, in every contract or position. My replacement was a former temp hired out of college for another task without technical skills (as in I taught her basics in Excel on her first week of temp work), while I had >7 years experience at the time I resigned. Since my replacement was not hired specifically to take on this project but for core duties that don’t require data analysis, and since there wasn’t a firm budget to continue the project in upcoming years, I reasoned that taking over my project was an afterthought to her hire. I tried the best that I could to get her up to speed, but if she doesn’t make the effort to learn the files or programs, I really don’t know what I could have done differently to make her (and the group/team/manager) more successful in the time I had.

      I totally understand that Company A wouldn’t want to pay me for time to complete a project that they thought should have been done earlier, but without a finished product, the entire project was a sunk cost. I thought (wrongly) that Company A’s management might see the differential cost in my former salary and my replacement’s entry level could potentially fund the last few hours I needed to salvage a product.

      Absolutely, I should have never taken the position with Company B (no matter the stellar company recommendations), and I should have tried to hang on at Company A until the project was finished to give myself time to find a better fit instead of the mess I got myself into. I have learned, painfully, from this misguided loyalty.

      1. fposte

        You’ve had a rough time, OP, and I hope you’ve found yourself good therapy and a support system. I’m somebody on the internet who’s never met you making a snap judgment here, but the fact that “I totally understand that Company A wouldn’t want to pay me for time to complete a project that they thought should have been done earlier” meant you suggested you should do it for free? Seems completely in keeping with somebody who’s been taught through abuse that the one thing you don’t dare do is upset people, and that may account for why it’s so hard for those of us not dealing with that shadow to understand why that happened.

        1. A Teacher

          I agree with fposte. You are definitely taking on a lot of blame, from at least reading this and the original post–I remember the post and went back and re-read it, that isn’t yours to own. Sure you made a mistake or two, who doesn’t? Not one of us on this blog are perfect and I think most of the commenters on here would admit that. You’ve been through so much and I’m guessing the victim of some stuff that you can’t/don’t want to talk about, I empathize with you and hope that your future is better.

  6. fposte

    I’m a little confused–the update mentions the people who “first made the agreement” with the prior organization, but in the comments on the previous post, it was the OP who made the agreement. Which I still think is the root of the trouble and should have been lesson #1: never agree to spend work hours unpaid for your prior employer while you’re employed by somebody else.

    Glad it’s a satisfactory outcome from a crazy situation, though, and good luck in your search.

    1. Jamie

      I think this is what she means…(from old post)

      I set a written agreement with my current manager and my former director that I would spend no more than 5% of my time to assist with questions or remaining work items

      So the current manager agreed to let her work on the project for the former manager during office hours.

      This being the case though, I don’t know why she’d want additional compensation because she’s being paid to be at the current employer but to work part of the time on the old project. It sounds like double billing to me, but maybe I’m misunderstanding.

      1. fposte

        Ah, okay, so this is the person at her new organization who agreed after she requested the arrangement.

        Yeah, I think walking away and not looking back from job #1 wouldn’t have been any worse and would probably have been a lot better. I think the OP’s heart was in the right place in promising to keep working for the old place, but it’s incredibly difficult to make something like that work in in the best of situations.

  7. Not So NewReader

    This is probably one of the most complex situations I have seen here.
    OP, the way you write you convey a sense of having a firm grasp of this situation. I think I need a chart to follow along. I also think you are probably a gem of an employee and some employer will be sooo grateful to have you.

    Maybe I am misreading the story but it seems that this was doomed from the start. Employer B hired you from Employer A. Which is fine. Where the wheels fall off is that your new job was dependent on materials from A. Employer B knew that A did not have those materials because YOU were working on that. And B hired you, anyway?

    wth.

    Who is the person that thought this was a good idea?

    I have seen this one before though. A company has a plan to do something and then fails to get in the resources/material necessary.
    I worked for a retailer that set a Christmas sales goal of $X for a six week period. The company FAILED to buy enough merchandise to match the sales goal. (AMAZING.) The manufacturer needed two months lead time on orders. There was no way to get more merchandise in for that six week time frame. Those of us in sales blew the goal out of the water. Sales were excellent.
    The company did not get up to normal stock levels until MARCH. For three months our customers asked if we were going out of business- because our shelves were near empty.
    The company is now out of business because this was just one of many serious mistakes that happened.

    I am glad you are out of that mess, OP. I am sure that your next venture will seem like a piece of cake compared to that fiasco.

  8. Joey

    I hope you didn’t expect to keep your job after “politely” telling your manager you didn’t appreciate the disrespectful tone and to please keep to scheduled appointments.

    Might feel good to say that in the moment, but you’d better be prepared to be unemployed.

    1. OP

      I didn’t use the exact phrasing disrespectful, but tried my best to follow the advice elsewhere on this blog discussing direct conversations with yelling managers. More specifically, I framed my language as being confused by his reaction, reiterated my interest on getting back on the same page, and tried to offer options for being more transparent. Given that this manager had come back to me and apologized privately for his behavior on previous occasions, it didn’t seem totally unreasonable to expect to keep my job, at least in the near term.

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