I don’t want to keep helping my old boss for free

A reader writes:

I recently left a research/assistant position with a consultant in the nonprofit sector after working there for about a year. My new position (which I started this week) is full-time but they have a four-day work week. I mentioned this to my boss when I told her that I would be leaving, because I wanted her to know that I would be available to train the new hire on that day if necessary (when I took the position with her, I received one full day of training from the girl who was leaving, so I figured it would be a similar situation this time around).

However, I now feel like telling her this was a mistake, because I feel like she is now just expecting me to be around indefinitely on my day off when she needs me. I also feel like it is slowing down the hiring process, because she thinks she can rely on me and therefore is just taking her time.

My other big concern is that she wants me to volunteer with her for a conference in a few weeks (this would be occurring six weeks after I gave my two weeks notice, mind you). I did it with her last year and was not paid for my time (she told me it was a volunteer event, although it really wasn’t optional). I told her that I would go with her if she hadn’t hired anyone else yet (she seems flustered by the idea that I wouldn’t be attending with her–we have known about this conference for a long time), but I really feel that I should be compensated for my time if I attend. I already had my “official” last day in the office, even though I will be coming in once a week on my day off until she hires someone (and then probably for a week or two after to train them).

Do you think it is appropriate for me to ask to be compensated for “volunteering” at the conference? I have an hourly wage, so it would be easy to just pay me for my time. Or do you think that since it has always been volunteer in the past that I should have just refused to help out if I didn’t want to do it without getting paid, and that I should just suck it up and go?

First, tell her that you are no longer available on your day off to help her out — you’ve taken on other commitments that will prevent you from continuing to help. (It’s fine if those other commitments are “sitting on my couch relaxing”; she doesn’t need to know that.) Or, alternately, if you’re willing to continue helping out if you’re paid for it, you can say something like this: “I want to talk to your about our arrangement for me to continue helping out until you hire someone. I hadn’t realized how often you’d be calling on me — I thought I’d do one day of training and that would be it. I can continue helping out, but I’d like to talk about an hourly rate that would make sense.”

And look, I get that this is a nonprofit, which can make this feel harder. You probably care about the mission and feel personally invested in the work. But unless you truly want to volunteer for this organization and you’re not doing it just because you feel pressured to, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask to be paid for your time. They were paying for your time before you left, after all, and you didn’t suddenly become less valuable and not worth compensating just because you took a different job.

As for the conference, do you want to attend it? If you don’t, it’s fine to just say you won’t be able to go. But if you want to, then again it’s reasonable to ask to be paid for your time. (It may or may not have been reasonable for them not to pay you for attending it while you were still working there, depending on details I don’t have, like whether your position was exempt or non-exempt and what “not really optional” meant. But they were at least paying you a salary at that time, which arguably might have covered events like that. Now they’re not paying you at all, and it’s reasonable to ask for compensation.)  I’d say something like this: “I’m still available to go to the conference with you if you’d like me to, but it’s occurred to me that we haven’t talked about how to handle paying me for the time. Would $X work on your end?” (Say this ASAP, by the way, so that you’re not springing it on her at the last minute.)

Again, if you want to volunteer for this organization the way you might volunteer for another nonprofit, that’s your call. But if you don’t, saying the sorts of things I’m suggesting above is very normal and very reasonable.

my boss wants me to do contract work after I leave for a new job
answering questions from your old employer after you’ve moved on

{ 132 comments… read them below }

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Also, the more you continue helping her out, especially for free, the less likely she’ll be motivated to hire someone to replace you.

    This is why unpaid internships replaced entry-level jobs. Why pay someone to do a job that someone what will do for free?

      1. Anna the Accounting Student*

        Agreed. In a less egregiously imperfect world there would be something with teeth to ensure interns were getting a prerequisite to an entry-level job. Using interns to replace entry-level jobs is wrong on so many levels but it keeps happening simply because of not having to pay people.

    1. Leah*

      As long as those unpaid White House, Senate, and House unpaid internships exist, nothing’s going to change. Our own government benefits tremendously from illegal internships.

      1. LadyMountaineer*

        Those are allowed just like non-profit organizations are allowed to have volunteers. Companies that make profits, have shareholders, etc. need to pay at least minimum wage.

  2. Gene*

    “Here’s a contract that lays out how much time I am available to work for you, what days I am available, and my hourly rate (at least 3X your previous pay), including travel and administrative time. When I have a signed copy in hand we can discuss scheduling.”

    You’ll never hear from her again.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Either this happens or she’ll pretend the OP never said/emailed that and go on like normal.

        1. Cautionary tail*

          And as Wakeen has pointed out in similar posts in the past, this should be on a retainer basis where you are paid ahead of time and then draw down the retainer per hours worked. Otherwise it probably doesn’t matter what the contract says because either you’ll be guilted into not getting paid or you just won’t get anything period. Guess how fast they will hire a replacement? ;)

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Good idea. OP, figure out first if you would actually want to do this work or not. If yes, then forge ahead with an idea like this.

  3. AMG*

    Dont’ these people ever feel guilty about behaving this way? Tell her no and be done with it. She isn’t giving your time a second thought. If you don’t advocate for yourself, nobody else will.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      The nonprofit sector expects a certain level of individual passion on the key issue instead of the need to pay the bills. They’re not mutually exclusive, but many execs, who make gobs of money, think they should be.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        Most execs do not make gobs of money. Really. It’s a small handful who make too much who give everyone this idea. I could make vastly more money as a middle manager in a huge number of industries. Pay in the $40 to $50 thousand range is the norm for community agencies in many parts of the country, even for highly qualified execs.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          of course, though, employees should not be asked to work for free. Period. We have a rule that former staff cannot work as volunteers until 90 days after their last day of work, to prevent exactly this kind of thing. Yes, it’s awesome that former employees want to volunteer, but there are tons of reasons to draw a big black line between the two.

        2. Snarkus Aurelius*

          I was referring to execs who make well into the six figures. Every nonprofit exec I’ve worked for made between $300k and $450k.

          1. Koko*

            The issue is with large organizations, they want to hire people experienced and qualified to run a large multinational organization with hundreds of employees, rigorous boards with high expectations, etc. Most people with those kind of qualifications can make something closer to $1-3 million/year in the for-profit sector. They *are* taking a pretty substantial pay cut to work for “only” $300,000 when their earning potential is much higher. Yes, they still make a very comfortable living, which is why the ones who do take the cut are willing to take it. But you’re going to have a tough time finding the talent needed to run a big, complex organization if you’re only offering $75,000 a year for the top slot. You’ll find someone, but they won’t be seasoned or experienced and in all likelihood they won’t be as effective as the executive who won’t consider anything below $250,000. It’s just supply and demand – you pay what you have to pay to attract the talent you need. Nonprofit rank-and-file staff aren’t as difficult to recruit at low-to-middle wages, but you see salaries go up for other non-executives with rare talent or value, like Comms Directors who come with a rolodex full of strong media relationships, or Development Directors who come with a rolodex full of elite/wealthy philanthrophists.

      2. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

        …indeed. I feel like it’s much harder (for many people, myself included) to enforce reasonable boundaries around work when you work for a nonprofit.

    2. Ama*

      I think the “she isn’t giving your time a second thought” is key here. I’ve worked for so many bosses who insist something takes “just a few hours here and there” until they were actually presented with an accounting of every work hour that went into a project.

    3. Panda Bandit*

      In my experience, no. Some people are like overgrown toddlers and when they want something they don’t understand they can’t always have it.

  4. Ruth*

    Alison, I interpreted the letter to mean that she was being paid hourly for the one day a week that she’s already doing, but would be expected to “volunteer” for the conference.

    Either way OP, Alison’s wording on asking for pay (which I agree you should do) is perfect. If indeed you aren’t being paid for the one day a week, the sitting on the couch commitment works too. Whether you then decline the conference, probably depends how good you need your ongoing relationship with her to be.

    1. OP*

      Ruth, you are correct–my job was always hourly, and I have been compensated for the training time at my normal hourly wage. The issues were mostly 1) how to I deal with her pressuring me to keep coming into the office because she knows that I am available? and 2) does it seem fair to ask to be paid for the conference? I think Alison’s advice is definitely spot-on regarding the conference.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Even if you’re getting paid, it’s perfectly reasonable for you to say that you now have other commitments and can no longer come in on your day off. If you like, you can even give notice. “Boss, starting on June 12 I will no longer be able to come in on Fridays.” If she pushes back, say, “I’ve made myself available for X weeks to ensure a smooth transition but now I have other obligations.”

          1. jcsgo*

            And if you mention other commitments as a reason you can’t work on your day off — what if the person responds, “Oh, wonderful – what kind of commitments?”
            I always feel like I need to have a legit detailed backup response, or at least something vague to say that doesn’t sound like I’m evading the question. I guess because in the offices where I’ve worked, people are very open about any medical issues and other things they’re going through. Or at least they have a good cover-up. We’re just generally not ashamed of whatever situations we’ve been dealing with – but that doesn’t mean I always want to share the intimate details immediately…

            1. land of oaks*

              NO!! Don’t have a detailed response to that question. You have no obligation to lie or even divulge a bunch of info that is the truth if you don’t want to. Just because people in that office usually give a detailed explanation doesn’t mean you have to do that every time.

              Don’t give a followup ,just end the conversation so there is no room for a followup. “Oh, I have other commitments now, so I can’t work on Fridays. But best of luck! Bye!” and hang up or walk out of the conversation.

              Don’t fall victim to the manipulation to get you to tell people more than you want to. It is just manipulation.

              1. fposte*

                Umpteenthed. Your goal isn’t to convince them; it’s just to give you a line to exit on.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              “Oh, some family stuff.”
              “Some volunteer work.”
              “Just some things I’ve been meaning to get to for a while.”
              “A side project that I’m not quite ready to talk about yet.”

              The thing is, people will often ask “what are you doing?” to be friendly, because you have an existing relationship with them, so it does help to have an answer ready to give.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, very true. OP, you’re actually not available any more–you have a new job, and your time off belongs to you, not your former boss. It’s time for her to suck it up and hire a new employee or get a temp or something. This falls under the category of No Longer Your Problem.

      2. Rose*

        doooooon’t go if you don’t get paid PLEASE. she sounds like she is being so manipulative.

      3. Ineloquent*

        Are they taking care of payroll taxes for you, as they did when you worked for them, or are you working on an independant contractor basis? If the latter, you’re actually working well below your previous hourly wage once you factor in the taxes you’ll end up owing.

        1. CAsey*


          Sorry, just want the OP to see it. Because, shady bosses be shady.

        2. OP*

          I’m still being paid in the same manner as I was when I officially worked there, so it should be the former.

        3. davey1983*

          It is actually not true that taxes for independent contractors pay a lot more in taxes than employees.
          All other things being equal, the difference in taxes is only about 5-6% of total income (not insignificant, but hardly the huge tax bill everyone thinks it is). The only tax that independent contractors pay for that employees don’t is the employers share of FICA (which is 7.65%). However, independent contractors get to deduct that amount from their income, so they get a small break in computing their income (which reduces their tax bill by about 1-2% of total income, depending on their tax bracket). ALL other taxes are exactly the same for employees and contractors.

          That tax difference decreases further once you consider that independent contractors can deduct things that regular employees can not (i.e., the commute to the office is not deductible for employees, but it may be deductible for the independent contractor).

          It is actually possible for an independent contractor to pay less in taxes than the employee (I was an IRS auditor for several years, this does happen, and more frequently than you might think).

          The difference is that employees get their taxes pulled out in every check, independent contractors do not, so the tax bill just ‘feels’ bigger, not that it actually is.

          The reason independent contractors need to paid more is that employees get things such as insurance and vacation time that independent contractors do not get.

          1. the gold digger*

            Aside from the money, though, it is a royal pain in the neck to prepare the contractor taxes in the US. Unless you are making a lot of money as a contractor, I would not bother!

            1. davey1983*

              Preparing the tax forms is actually pretty easy (You just plop in your income and expenses in the line indicated on Schedule C, then use Schedule SE to compute your self-employment taxes). If your records are in good order, it would take an hour, tops, for someone to do it by hand (my wife actually did this herself for some side income she made last year, it took her 30 minutes and she had never prepared a tax form by herself before that).

              It is keeping track of the expenses and revenue throughout the year that trip up a lot of people (and can potentially cost a lot of money). It is the tracking and recording that takes up a lot of time and effort.

              1. the gold digger*

                I have not found it easy and I worked for the IRS for a while! I am very good about tracking money, but the IRS forms make me want to shoot someone. I am sure I way overpaid just because I couldn’t understand what was allowed and what wasn’t. Every year, I feel like I might as well put my open wrists out to the IRS, give them a razor blade, and say, “Get it over with.”

      4. Gene*

        Unless she’s going to be including these wages on your W-2, you better be keeping good records and making proper IRS and SS payments. These things will bite you I the butt later if you aren’t clear about whether you are a contractor or an employee. If a contractor, your normal hourly wage isn’t nearly enough.

        And yes, you should be paid for the conference.

      5. BadPlanning*

        If it helps you with the “No, I am busy” — actually schedule something for yourself on Friday. A brunch with a friend, a 1 hour exercise class, something that you have some obligation to do (hopefully fun) so you can feel like you are pretty honest in saying you have scheduled Friday commitments. If she asks what they are, I’d either the conversation off with, “I’m sorry, I have to run. Have a nice day.” Or stick with the generic, “Other projects.”

      6. Snargulfuss*

        Well, you’re not actually training anyone. Not that you want to spend every week coming in to train a new person for months on end, but as others have commented, your boss is much less motivated to hire a new person if she knows she has you to rely on. There’s this little thing called a temp agency that she can use to get the work covered until she makes a permanent hire.

      7. davey1983*

        OP– I would ask yourself if you are still willing to work for this organization, and at what amount that is.

        If you are only willing to continue to work for them for 4 times what they are paying you, tell them that. Tell them you are unable to to continue working for them under the current arrangement, but that they can set up a retainer for X hours at 4 times your old rate if they want to continue to use your services.

        And, yes, you should be paid for the conference. I’m a little concerned that, as an hourly employee (and, thus, probably not exempt), you were not paid for your time at prior conferences.

  5. Mike C.*

    OP, are you at the very least being named as an author on any research being presented at these conferences? That’s the only thing I could think of that should motivate you to go. Other than that, run away!

    1. Ruffingit*

      Totally agreed. You seem quite enmeshed in this organization OP. You do not work for them any longer. And frankly, if I was working a full-time job elsewhere, which you are, I would not want to be working a second job unless I absolutely needed to. 10-hour days four days a week can be rough especially the first few weeks you are doing it. That Friday off is essential to getting calibrated to the new schedule in my view. Leave the non-profit. You’re not just doing it for you, you’re doing it for them – they need to move on from thinking you’re the answer to their employment needs. You are not. It’s time for BOTH of you to get that and to move along.

    2. Melissa*

      Even if OP is being named as author, that doesn’t mean s/he has to go – very often the second et al. authors don’t attend the conference.

  6. Dasha*

    OP, I think this is kind of a case of “can’t see the forest for all the trees” when you write it all out I’m sure you can see this is an unfair situation but as things happen bit by bit or day by day sometimes it’s hard to see.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I’ve heard this described as a “boiling frog” situation – where the story is that if you put a frog in boiling water, he’ll jump out, but if you put a frog in cold water and put the pot on the stove, the frog will just slowly cook to death. (Modern science shows that real frogs will, in fact, still jump out… but don’t let truth get in the way of a good metaphor.)

  7. fposte*

    Alison, have you ever written a column on these laggardly transitions? It seems like people are writing in about this problem with some frequency. (Was it commenter puddin who once had the great comparison to selling a house and still coming back to mow its lawn?)

    1. the_scientist*

      Yes, it was! And I wrote the letter that sparked that wonderful comment :)

      Honestly, I think it’s a research/academia thing. Researchers so often live and breathe their research that it’s easy for them to believe that everyone cares about it as much as they do, and recent grads are easy prey to that mentality. Plus, the “carrot” of authorship and threat of a potentially poor reference in a small field.

      1. CAsey*

        Don’t even get me started about authorship. I *REALLY* want to write a detailed paper on it (but my boss is pretty sure our Dean would have a heard attack).

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think the problem is that I print a disproportionate number of these letters because the topic really gets under my skin. I probably don’t see it come up in my mail more than other issues, but I suspect I print each one I receive (unlike other topics) because it bugs me so much :)

      1. TootsNYC*

        Sort of like Miss Manners and the “how do I ask for cash for my wedding?” question.

        (Though, having written a wedding etiquette column, I’m sure she gets more queries about that than she actually answers. She just makes it a point to answer it now and then.)

  8. AdAgencyChick*


    OP, this isn’t directly for a nonprofit, right? This is for a CONSULTANT to a nonprofit? So she doesn’t even have the excuse of guilting you with “don’t you believe in this mission?” (not that I think that entitles her to one minute of your time for free) SHE’S making money off of you. Even if she’s not charging her client organizations for your time, she’s able to get more work done without any outlay on her part. Nope nope nope.

    First, decide whether you want to continue to do the work if you were paid. It’s perfectly reasonable if the answer is no! If you would, though, just tell her you’re no longer available to volunteer, and I like Gene’s suggested wording of how to set terms. Something tells me if you have an informal agreement with this person that she’ll try to squeeze more out of you than you agreed to.

    And if you don’t want to, then just tell her you need to focus on your new gig and you’re no longer available to work for her. Any “just this once, pleeeeeease?” gets the Miss Manners “I’m afraid that won’t be possible.”

    Stand up for yourself, OP! The AAM horde is behind you!

    1. OP*

      Yup you are correct–she’s a consultant, so the guilt won’t work so well ;)

      As it now stands, I will only being volunteering for half of the day of the conference to help out the new hire (she did hire someone, by the way, who I trained last Friday and will also train this Friday , and then he will volunteer alone for the remainder of the day. I suppose that’s somewhat of a compromise. I fill out my own time sheets (which she then approves), so I thought I may just plug in the hours that I “volunteer” at the conference and see what she says, but maybe I need to be more direct ahead of time…

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        I’d talk about payment in advance so there’s no confusion. I’d hate to see you spend your time on this and then have your old boss come back and say, “We thought you understood that this was volunteer work, especially since you volunteered last year.”

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oh, wait, what? She’s just a consultant? She’s making money by charging the nonprofit for these services but she’s not the nonprofit herself?

        Nope, you absolutely should not going to the conference with her for free. And yes, you need to tell her that ahead of time, not spring it on her. You can say it like this: “I want to confirm that you’re planning on me logging those hours at the conference when I submit a timesheet for this period, right?”

        If she says no, that she thought you’d do it as a volunteer again, say this: “Oh, no, I assumed it would be covered under our regular pay agreement. I can’t do it as a volunteer. Would you still like me to go or does it make more sense for me not to?”

        1. OP*

          You’re right–I’m not sure why asking to be paid makes me nervous (that’s pretty crazy, right?). This job has been kind of toxic for me for a while, so I just can’t wait for the day when the cord is finally cut, so to speak. I have also been woefully underpaid (I make the same hourly rate to do research for some of New York’s better known charities as my roommate who works as a cashier in a bakery), in part I think due to the fact that this job used to be an internship that was upped to a part-time entry level position. Which unfortunately was in part due to my own naivete–I had recently moved to the city and had no idea how low the wage was compared to similar positions (I should probably be making around $18-$20, not $12).

          I did send an email a few weeks ago (after I had submitted my letter to you) telling her that I could not come in on Fridays after the month was up, and I haven’t budged on that. I do fear that she will try to send me research in the future but I will just have to firmly state that I don’t have time available (I would maybe consider it if she paid me a fair wage, but she doesn’t, so I won’t).

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            You know you can cut the cord now though, right? You can tell her your schedule has filled up with other things, you can’t do the conference or other work, have loved working with her, best of luck, etc.

            1. OP*

              I do–I just have a tendency to feel overly guilty in situations like this. But talking to others and seeing these comments have definitely reassured me that there is no reason to give up my personal time when I gave her plenty of notice that I was leaving, and that it is really not my problem.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I think it is okay to feel guilty, the problem is when we actually act on that guilty feeling. When that guilty feeling pops up, remember she put you in this position. She feels NO guilt about stoning you to work for free.

                While you are saying the NO word, smile to yourself and say, “Look at the way she is acting. I must be GOOD at what I do.”

              2. Dynamic Beige*

                It’s not limited to non-profits, either. My two biggest clients hire me about the same dollar-wise. I don’t mind throwing an hour or two to help out a client who hires me a lot, but one of them is always asking for things for free — I get “voluntold” for things without my prior approval or even checking to see if I’m available. The other, I don’t think they’ve ever asked me for one free thing and they also give me more interesting work. Guess which one I so badly want to fire?

                You’ve got a new job. What’s the worst she’s going to do to you? Phone and e-mail you repeatedly? You can block all of that, or just ignore it. Come to your place, drag you out by your hair and force you to work for her? File a restraining order if she turns into a complete whackjob. You searched for a new job because working for her was toxic and stressful, you found a new job and you’ve quit — so quit already. It’s not your responsibility to keep her business ticking along, it’s her’s. You’ve done your duty to train the new person and now it’s time for that person to fully assume all your *former* responsibilities (including working at that conference) and you to go off to a better life without your former boss.

                As for the guilt, there is *nothing* for you to feel guilty about. You handed in your notice, you gave her suitable time to find someone else, you accommodated her way beyond what any reasonable person could expect. Your former boss is manipulating you, but no one can take advantage of you without your permission.

          2. MsChanandlerBong*

            NYC or New York state? If the former, cut the cord and don’t look bad. I made $12 an hour when I worked in NYC, and it’s just not a livable wage in the long-term. I remember my rent ate up one entire bi-weekly check, and I was living in someone’s attic, in New Jersey, and I didn’t even have a kitchen. I had a bathroom, an empty room that I could have used as a living room if I could afford furniture, and a small bedroom. Per village ordinance, I was not even allowed to use a hot plate. So then my other check went toward buying bagels for lunch and grabbing fast food for dinner because I had no way to prepare my own food.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Twelve dollars per hour is not a living wage in the state of NY, either. Although some counties deem that nine dollars and change is what is necessary to live in the county. Clearly, those deciding this have not tried doing it.

          3. Ad Astra*

            Even in cities well below the national average COL, you can’t get by on $12 an hour. At least not without help. I would think even at $18-20 an hour you’d be living pretty lean in New York.

            Anyway, cut that cord with the sharpest knife you can find.

            1. Amanda*

              I currently make around $27/hr and it’s definitely cutting it close in NYC. It’s livable but requires a lot of budgeting.

              The idea that the OP was making $12 an hour is unbelievable to me. That’s what I made as a freshman in college hostessing at a restaurant.

          4. Artemesia*

            Yikes. My daughter was making 20 an hour 10 years ago at a similar job she was doing while pursuing a masters. 12 is simply ridiculous.

      3. AdAgencyChick*

        “I suppose that’s somewhat of a compromise.”

        But you don’t have to compromise at all. If someone says “I want to chop off your arm at the elbow,” and you say, “No, but you can chop at the wrist if you’d like,” you may have given less than was asked for, but you have very much still lost.

        You are 100% within your rights to insist on being paid. Or to refuse to go altogether.

      4. CAsey*

        You sounds like a good friend of mine in a similar situation who got guilted into continuing to manage an orgs huge volunteer base despite quitting. It’s been 6months and she’s still doing it “part time” – worst is that the ED demands that she volunteer weekends for big org events. DON’T be her.

        ps. I would be totally scared to demand pay too but if she’s a consultant, I’m sure SHE is getting paid to attend the conference, why shouldn’t YOU? (seriously, that’s dirty….)

  9. the_scientist*

    DON’T DO IT, OP!! Learn from me and my mistakes- I was in this position only recently, and it seems that this is extraordinarily common in the academic and research world. My boss also prolonged hiring because she felt like she could contact me at any time to do work for her (I had agreed to do some contract work, but I was at least getting paid!), but then the demands started getting more and more onerous and infringing on my new job and my free time in a way that I realized wasn’t worth the extra income. I finally realized that my boss would never let me go; that I’d need to be the one to cut that cord.

    First, decide if you want to continue helping your boss out at all. You don’t owe her your free time. If you decide you want to (possible publications? connections? small field? a good reference?), it’s completely reasonable to get paid for doing that.

    But seriously, don’t do it. Seriously.

    1. Rose*

      I’m in academia and my old job just tried to do this to me. I’m so lucky to have a great mentor who sat me down and was like “DO NOT MAKE OFFER WITHOUT FIRM END DATE.”

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I had a job where I was paid for 15 hours a week. I could have done 40 hours and I would have still been behind on my work.
      Learning to set limits is not a waste of time, OP. It is something you will use for the rest of your life. Granted some people are easier to say no to than others. However, it is a necessary coping tool in the world we have.
      If you think of it as setting boundaries, maybe that will help.

    1. kitty*

      It might be tough, but hang in there, OP! Stay strong and stick up for yourself and your worth.

  10. De Minimis*

    These recent letters have been so timely for me….my boss is already setting things up to call all the time, I can tell. Think I’m just going to say I’m driving and can’t answer the phone….

    1. CAsey*

      O.o They just keep calling. “I’m no longer available” would nip that in the bud.

      1. De Minimis*

        Once I get a job, I will probably do that. I don’t mind answering a simple question or two. But I’ve already decided that if it can’t be done quickly over the phone, they need to pay me.

  11. Keith Robertson*

    I’ve never read a story about nonprofits on this blog that didn’t leave me with the impression that nonprofits in general are full of people with weird, unhealthy attitudes toward work. Whatever cause you think you’re fighting for, it’s not worth the damage done by continuing to devalue working people every single hour that you work for free.

    1. grasshopper*

      Sure, but as long as donors insist that 100% of their donation go directly to ‘the cause’ and freak out about ‘high salaries’ paid to non-profit managers, this is the result. Many of the salaries paid to non-profit staff aren’t considered to be part of ‘the cause’ so salaries are kept low in order to keep the dreaded ‘administration and overhead’ costs as low as possible to satisfy donors. Combine that with people who really believe in the work they do and BOOM. Keep that in mind the next time you give to charity.

      1. Nonprofit Employee Here*

        Yep. Good post, grasshopper. I work for a nonprofit and routinely hear from donors and even other employees that “salaries at the top are too high” and other such garbage. Salaries where I work are well below market rates…and no, I’m not at the top, I just feel for the folks who are. These people could make much more doing the same work in the private sector, and possibly even at other nonprofits. Donors are constantly complaining about the overhead. Heaven forbid you need a few finance and IT employees or to offer health insurance to your employees…it’s not part of “the cause”! Except…oh, yeah…yes it is.

        1. Chinook*

          “Heaven forbid you need a few finance and IT employees or to offer health insurance to your employees”

          The irony of course is that a good IT guy with programming skills could reduce the number of staff in the long run by automating some of what others do. The programmer I work with jokes that his goal is to put a chunk of head office out of work by creating numerous user-friendly programmers to replace us.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        This is a really, really good explanation of why nonprofits can be toxic workplaces.

        The only other detail I would add is the strong emphasis on keeping costs low.  I’ve worked at places that had no HR or IT departments.  We did without on the former and outsourced the latter.  No HR meant lots and lots of disgruntled workers with nowhere to go and subsequent high turnover only to be replaced by people who weren’t qualified but were very passionate.  No IT meant lots of email problems and long wait times because we were one of many clients.  On multiple occasions, we were understaffed and the solution was to always, always, always, always illegally hire unpaid interns to pick up that slack.

        Then we’d have donors and a Board of Directors who would openly wonder why we weren’t as big as UNICEF or Komen.

        The worst example was my first internship.  The CEO made nearly $300,000, but the entire organization had more unpaid interns (around 15) than staff (three people).  By taking the lion’s share of wages, the CEO was able to effectively disguise the lopsided unpaid interns vs. paid staff and low wages and give the impression overhead costs were very low.  Surprise, surprise, the CEO yapped daily about having passion and dedication to the mission and money shouldn’t be important.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I know of a NPO that has hundreds of employees. Most qualify for food stamps, heating assistance and so on. The CEO is very comfy. No one questions that.

      3. NJ anon*

        So true. We are supposed to run a business with no money for staff, office supplies, rent, health insurance, etc, etc. Overhead is a dirty word.

    2. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

      I don’t think that’s entirely fair. AAM almost entirely receives letters about dysfunctional workplaces. You are getting a disproportionate cross-section of unhealthy non-profit workplaces.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes. We actually have way more letters about dysfunctional for-profit businesses than nonprofits. You just notice it when people say “nonprofit” because they actually say it, whereas no one writes in and says “I work for a for-profit business” even when that’s the case, because people don’t talk like that.

        I spent much of my career working long hours in nonprofits and I did it because I found it fulfilling and important work. People who don’t feel that way about it shouldn’t be doing it.

    3. TCO*

      I’ve worked at many nonprofits and they all treated me well, at least as normally as another type of employer would. The same is true of my many, many friends in the nonprofit sector. Yes, there are differences between sectors but Tiffy’s right in pointing out that stories on this blog are disproportionately negative. Heck, if I used AAM as my only source of information I’d be terrified of all of the bad bosses and demoralizing workplaces in the private sector!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I am smiling- after having seen years of bad bosses/companies, I find this blog a relief. But I can see if a person only read little parts here and there they might get scared. I used to get “scared” reading random articles on the net.With all the bad advice that is out there, it felt more like drowning than receiving advice. I have learned a lot about early warning signs for toxic bosses/workplaces by reading here. More accurately stated: I have learned to rely on actual signs rather than rely on my gut feelings which can fluctuate too much. Knowledge is power. If we have a fear, it’s a good idea to try to learn something about what we fear.

      2. The Other Katie*

        This is the case for me too. I’m currently working at a non-profit, and it is one of the best employers that I’ve ever worked for. Not only do they treat their employees great, but I believe in the mission and find the work fulfilling. I make less than I would at a for-profit business, but it’s worth it to me. And we don’t have this sort of crazy!

  12. Emma*

    It’s hard to say anything definitively about the situation prior to resignation, since we don’t have all the details, but I did want to raise one related issue because I see this “I work for a non-profit so I am expected to do work for free” thing on here every now and then. This may vary to some degree by state, although I think most state laws are based on federal labor laws… but there are explicit laws which govern the use of volunteers. (Nevermind, of course, the issue of the OP no longer working at the non-profit… and regarding the training thing… it makes more sense to do that only if your tenure overlaps with the tenure of the new employee, or you “train” by creating documents you leave behind.)

    No matter how “dedicated” an employee and how much they might be willing to work for free, they can’t just volunteer their time, even at a non-profit. In particular, a lot of non-profits with volunteer boards comprised of community members just don’t get that and think you’re not committed to the mission if you don’t work lots of extra hours for free. And, non-employee volunteers cannot be used to perform required business functions, and can’t work over a certain relatively small number of hours a week. If the old boss is relying on the OP to, presumably, perform some of her/his former functions in a volunteer capacity, that might not even be legal.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Actually, employees can volunteer for the nonprofit they work at, as long as the work is separate from their normal duties and not displacing a paid employee.

      It’s very, very common for nonprofits to use volunteers for necessary business functions and there is no law against that — hell, most small nonprofits wouldn’t exist without that ability.

        1. OP*

          No–as least not in this case. She is paid by the nonprofits for the services she provides (research, strategy, etc).

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, good point, in this case it sounds like she is not! I was responding to Emma’s point about about how this is supposed to work generally though.

      1. Emma*

        I should clarify. My non-profit field’s trade organization puts out a brochure addressing the use of volunteers (which is quite common), and explicitly addresses both the issue of employees “volunteering” their time, and the use of volunteers to cover required business functions. It cites both relevant state statutes, and federal law. It IS very common to use volunteers for necessary business functions, but apparently in many situations a violation of federal and state labor law.

        Not only can the volunteer not completely displace a paid employee, but if the work is necessary for the operation to run – if the volunteer not showing up would adversely affect the daily operation – the volunteer has to be classified as an employee, and if the volunteer is being asked to show up at a specific time on a specific day for specific duration of time, the volunteer should be classified as an employee. So, a volunteer working reception, or registration somewhere, checkout at a library, etc., should technically be paid. If the work the volunteer is doing is already a big part of a paid staff position – even if the employee is not being displaced – the volunteer has to be classified as an employee.

        Now, one might argue that a paid employee can choose to, let’s say, work a fundraiser in a volunteer capacity with a bunch of other volunteers, when their usual position is IT or something like that. But, it can’t be required by the non-profit, and they can’t be required to, say, volunteer 10 extra hours a week in IT because the job requires those hours but there’s no budget for it. That sort of thing seems to happen ALL the time, and is common in letters here.

        1. CAsey*

          “So, a volunteer working reception, or registration somewhere, checkout at a library, etc., should technically be paid. ”

          — Guilty! I have done this with orgs in WA and CA and nobody ever batted an eye. Thanks for the heads up.

          “But, it can’t be required by the non-profit, and they can’t be required to, say, volunteer 10 extra hours a week in IT because the job requires those hours but there’s no budget for it. ”
          — My mom is required to do something similar. Time to have a chat with her about this (although I’m sure nothing would change).

          1. Emma*

            The latter used to be expected of me although I was non-exempt (in a director position, which should have been exempt, had the Board been competent, but when I raised the issue they argued that (with no such previous performance issues) I would “suddenly start calling in sick all the time and they’d still have to pay me.” I literally could not perform my job in the allotted hours – no one could – but they thought I wasn’t a team player for not wanting to do work at home (I actually did do much of the work at home at first but knew it was wrong, but otherwise would be called out for not getting everything done.) They could actually have paid me less and have met the requirements for exempt employees, and I would have been very happy to work many extra hours, because I liked the work and wanted to be committed to making the organization a success. But their insistence on making me hourly non-exempt and just expecting that a committed employee will happily work as many hours as it takes drove me insane (plus it’s illegal, of course.)

      2. cataloger*

        Would it be considered displacing a paid employee (although one that had not been hired yet) if the boss was putting off hiring OP’s replacement and just having her volunteer in the meantime?

        1. CAsey*

          I would say ‘heck yes’. Luckily she is getting paid (for Fridays). I still would NOT work that conference for free though.

      3. E*

        Someone already asked my question below! I guess it seemed to me that if OP is needed to help their replacement, it seems like that may be a more important conference admin role and not a case of an employee just joining the vast number of volunteers to help out.

        1. OP*

          Actually, the volunteer role at the conference is basically to just help out (and be my boss’s assistant/set up the presentation). In general, my role at her firm was to be her assistant/primary researcher, but at the conference I’d basically just be a volunteer.

  13. Emma*

    (I just scrolled up and read the OP’s comment that she is being paid hourly for the time she’s working now, so that’s good. I stand by the general comment though. Some of these situations people write in about drive me crazy and remind me of my own horrible brush with a poorly-run non-profit.)

  14. Teresajs*

    If you are doing work, of any kind, for your previous employer, you should be getting paid for that time. That includes an hourly rate and any related travel or registration costs for the conference. If you no longer want to continue working for your previous boss, then you need to move on. Just because you aren’t working at your new location one weekday doesn’t mean you are available. When I worked a similar schedule, I routinely used my “extra” day to clean house, grocery shop, go to doctor’s appointments, schedule household deliveries. Tell Old Boss, “I’m happy to have helped train my replacement but I will be unavailable past X date due to other commitments.” (And don’t feel guilty if that date is before the prom ng conference. You gave notice. Your previous employer can figure out how to make do without you.)

  15. Cristina in England*

    I am on the flipside of this, willingly. This boss is expecting you to work for free (at least that one day) and not really respecting your time as your own, and you are quite rightly unhappy with that. My most recent boss was always SUPER conscientious about making sure I was paid for my time and that she wasn’t asking me too many questions after the project ended, and she was such an awesome boss that I will happily give her my time to help her out. Our relationship is really good and I trust her not to take advantage of me, and therefore I will give her my time. I think your boss destroyed any trust by making you volunteer your time at the conference and also by paying you so little!

  16. Ad Astra*

    This is neither here nor there, but I’m very jealous of people who finagle four-day work weeks. That’s on my list of dream perks. Someday…

  17. E*

    I’m kind of concerned about your volunteering at the conference when you were an hourly employee. Can’t hourly employees not volunteer for their own jobs? As in you should have gotten paid for that last year and so should the new employee this year or the employer is on some shaky legal ground.

  18. SensitiveGnocchi*

    I was just telling my sister she should write in regarding the title of this question. She did an UNPAID internship while in grad school and when she graduated in December, she still hadn’t found a job and he still hadn’t gotten funding he said he would have by then to be able to make her an employee. He actually had the nerve to suggest she stay and work for him for free and just sleep on friends couches. WTF?

    Anyway, he was not thrilled that she had to move back home (about 350 miles away) and she kept doing some internship work but not as much just to be able to have something to say she’s been doing since graduating if anyone asks at interviews.

    She started a temp job today but it’s full time and her commute is fairly far. When she emailed her boss to inform him that she’s found a job, he emailed her back congratulating her and THEN!!! added that he definitely wants her to write the ___________ report with him so she can have “that credit” on her resume. This report, is something he’s been collecting data for for some time now, and I think he’s honestly just hoped that she would be there to do it all. First off, an intern shouldn’t be the primary person writing a report for your research and second, why on earth would she want to spend the little free time she has left doing free work?! And the way that he phrases it, it seems that he’s trying to imply he won’t credit her for her internship unless she does this report with him.

    Since she’s still looking for a permanent role, and since she’s done work for him for awhile, she doesn’t want to lose him as a reference but she also doesn’t want to do this BS work for free for him. Since she’s never been paid from him before, it would be odd to ask for money to do it. I’m going to help her come up with a reply email for her to send to him today but how do you respond tactfully when you want to say WTF NO!?

    1. Samantha*

      “Now that I’ve taken on a full-time role with a long commute, I’m afraid that I no longer able to continue working on this on an unpaid basis. If you still need my help even, I can send you an hourly rate and my availability so that we can work up a schedule. Either way, it’s been great working on this project and I’m proud to list my contributions on my resume. You’ve taught me a lot, and I really appreciate the work that we’ve done together.”

  19. Soupspoon McGee*

    OP, you mentioned feeling guilty a few times. I’ve been in your shoes, and I can promise you that once you cut your ties and move on, that guilt will disappear. You will be surprised at how little you miss the place. You’ll still think about it, but it won’t weigh on you.

    People told me this as I was getting ready to leave my last very toxic workplace, and I didn’t believe them. I thought they were somehow less committed than I was, and probably a lot more sane. And when I tried to help them out, and was strung along like you, and gave lots of extra time and expertise for free, and felt this gnawing ache in my gut, I felt like I couldn’t just cut the ties. And then I quoted them a very high consulting fee, and they were silent for a month, finally letting me know they’d gone in another direction. That guilt went away.

    It was replaced by a teeny bit of vindication when I heard through the grapevine they paid someone more than I’d asked to do less than I’d offered, with disastrous results. Okay, not a teeny bit. And I do feel a teeny bit guilty about gloating.

    Cut the ties! Be free!

  20. This is a significant concern of mine*

    After resignation, what happens if I say I’ve taken on other commitments and therefore am unavailable to help, and then they talk about only this whenever reference checkers call them? I won’t list these kinds of people as references of course, but as I am sure most people on this website know, reference checkers might call any company listed on resumes.

    Let’s take my question a step further. What if, despite my performance, only my minor mistakes are emphasized when my superior is called by a reference checker calling even companies not related to my reference list? As in, “Let me talk for a half an hour about the time this employee made a typo in the subject line on the email to a client and nothing else,” or something similar. We all make mistakes. I don’t understand why I have to worry about an abusive superior being able to make it difficult for me to find work by overemphasizing minor issues that are technically true and not mentioning anything else. That’s legal, isn’t it?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If a reference told me that someone hadn’t continued to do work for them after they no longer worked there, that would be of zero relevance to me. (Seriously, imagine you’re the reference checker and someone complained about that. You’d think they were ridiculous, no?)

      On your second question, yes, that’s legal. That would be very odd, and most reference checkers would find it utterly bizarre and would discount that reference.

      1. This is a significant concern of mine*

        What about blowing stuff out of proportion? I’ll give examples:

        1. I make a typo in the subject line of an email to a client. The reference checker hears, “He is irresponsible and displayed himself as an incompetent employee.”

        2. I misfile a document one day. The reference checker hears, “He was completely disorganized and failed to attach importance to company property.”

          1. This is a significant concern of mine*

            Sorry for needing links to stuff you’ve already written. I keep searching and searching for this kind of stuff, and I never find it.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That’s really about misrepresenting things by a significant omission and usually refers to safety things like the case described there.

        1. Soupspoon McGee*

          When I’ve checked references, I talk to at least three people, and if I hear inconsistencies, I talk to more. If I heard a negative statement (irresponsible, difficult, incompetent, doesn’t take direction, disorganized, etc.), I ask what that means. I try to get context. I’ve actually heard really negative but vague feedback from a reference (not a person listed, but a person I was transferred to), and it did not align at all with what else I was hearing. I found another person not on the list and heard better things. My supervisor and I discussed what I’d heard and decided to hire the candidate, but keep an eye out for flags. She did just fine.

          That’s why you want to provide references from people who’ve worked with you in a variety of capacities. I’ve provided co-workers, people I’ve worked with on projects, other managers at my organization, and other stakeholders.

  21. Nick DeVino*

    Think of it like this. Your boss has the power to pay you very easily yet instead wants you to work for free. You are being used and there is no need to write a whole novel to explain every detail. You guys aren’t buddies, your boss doesn’t come on a Saturday to help you paint your grandma’s garage and you don’t take vacations together once per year. Since your boss is experienced and you are green, your boss is trying to create an illusion to force you into volunteering to do something for nothing by purposefully making it difficult for a novice like you to say no.

  22. Karen*

    I had a boss like that, used everybody as much as he could, and even after I quit he thought he could still get freebies out of me. I simply told him do not contact me again. If that is not respected I can file harassment charges against him. It might be a good thing for you to think this over.

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