are these unreasonable expectations for a part-time contractor?

A reader writes:

I was laid off two months ago when my employer eliminated my entire department. I was recently one of the final two candidates for a position that would have been a perfect fit for me. I was up against an internal candidate and did not ultimately receive the offer; however, I was offered part-time contract work. I have been told by multiple people that everyone in the organization has been impressed by me, wants to work with me, and will work to find contract projects for me until such a time as they can find or create a permanent position for me.

My initial contract has a set budget for my monthly pay that essentially allows me to invoice 15 hours of work per week. I asked if they preferred I had set hours such as a specific chunk of three hours per day, or if they expected the hours to ebb and flow as work needed to be done, like if I needed to work longer days leading up to a deadline and then followed it with a few days off. I was told that I need to be available for the entire workday every day as they will not know when work will come in or when it will be needed. It is unlikely that the people I work with will be consistently available for me to just check in at the same time each day, nor will that be useful if the work doesn’t come in on a consistent timeline or schedule. I am going to be tracking my time in a timesheet platform, which I’m told will be used in part to justify the new positions they want to create and other projects they might contract out.

I know that the nature of the projects I will be managing are scheduled around things that are not always consistent, so I understand the need for flexibility. However, if I am only being compensated for 15 hours per week, I feel like being on call is an unreasonable expectation — especially since I need to take on additional freelance and contract work in order to make a sufficient salary. My contract did not indicate that I had to work for this organization exclusively, and I was under the impression that the department that hired me was clear that I would need to take on additional projects to equate to a full-time salary.

I’m wondering how to address this without appearing as though I am inflexible or unwilling to go above and beyond at work. They have told me several times that they’d like to give me more contract work once it is available, and that they fully intend to turn my contract into a full-time position. In fact, they have a very consistent history of hiring contractors into full-time roles!

Is it reasonable to expect a part-time contractor to be super responsive to all emails and have open availability for calls and meetings on a daily basis? Is there a way for me to set clear boundaries regarding my time and availability without coming across as inflexible or unwilling to invest into a future with this organization? To be clear, I am absolutely happy to be flexible with my time, I just want to also be able to devote time to other projects and currently feel like my ability to do so is limited by their expectations that I remain available to them all day.

Ha, no, that’s not reasonable. They can’t get full-time availability while paying for 15 hours a week!

They sound like they’re otherwise a company you want to work with, and it’s good that they have a track record of following through on promises to hire contractors into full-time work (which isn’t always the case). There’s a decent chance that they just haven’t thought this through and will get it once you address it.

I’d say it this way: “We’re contracting with me for 15 hours per week. I can arrange my schedule so it has some flexibility in it — i.e., I won’t just block off Monday and Thursday every week for you and not be available outside of that. I’ll just plan on allocating roughly 15 hours each week for your projects. But since I’m not full-time with you, I’ll be doing other freelance work as well, so I can’t guarantee I’ll be available on a particular day on short notice unless we schedule it in advance. I’ll need to schedule my time with you around the rest of my work unless we plan on specific hours ahead of time.” You could add, “If that doesn’t work and you really need me to hold every day open for you, I’d need to bill you for all that time — but I don’t think that’s what you’re looking for.”

Now, this assumes you’re confident you can count on them to send you 15 hours of work per week. If they’re not doing that, you’ll lose money if you hold that time for them and it goes unfilled. If that’s the case, you might want to explore an agreement where they pay for that time whether they fill it or not (sort of a retainer) — or if that’s a no-go, you’ll need to explain that you need to fill your time with paid work, which means you might need more advance notice to schedule theirs (rather than holding the time each week for work that doesn’t materialize).

Also, keep in mind that as a contractor, you control your own time. So if you work longer days leading up to a deadline for them, you can decide on your own that you’re going to take the next few days off. You don’t need to ask permission for that; you’d just let them know. Of course, you want to factor in the needs of their work, and if taking a few days off will affect their projects, you might choose to time it differently or at least give them plenty of advance notice. And if you find you can never take time off after a big push because of their work needs, then you might decide you need to be paid more to make that worth it to you. But as a contractor, this is all up to you. (I mean, they have some say too, in that they could decide the way you manage your time doesn’t work for them — and you need to evaluate that risk as you go — but you should be managing this stuff as an outside consultant, not as an employee, so make sure you’re not using an employer/employee framework.)

{ 186 comments… read them below }

  1. sixela*

    Something similar happened to me! I’m a freelancer and one of my clients asked me to be available every day for a specific 2-4 hour window. I had to be ready to answer an email or message at a moment’s notice during that window, but they didn’t want to pay me for that time. They were shocked when I told them I expected payment if they expected me to be available. I eventually fired that client for other reasons, including asking me to take an extremely unprofessional “personality quiz” that included explicit questions about death and sex. Love that freelance life!!

    1. bananab*

      Not exactly the same, but I once had a client that started insisting on awful time tracking that measured all the way down to the minute, and then threw me tons of work that only took a few minutes each, and expected same-day turnarounds. Meant I couldn’t just let em pile up and do em as a big batch, had to stand by and crack out tons of piddly 10 min jobs. Don’t miss em!

    2. AnnaBananna*

      Jesus, the cajones on these people. And I bet if you asked them to do the same they would laugh in your face.

      1. hbc*

        That’s what kills me. It’s natural to want some things, but if it would be unthinkable for you to do it, figure out a real (i.e.: non-self serving) reason why you think the other person/company/whatever would be willing *before* you ask.

        We had accounting insisting that we go to all our suppliers and ask for longer terms, way longer than standard or than our volumes could justify. I asked what they would say if our customers asked for the same terms, and they’re all, “No way!” This from a company that prided itself on fair dealings and being a good partner.

    3. Ice and Indigo*

      Yeah, I worked in a situation like that, and … I don’t any more. One time the CFO admonished me for moving some hours around without clearing it in writing with him first – when I’d verbally cleared it with the CEO, who he described as being senior to him. I got given work for the CEO’s other projects, including personal ones. The contract – which I managed not to sign – was 100% about their rights and protections, and 0% about any rights or protections for me. I was more exhausted working part-time for them than I’d been working full-time for anyone else.

      Oh, and the promise it’d get better when they had the funds? Didn’t happen. Why would it? They were getting what they wanted. Vague promises are easy to make and cost nothing.

      (Also, the CEO regarded self as ‘inspirational’ and ‘empowering people’.)

      If you take the work, OP, be entirely unreachable to them outside the agreed hours; boundary maintenance will all be on you. But if you can get by on work for other clients, honestly that’s probably a better option. These people don’t sound trustworthy.

      1. Jojo*

        Tell them they that if they want you availanle 40 hours week they have to pay you 40 hours a week. And they need to talk to legal and find out the defination of contract.

    4. TardyTardis*

      Yeah, that’s a Wal-Mart type contract, where you’re on call, they can send you home at any time and call you an hour later…glad you blew that one off.

  2. Snarkus Aurelius*


    They need you to be flexible 40 hours a week but they’re going to be flexible 0 hours a week.

    1. Ann Nonymous*

      “I’m wondering how to address this without appearing as though I am inflexible or unwilling to go above and beyond at work. ” Why should you go above and beyond at work when they’re not willing to meet you at just There. Sorry, most jobs are an exchange of time/experience/production for money. Insist on paying what you’re worth. If they’re paying you $X and you provide them X + y and not getting paid for y, then you need to stop doing y or be properly compensated. You teach people how to treat you, and that includes jobs.

      1. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

        That’s all fine and good, unless you live in a place where work opportunities are limited, or in a part of an industry where everyone knows everyone else and word spreads if they deem you uncooperative. I’m 100% pro worker, but the truth is in many parts of the world, employers hold a significant amount of power — including the power to dangle full-time work to people who are currently on temp, contract or part-time gigs.

        It’s not fair, and it isn’t right — but it’s also the reason people don’t want to appear inflexible.

        1. Triple Threat Diversity Hire*

          Yeah… especially with contract work there can be a big difference between what is right and what exists…

        2. EinJungerLudendorff*

          True. But this does need te be adressed, as the company is asking for 2,5 times the hours that they pay.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Exactly. I have contractors on my team, and, if they work, we pay them; if we ask them to be on call, we pay them; if we ask them to come into the office, we pay them and reimburse travel expenses. Any time the work for me is time they’re not available to take on other work. It is well worth it to pay them for times we need to block off their time for our work exclusively and also to pay them a higher rate to account for the fact that they have to pay their own taxes.

    2. Employee of the Bearimy*

      Right – my husband used to be a contractor where he was expected to be available for work for 8 hours at a time, so he was paid a day rate rather than hourly. He didn’t always work the whole time, but he needed to be available at a moment’s notice, so he got paid for the whole day.

  3. Phillip*

    I really hope this contract work pays proportionately more for the equivalent workload than they’d earn as an employee working 15hrs/wk. Just as a sidebar.

    1. Contractor*

      LW here–it pays well, but not as well as I’d like. In fact, the hourly rate is less than the equivalent if I had been given the full-time job I was a finalist for. To be fair, the work is less involved/senior, but there’s the part of me that is salty since, of course, I’m paying my own taxes/healthcare/etc.

      1. Phillip*

        Sounds like a pretty bad deal. I had something similar where I got laid off and my former employer contracted work to me, and on top of the rate being poor, there was also an undercurrent of “we are glad to help you out like this,” so the dynamic was all wrong too.

      2. Two Dog Night*

        That’s…. really not good. If you’re making x/hour as a contractor, that’s the equivalent of maybe 0.6x/hour as an employee. If I were you I wouldn’t make any long-term commitments to them, and I’d keep looking elsewhere, because this is not a great deal for you.

      3. WellRed*

        Uh, that’s just as big of a problem isn’t it, if not more? Contractors get more money, not the same or less.

      4. Massive Dynamic*

        Make sure that your new hourly contract rate is sufficiently higher than your old employee rate – you are responsible for remitting all of your income tax now and you’ll also have to factor in the loss of benefits that you had as an employee.

        1. Contractor*

          It is a little higher than my old employee rate, but definitely not enough to make up taxes and benefits. However, I have some projects paying me a bit more–not all of the contracts I’ve taken on since pay exactly the same. I do a variety of work, take on some writing and editing projects that pay per word, etc. At the end of the day, I’m probably making what I was making but logging fewer hours.

          That said, I’d rather be W2-ed, to be honest.

      5. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        This seems like a “take it and get paid to job search” sort of deal to me, honestly.

        1. Professional yeller about civil rights*

          This. Get paid, have something current on your resume, and get to job searching.

            1. Professional yeller about civil rights*

              That’s great! It would be nice if this company is able to bring you on full-time of course, but I’m glad you’re taking a wait-and-see approach and exploring your options. Best of luck.

              1. Contractor*

                Thanks! And yeah, to be honest, I just want *something* full time and stable if only because I’m also bored from not working for this long. Hah.

      6. Allypopx*

        As a general rule of thumb your contractor rate should be at least 50% more than you’d get for the same work as an employee.

        I think you’re getting a bad deal here.

        1. Antilles*

          And oh, by the way, that extra 50%?
          Most of that money isn’t really even yours to spend due to self-employment taxes, health insurance, and all the other items that were previously handled by the company.

          1. Contractor*

            I’m now on my significant other’s employer health insurance (we’re unmarried, but he started a new job that offers coverage to domestic partners), so thankfully that is no longer a large expense I must shoulder.

            1. MayLou*

              The fact that your expenses are lower than they might be doesn’t reduce the value of your work. They should pay you properly.

              1. Contractor*

                Oh, I agree. I’m hardly suggesting this makes what they’re paying me reasonable. Just that I’m lucky I don’t have to pay for health insurance.

                1. Easily Amused*

                  But you are likely paying for health insurance! Adding a SO to your health plan isn’t free and isn’t subsidized by the company. I have about $700/month taken out of my paycheck to cover my spouse. You should really look into how much your partner will be paying to add you to their plan.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I’ve seen it as 2x (as much because the realities of freelancing/contracting mean that you can typically bill only half your hours, as for the loss of benefits etc).

          1. JR*

            Yes, I’d say 2-3x – because you have additional hard costs (self-employment taxes, space (even if it’s a room in the house you already pay for, it’s a savings for the client), benefits (same as previous if you have benefits through a partner), cell phone, electricity, etc. You are also taking on higher risk of going unpaid (while the client now has a reduce risk of paying you to do nothing in slow periods). Finally, you are no longer getting paid to do business development, professional development, for bathroom breaks and other time that is less that productive, etc.

      7. 2 Cents*

        Yeah, you should be getting more as a PTer contractor than the same hourly as a FTE. Figure out what that is (at least 1.5x the FT rate) and renegotiate. These people are not doing you a favor. And if they do hire you full time, they could use this lower PT hourly rate against you in negotiations.

        1. Contractor*

          A lot of people are bringing up pay, and you’re absolutely not wrong–I’m not being paid enough.

          Part of the reason the pay is structured this way is because the contract came from a specific project budget that was set–so they had $x for y number of months for a project, and I’m actually being paid that bulk amount for the contract. My hourly rate is really just dividing up that specific project budget by 15 hours per week over that many months.

          I agree that this was a fairly bad deal.

            1. Contractor*

              They have indicated that this is a temporary set-up while they work to find a more permanent way to hire me. However, who knows if that’s the case.

              Thankfully, they’re not my only client.

          1. Perpal*

            Well, since you are doing the work in half the expected time, you can justify asking for double the rate! And it will still be the same budget.

      8. Daniel*

        Oof. That is concerning: the rule of thumb is that contractors typically get double the hourly rate of an employee, because of the higher tax burden and the lack of benefits. Even if this is for lower-level work, I’d still expect the hourly rate be higher than what you would’ve gotten as an employee, unless it’s dramatically lower level work.

        I’ll take your word for it that this company is good about hiring contractors and that working for them would be worth it, but please don’t calibrate your hourly expectations as a contractor based on this agreement.

        And absolutely, push back in terms of being on call 40 hours a week. Get them to agree to specific times or days, and get it in writing. Or at least get them to pay you for the extra hours. If they don’t, it’s worth considering walking away.

      9. BasicWitch*

        What exactly is their incentive to move you to full time then?! I would push back on this offer from several directions. They need to pay a retainer for you to be on call, and they need to pay you well in general. You can always reapply when a decent position appears, but I think this is a lousy deal for you.

      10. Wintermute*

        That detail tells me a very great deal, as someone who has done contract work. They want a W2 employee, to pay W2 wages, to get W2 commitment, but they don’t want any of the employer’s obligations to a W2 employee.

        In fact, based on what they want from you, you may not legally be able to qualify as an I9 contractor (the degree of control they exert over your hours is an important part of the law there, as is the degree of control they exercise over your working conditions and procedures). It’s a very complicated test and there’s no way to say for sure which way the IRS would decide until your specific facts are in front of an examiner and even then there’s a good deal of variability based on who you get, how they feel about you and the employer, the phase of the moon and so on, BUT it really sticks out to me.

        They’re asking you to accept all the downsides while they keep all the upsides: they don’t pay unemployment insurance or worker’s comp or the premium that is placed on contractors as opposed to statutory employees, and you have the time conditions, responsiveness expectations, potential for micromanagement of being a W2 employee on top of self-funding your health care, no unemployment insurance protection, no layoff act protection, oh AND don’t forget, you’re paying all your taxes so whatever they put on that line, subtract that as well. That takes the hourly rate and drops it down the toilet since employee benefits are usually 25-50% of wages and taxes will take an additional cut on top. In fact, when you add all that up I would not be overly surprised if it puts you under minimum wage. If’s actually quite easy for 20 dollars an hour for contract work to end up below minimum wage once you consider fixed costs and the rest, if it’s part-time work.

        If you have options, and this isn’t a “I’d cut off my own foot to put it in the door” situation, run. They’re showing you something important about how they do business and their understanding of fair treatment.

  4. Jessica*

    I was in this situation and it resolved favorably to both parties. My client hadn’t thought through their request (perhaps I’m being generous in that assessment, but I don’t think so). When I realized that they were asking me for something similar to the arrangement this place is asking for, I said that I’d be happy to set aside X hours every day, from X p.m. to X p.m., and that I would be fully available to them during that time, but that I’d be charging for all of those hours. Their green-light of a response is what made me think that they just hadn’t really considered what it meant to ask me for a different sort of arrangement.

    It was a great gig, and I kept it for more than a year. Half the time they wouldn’t have much for me during those hours so I could even do other work during that period. And there were occasional times when they’d ask about my availability for time-sensitive projects outside of our agreement, and I took on those times when I could (at my usual hourly rate).

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      This is a great story, and I’m glad it worked out for you this way. As I’m sure you know it often does not.

      I manage a team of people who themselves have to hire freelancers, and no, it sometimes doesn’t come naturally to people hiring freelancers to think of them differently than the way they think of employees. In their brains there’s just one bucket: “People I’m assigning this work to”. And often they don’t fully appreciate the difference between asking a coworker to do something versus an independent contractor. (As in: “Yes, I know that if you ask Todd in the next cubicle to do this, he can drop everything to get to it. But no, you cannot just expect that of a freelancer.”) It sometimes takes a bit of education to get them to see the difference.

      1. Shirley Keeldar*

        Thank you for doing that education! I agree, it’s amazingly hard to get people who work on salary to understand what freelance life is like. No, scratch that–to even THINK about what freelance life is like. (Why, yes, it does cause me hardship when you hold up approval for two months or promise to send me a project in December and don’t send it until May–wouldn’t it cause you hardship if a paycheck was delayed by months? Hmmm?) I really do appreciate any clients who get it and anybody who helps them get it!

      2. Alienor*

        I have a couple of freelance clients who have onboarded me into their project management systems for convenience, and both of them have a tendency just to assign me tasks through the system the way they’d assign them to regular employees. This is a problem because not only do I have a full-time job (freelancing is a side gig for me) but I also have family commitments, travel etc., which mean I may not be able to take on any freelance project at any time with any deadline. I hire freelancers pretty frequently at my regular job and have learned from my own experiences to *always* check their availability before I assign them to anything–even if they’ve said they’re looking for additional work, I don’t have any way of knowing whether they’ve caught the flu or had to go out of town or taken on another huge assignment in the meantime.

      3. Sleve McDichael*

        The key is that even though a freelancer is just one person, you need to think of them as their own little company; which in essence they are. If you wouldn’t ask your printing company to drop everything they are doing at a moment’s notice to do your newsletter print run, you can’t expect your freelancer to drop everything at a moment’s notice to do a piece of work for you either.

        1. CM*

          I used to be the person between senior management and the print shop, and I tried so hard to explain that the printers had other clients besides us, to no avail.

    2. Professional yeller about civil rights*

      I’m glad this worked out for you! After many years of freelancing, it is easy to read a letter like this and tell the LW to run. But sometimes you do find those clients who just haven’t thought through their offer from a freelancer’s perspective and can be brought to reason by a good faith negotiation. Your approach sounds perfectly suited to figuring out whether this company would be reasonable towards the LW.

      1. Perbie*

        A good litmus test if someone proposes something unreasonable; politely reply that that won’t work, suggest a reasonable alternative. If they accept or work towards a good solution, great! They were just confused before. If they double down or propose other outrageous things, then yeah, politely dtmf and don’t look back.

    3. Contractor*

      I was really hoping for something like this, but they do expect me to bill things specific to what I’m working on. Bummer city.

    4. Storie*

      My contract gig client also expects me to be available anytime. I do my best to accommodate so I’m not saying no too often—but I do have to push back. If you want me full time, pay me full time.

  5. Rusty Shackelford*

    If the LW is in the U.S., wouldn’t this setup – you must be available during specific hours – actually mean they weren’t legally a contractor at all? Isn’t this one of those factors that flags you as an employee?

    1. SJ*

      Yeah, this was the biggest red flag to me. I think what the company has proposed is actually illegal? As far as I understand it, the company would be misclassifying OP as a contractor when they should be an employee per the terms the company is dictating – even if a part-time, non-benefits-eligible, fixed-term-contract employee.

      1. 2 Cents*

        Can’t speak for outside my own expiernfe but I’m working as a contractor for a company with set hours of availability—that was part of the contract. However, I get paid for all of those hours, whether they have work or not.

    2. Natalie*

      It’s one factor of many, but the division between contractor and employee looks at the totality of the relationship. IIRC none of the factors is a simple binary choice, so you could potentially have a completely legal contractor situation where the payer sets the hours like this.

    3. Contractor*

      I am in the U.S., but I was able to set some boundaries. It hasn’t made the situation completely better–but they did understand I couldn’t just be available like I was a full-time employee.

    4. Wintermute*

      It’s a red flag, but the test has so many prongs that there’s no real way to tell which way the IRS will rule until your specific facts are in front of an examiner, even then it can be arcane and often inexplicable, also some states are now passing laws that interfere.

      But you are right, set hours, set work procedures, set response times and control over working conditions and methods are all things that point towards statutory W2 status. On the other hand, providing your own equipment, working from home, working as-assigned on flexible projects on a per-project not continual basis, those all point towards I9.

      That’s why it’s so complicated, very few contractor-type jobs these days have every feature of the classic I9 contractor role which was basically set up around things like freelance journalists control over how that finished product gets made or a tradesman who shows up with their own tools, you tell them what is wrong with your widget maker, they go fix it and send you the bill when they’re done.

      1. k*

        It’s funny you mention freelance journalists, because my immediate reaction to this letter is it sounds exactly like a media job — perhaps something like copy editing or Web production, for which the “we have 15 hours of work but you’re on call in case a story is ready” situation is fairly common in my experience.

  6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Yes to everything Alison suggested. Be direct with your needs and what you’re willing to do (and make sure to lay out the details in the contract), and if they decide to not go forward, consider it a bullet dodged. Any reasonable company is not going to expect you to be on call full time when they’re paying you to do less than part time work. Don’t allow them to take advantage of you because you need the work.

    1. Contractor*

      Unfortunately, they didn’t express their desire for my availability until *after* the contract was presented to me. Lesson learned on my part, and used already on other projects.

      The only thing they said about my availability prior to the contract was that they would need me to be available “during traditional business hours” as they have had some contractors try to do work in the evenings and weekends and they found that didn’t work for them in the past. I told them that I had daytime availability, and would be manging other work as well during the day. They said that was common with their contractors, which is why I was later shocked when they said they expected me to be responsive all day.

      1. PollyQ*

        Lesson learned for them if you tell them, “Sorry, that’s not what we agreed to in the contract.”

      2. BasicWitch*

        If it wasn’t in your contract then they can’t ask it of you. Time to learn how to advocate for yourself, you don’t need to apologize for having reasonable boundaries!

  7. Office Snacker*

    Unfortunately, this and other forms of abuse are shockingly common when it comes to hiring freelancers. I could fill a binder with the stories of unreasonable expectations, as I’m sure many other who have spent time in the freelance trenches could also do. Whatever you do, my advice is to establish a clear line of what is and is not ok with you from the start. Establishing such requirements from the beginning is a million times easier than trying to reclaim rights/reasonable allowances that you didn’t establish at the start.

  8. Retro*

    The pessimist in me is wondering if the organization is using the “we could potentially hire you” thing as a way to string OP along or get OP to commit unreasonably to the work in order to gain someone with the skill set that you’d otherwise need to keep on the docket full-time.

    I think arguing that you need more structure in order to be accountable to this organization as well as others is a good way to frame it. I want to do good work for you and for my other clients. Can you provide enough structure to my work in order for me to succeed for everyone involved.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      Yeah, my bullshit meter starting ringing halfway through this letter and is not responding to the snooze button. These people are full of it.

      1. cmcinnyc*

        Hit reply too soon–if this is in the US the arrangement isn’t legal AND THEY KNOW THAT. This isn’t a part time gig AND THEY KNOW THAT. Contractors being paid for 15 hours a week cannot reasonably be expected to be exclusive AND THEY KNOW THAT. Oh but they love you! You are so almost hired! We so want you around! You are a side-piece, OP. I predict it will be tough getting paid on time. I’d move on and keep looking for full time work.

      2. KayDeeAye*

        But the OP – who after all, knows them – says they “have a very consistent history of hiring contractors into full-time roles.” Surely that should be a factor, with or without a BS meter? :-)

        1. cmcinnyc*

          Does the OP *know* they have a very consistent history of hiring contractors into full time roles? Or did they *tell* the OP the information? I’m guessing the latter.

          1. Contractor*

            So, during my interview process, I actually met with several full-time employees who started as contractors. Since onboarding as a contractor, I met with several more. It’s definitely something that they’ve demonstrated, not just a line that was fed to me. Or there are a solid dozen people lying to me about their own employment history!

            1. KayDeeAye*

              I think people are interpreting this situation based on their own experiences or the experiences of people close to them. That can make the BS-o-meter more sensitive, sometimes in a good way but sometimes…not so good.

        2. KayDeeAye*

          I have no idea of the legalities here (although if it was unequivocally illegal, I have to think Alison would have mentioned this). All I’m saying is that the OP, who knows the situation much better than we do, says, “In fact, they have a very consistent history of hiring contractors into full-time roles!” So I think it’s pretty reasonable of me to assume that she knows what she’s talking about.

    2. Kes*

      I think in many cases it would be the former but in this case it sounds like the latter – they may well actually hire OP eventually but in the meantime they want OP to commit to full-time availability on a part-time salary so that they can basically test out having OP as an employee without actually hiring them as such, and they know that OP is more likely to go along with this than they normally would due to the carrot of the full time job they are dangling

      1. Contractor*

        It’s also the boredom of being unemployed if I’m being honest. And the whole thing where I need some sort of income because my severance from being laid off was very brief. :)

  9. NoodleMara*

    As a contractor, you aren’t beholden to their hours. You technically are your own business and can set your own hours and expectations back as that is how businesses work. Boundaries with contracting is a wonderful thing and this is a great place to set one. You won’t be available 40 hours a week unless they plan to pay you for those hours.

    I consult on the side of my full time job and when I left previous work and started consulting for them I set boundaries of “no urgent projects because I might not be available, no phone calls from salesmen for their ‘urgent’ project, all projects go through old boss (a reasonable person) and I want a higher rate of money”

    I’m glad I said all those things before I signed the contract because they’ve made my life better. Sit down and figure out what your non-negotiables are, get an idea of when and where the work will be coming from, etc. all before signing a contract. Alison’s script is great and feel out those boundaries and working relationships before the contract is signed.


    1. boo bot*

      Yes – one of the elements the department of labor looks at in determining if you’re an employee or a contractor is whether or not you have control over your schedule. Apart from deadlines and meetings, it shouldn’t matter to them when you do your work. Additionally, the expectation that you will essentially drop what you’re doing to prioritize their work in those 40 hours is going to interfere with your ability to work on other jobs (another element of the employee vs. contractor test).

      Basically, they’re hiring you for an outcome, not a process – the more they try to control your work process (where you work, when you work, what equipment you use, etc.) the more they are pushing the boundaries of what they should be requiring of a contractor.

  10. ElizabethJane*

    At the very least I’d expect some some sort of payment, even if it’s smaller, for the on-call time. The company I work for sometimes receives shipments at weird hours of the night. These are usually if we’re bringing in a part (we’re in manufacturing) for an emergency repair and we have a courier dropping it off at, say, 2 in the morning. We don’t have a regularly scheduled night shift to receive shipments because we can go days without anything. But employees are able to sign up for this shift since you literally just have to sign a paper to accept the delivery.

    Employees get $10 an hour for their night on-call. The only requirement is they have to promise to answer their phone, and they must be within 30 minutes of the warehouse. If nobody calls you get paid $130 (on call is 6 pm to 7 am). If someone calls and you have to accept a delivery you get in your car, drive to the warehouse, sign for it and wait for it to be unloaded, and then lock up. You get the $10/hr for all of the hours you were waiting/eating dinner/watching tv/sleeping and then you get paid $22/hr for the hours you are actually working, including drive time to and from the warehouse.

    But if this company is unwilling to pay you to hold your time then they are being unreasonable.

    1. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

      That sounds amazing! The last time I had an on call job (NEVER AGAIN!) I had to be available 25% of the time from 5 pm to 8 the next morning, weekends and holidays included. If I didn’t get called or the client didn’t want to pay their bill I didn’t get paid. I had to be available all this time to answer the phone immediately and basically be at home the whole time. One call could involve 20-60 minutes of driving each way and 30 minutes to hours at the client’s place for $75. No pay for further visits if I had to leave and come back. No pay for working from the office on weekends or hours handholding people who can’t read their email. That was all “covered” by my salary. Still had to work my regular schedule even if I didn’t get any sleep. Average weekly hours were 50-70. Nightmarish.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Ugh I had a job like this too! On call 4:30 am to 11 pm five days a week, 7 am – 7 pm weekends.

        One day something went sideways while I was in the shower on my way into work for my normal, regularly scheduled work hours and it turned into A THING because I didn’t answer the phone quickly enough. Also, I was not paid for this on-call time, just the hours I was physically present on the premises.

        1. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

          That’s awful. I did have one situation where the answering service had a new employee who panicked and didn’t read the call list properly so instead of waiting 10 minutes and calling a second time (I was with another client) he just started calling ALL THE NUMBERS he had including my boss who reamed me out for not responding. I never did get an apology from boss even though the service took complete responsibility for the mess and the client was fine with everything.

      2. ElizabethJane*

        It’s a great shift. Unfortunately we can each only pick up one a month because everybody knows it’s a great thing and the entire company, from the actual warehouse workers to the analysts to the receptionist, sign up to be on call.

        1. Ama*

          Which is probably the point — to have a ton of people not only willing but actually eager to pick up an on call shift.

  11. Booty Sweat Cream Cheese*

    It’s not reasonable to expect pay for just sitting around. I’d love that (who wouldn’t?), but pay is for W-O-R-K.

    That said, OP should probably vote with their feet and go somewhere else, because the employer clearly doesn’t value them. If they did, they wouldn’t have shitcanned OP from the full-time position.

    1. Phillip*

      Most jobs have some down time, these folks are basically saying there’s lots of it but don’t want to or can’t schedule around a part-timer. They can’t have it both ways like that. I think it’s totally reasonable to be paid to stand by.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Generally yes, but there are some jobs (like mine) that require I be available if something comes up. We have crazy busy times, but more often than not I’m twiddling my thumbs and getting paid to do it. If someone is expected to drop what they’re doing and provide support/complete projects then you need to pay them for that time they spend waiting if they can’t provide you with a reasonable schedule to be available.

    3. Liz T*

      It is reasonable to expect pay for time you cannot use getting paid elsewhere.

      It’s up to the employer to fill those hours with work if they have it, but it’s not reasonable to say, “I’m not paying you during this time, and nobody else can either.”

      1. Shirley Keeldar*

        Exactly. OP isn’t saying “Pay me for doing nothing,” but the company is (perhaps without realizing it; I truly hope so) saying “we will not pay you for 25 of work time a week, but we will not allow you to earn money elsewhere either.”

        In other words, it’s not that the OP is asking to be paid for not working; it’s that the company is asking her to not work (and not get paid).

        1. Contractor*

          Yeah, I *want* them to give me work and then to pay me for that work. I’ve been un/underemployed for long enough that I’m bored. Please give me work. And pay me for it. Preferably a lot of money! (If not a lot, then a fair wage! hah)

          Really, I just want us all to have aligned expectations about when I am available to them, what work I’m doing, how and when it should be done, and how and when I will be compensated. I don’t think that is really unreasonable, but here we are.

    4. Oh No She Di'int*

      I feel like this is a somewhat extreme response.

      I don’t think it’s fair to draw a conclusion that this employer “doesn’t value” OP. As others have pointed out, it may just be a matter of the requestor not having fully thought through what they’re asking for. OP, independent contractors have to make these sorts of negotiations and clarifications all the time. It’s part of basically being your own business. I don’t think you necessarily need to hit the road right away every time someone makes a less than perfect offer.

      1. Fikly*

        Eh, it’s the rare company that does value its employees or contractors, for more than what that person can do for them. And generally, they assume that the person can be easily replaced, so the value is not attached to that one person.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          Well, what is your scale of value here? Booty Sweat Cream Cheese seemed to be implying that the employer doesn’t value OP, because OP was “shitcanned” earlier. I am suggesting that it’s simply a case where OP went for a job that someone else got. That’s it. That’s all we know. We cannot deduce from this that the employer “doesn’t value” OP’s potential contribution.

          I’m suggesting that it’s not at all unusual as a freelancer to get offered a contract that is less than ideal. Part of being your own business-person is going through the negotiation process of transforming that into a deal you can work with. It’s not always possible to do that–and in such cases, *then* you walk. But at least in my experience, being a freelancer means getting very comfortable with starting with terms that are not to your liking and negotiating them into terms that are to your liking.

          I guess what I’m saying here is that not every deal is offered as a “take it or leave it” deal, and there’s no reason OP has to treat it as such right out of the gate.

          1. Spoiler alert*

            Being paid less than market rate is not being valued. And we know from other comments that the OP is being paid less than market rate for contractors.

    5. ThatGirl*

      a) I didn’t get the impression that this was the same place she’d been laid off from

      b) if the company expects her to be available to work immediately it could be counted as “engaged to wait” as opposed to “waiting to be engaged”

      1. animaniactoo*

        fwiw on your b – I believe those terms – while essentially the same circumstances – only apply to full-time employees in terms of legal protection. As a contractor, if the LW chooses to do it there’s nothing that legally prevents it. Only the LW’s willingness to enforce boundaries around their work availability.

        1. Fikly*

          Except that in the US, by expecting the LW to set aside 40 hours per week availability, they can no longer be classified as a contractor, legally.

          1. animaniactoo*

            I believe that it requires more factors than that.

            Back when I was illegally classified as a contractor, it was not enough simply that all my work was performed for that company, for full-time hours. It was also that it was all performed on their premises, on their equipment, and a couple of other things that pushed the bar up and over a reasonable distinction between a freelancer and an employee.

            1. 2 Cents*

              I’m a full time contractor for 1 company during normal business hours. The amount of hours or when is not the sole factor in determining if the role is mid classified.

      2. Contractor*

        No, not the same place I was laid off from. Since I was laid off, and even since I wrote this letter, I learned plenty about the goings on there that would keep me from ever considering freelance work for that place even if I were down to ten cents in the bank. :)

    6. animaniactoo*

      It is entirely reasonable to expect that IF the circumstances are such that you cannot usefully do anything else with your time, including bringing in enough other income to support yourself. Which is basically what it sounds like this company expects. So, OP can’t go see a movie or go out to lunch with a friend, or schedule a medical appointment during those hours because company might need them to immediately begin working on a project? If they want a contractor to clear the decks like that for them, they need to pay for the person to hang out and wait until needed. Otherwise, they need to figure out a way to get their needs met without that expectation.

    7. Elliott Smith Song*

      Yes, but if an employer is essentially demanding your undivided time and therefore preventing you from getting other paid “w-o-r-k” then that is actually completely unreasonable. If you were in the LW’s shoes and an employer was telling you that you had to commit 30 hours/week to them but only pay you for 15, would you be open to that? It isn’t “just sitting around” if a company has control over your time and how you use it.The tone of this comment is honestly pretty weird to me…

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Elliot Smith Song is not policing your tone, merely expressing a personal opinion that they find the one you chose to take in your comment to be odd. That comment appears to be mostly an afterthought provided after after directly addressing the substantive assertion in your comment, so I think accusing ESS of tone policing is a stretch.

        2. Elliott Smith Song*

          Telling someone that their tone comes off as weird is the same as tone policing? That’s news to me. I was pointing out that the comment’s tone just comes off as oddly accusatory which might not have been intentional. To elaborate, the comment was making kind of a red herring point- the LW never said that she wanted to get paid for “just sitting around” and it seemed like kind of bad faith assumption to make when the letter writer just wants to be compensated for the time that her job is requiring her to reserve exclusively for them.

    8. JJ*

      Every single full-time person has down time where they’re just sitting around. Employers who demand your time have to pay for it, whether they give you any W-O-R-K to do or not.

    9. Slow Gin Lizz*

      In the freelance classical music world, there are a lot of us who get paid to just sit around. Consider the tympani player at a recent Messiah gig I did. The tympani doesn’t play until the Hallelujah chorus, which is approximately two-thirds of the way through the performance. Depending on how many movements you perform, this can be between an hour to two hours of sitting around doing nothing. You don’t have to count rests or anything, you just have to pay enough attention to know which movement comes right before Hallelujah and be ready to go right after that.

      Not only does the tympanist sit around for all that time beforehand, but at the dress rehearsal for this recent performance the conductor wanted the tympanist there for the entire rehearsal. It is common practice in the classical world to allow someone to arrive later in a rehearsal if they don’t have anything to play for awhile, but for some reason the conductor specifically told the tympanist that he should be there for the whole rehearsal. So the tympanist got paid to sit around for most of the rehearsal, too, which went on a lot longer than the performance due to all the stopping and starting. I felt bad for the poor guy, but he was getting paid so not too bad.

      TL, DR: Just as often, employees are paid for their TIME, not their work.

    10. Valprehension*

      Naw, in lots of positions pay is for time as well as for work. EMTs get paid while they’re waiting around for calls, for instance. Firefighters are paid to be available. Lots of less emergency-related positions are paid *something* for their on-call time, especially if they have a lot of on-call time. Simply waiting around may pay less than doing actual work in some cases, but if you’re expected to be available for x job at y time, and that requirement prevents you from making money with another company at that time (as is the case here), you should damn sure be paid for that time.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yes, this. You’re not only paying someone to work, you’re also paying them to be there, available and ready when the work comes up.

    11. NotAnotherManager!*

      It’s not pay for just sitting around, it’s pay for blocking your time off to be exclusively available to the client. If OP is not free to take on other work in that time (and defer Client’s work when the other work takes precedent), she’s on Client’s clock, just like if I ask one of my non-exempt employees to wait in the office until a particular delivery arrives or a director is ready for them to begin work on a project. If I ask them to sit there until 5 p.m. until the delivery/work is ready at 7 p.m., I do indeed have to pay them two hours of to to just sit around on my schedule.

      Same with daycare in our area – you’re paying for a spot, whether or not your child uses it. Our extended family used to be flabbergasted that we had to pay for daycare the weeks we were out of town or days the kids were sick, but it’s not like our daycare could just pick up a kid for the specific days we weren’t there to use them.

    12. Leela*

      It’s not pay just for sitting around, it’s pay for availability. If they expect her to be available, she’s losing income because she can’t take on other jobs for that time, and it’s a loss to her if they go “oh actually we didn’t need you today. Thanks anyway!”

    13. Professional yeller about civil rights*

      Not if you’re on call. This is a really specific point of view, and employers often do exploit it to insist on “40 hours of availability for 20 hours on the schedule” types of arrangements. I hope you wouldn’t let a company tell you that you should clear your whole schedule and only get paid for “W-O-R-K”…

    14. Natalie*

      Funny, because if this was an employee, they’d be considered “engaged to wait” and it would literally be the law that they had to be paid for their time sitting around.

      And a contractor sets their own rates for whatever services they want to offer – in this case, the availability. If the company doesn’t want to pay those rates, then they don’t get the service.

    15. Fikly*

      But’s it’s not just sitting around. It’s sitting around and not working for someone else. That’s why you’re getting paid.

      It’s exactlty the same reason doctors offices will charge a cancellation fee if you cancel an appointment within a short window, typically 24 hours. Because the doctor is holding that time for you, and thus they cannot use it to get paid for something else. Yes, the doctor will end up not working by seeing a patient during that time (though I’m sure they will find work to do), but they are paid because they set aside that time to work, and thus could not get paid for other work during that time.

    16. fhqwhgads*

      It is reasonable to expect pay for sitting around when one is required to sit around and has no use of one’s own time. It’s the whole “waiting to be engaged” vs “engaged to wait” thing.

    17. Wintermute*

      That’s not true, “engaged to wait” is a very old concept in employment law. If your employer is demanding your exclusive attention, then you are working, legally. If they are demanding you limit your flexibility in other ways then its very reasonable to expect compensation for that loss of freedom, especially if they are only employing you on a highly limited part-time basis to the degree that they aren’t paying all your bills, then it’s perfectly reasonable to say you can only do that if they make it worth your while to limit your potential other income sources to be available to them.

  12. Ashley*

    I completely agree! OP – they CAN pay you for 15 hours per week, but you might not necessarily get that amount of work. I think what they probably meant to communicate is that they don’t want you available only for a specific hours a day/week but as the work necessitates which is a little different from being ‘on call’. If you have another job which would make some hours impossible, I would let them know that. Part time freelance work that is unscheduled doesn’t really make sense if they expect you to be in meetings or on calls, also. If that’s the case, they should set clear expectations for when the 15 hours a week are worked.

  13. Antilles*

    One other thing that Alison didn’t mention:
    If you’re going to be on-call, make sure it’s clear about the minimum amount of time they call you in for. You don’t want to get into a situation where they need you to come in, but you get there and actually it was only like 20 minutes of work, so it was barely even worth the time once you subtract the cost of gas.

      1. Natalie*

        Still though, breaking up your day for a 10 minutes phone call here and a 5 minute email there is obnoxious. Set a minimum billing increment of *at least* 15 minutes and stick to it.

        1. 2 Cents*

          Seriously! Learn from my mistake as a very young and inexperienced freelancer. ive learned to either bill a minimum time or minimum amount per project, depending on the situation.

          (Because yeah otherwise the project took me 10 minutes to do, but I’ve spent 10 years developing those skills so it only takes me 10 minutes.)

      1. Natalie*

        Well, you have to pick one or the other, but yes, as a freelancer, unreimbursed business mileage is deductible.

  14. OhCanary*

    I went freelance last spring and one of my first clients basically tried to pull this on me — I fired them last month. I’m excited they actually said it upfront to you, so you now have a chance to set them straight!

    In my case it was a lot of off-hours texts (8pm, 7am, even though we’re all in the same time zone) and a lot of “Can you hop on a call right now?” emails from them during times I was working with other clients and/or on other things. I made it clear I had other clients and other projects and they then would get very passive aggressive by constantly reminding everyone how busy I was. Like…yeah, I AM busy!

    The weird thing is, they’re all part-time too…so I still can’t figure out what they expected from me.

    Anyway. Good luck!

    1. Retro*

      Sounds like they were expected to reach beyond their part-time tasks and boundaries and expected you to do the same. Unhealthy habits that the organization instilled were bleeding over to you!

    2. Important Moi*

      This is not just about work. I think that this is a thing that is taking place in any society where smart phones are basically omnipresent. Immediacy of availability.

      I mean, the phone is right there in your hand! Why would you choose NOT to answer right now? Also, if you don’t want to answer right now, it only takes few seconds for you to let me know RIGHT now?

    3. 1234*

      OMG I hated the “can you hop on a call now?” thing.

      Your project is not the only thing that I am working on. I had someone get snarky with me because I said “I can be available those from X time to Y time on Z date. Please let me know if I’m needed. She didn’t get back to me, so I gave those hours away to someone else.

      Oh well, her lost. She needed 3 people and she only managed to get ONE that day.

  15. animaniactoo*

    Yeah, no. Sorry, I can’t wait by the phone for you, breathlessly hoping you’ll call.

    “I understand this is what you need, but it is not sustainable for me.”

    I think if you were a full-time employee, this would fall under “engaged to wait”, and you can point out the same kind of things that it covers as well – the inability to do anything else with your time. You can’t grocery shop, see a movie, etc. In this case, it also creates problems for you taking on other clients in order to make enough money to support yourself. If they want your time to be that dedicated to them, they need to pay for it. If they’re not prepared to pay for it, they need to figure out how to be flexible on their end also.

    Your flexibility is in your willingness to set it up just about however they want for the hours you ARE working and billing to them. That is, frankly, plenty flexible.

  16. FuzzFrogs*

    My husband has a freelance client (a relative) who can’t seem to get it that he won’t drop everything and do X task during the middle of his day job, despite it being very explicit in their arrangement that he would be handling her needs in his free time. Clients can understand that they’re only paying you part-time without ever seeming to understand that part-time doesn’t mean “Every part of your time I want, immediately, this second.”

    I like Alison’s script making it clear that OP is available to do the work, but that it’s not reasonable to expect to get an immediate response from someone you’re only giving part-time work to. To be fair, OP’s description makes it seem like they largely work with freelancers who they are giving full-time work to, so they’re probably used to freelancers who can in fact give them all the time they have. I like Alison’s suggestion because it makes it easier for the company to have a constructive response; it gives them options to choose from and doesn’t offer negotiation, so it makes it clear that these are the workable options. I feel like OP is going to have to repeat a polite version of “I can’t be available only to you and still keep my lights on at this rate” a few times, but hopefully Alison’s no-nonsense script will help them see sense.

  17. sofar*

    My company essentially has this relationship with a contractor: During our busy season, he needs to be available all day every day as things come up — and be available immediately. We therefore PAY him for all those hours at his hourly rate, even if he isn’t doing anything. He negotiated his hourly rate up, due to the fact that this arrangement would not allow him to have many other clients during that time. Every time someone asks me, “Wow, why are we paying Contractor so MUCH??” my head explodes. Like, would you want to sit around making no money, so you could be available at the drop of a hat?

    We have other contractors who get paid only for work completed, but there’s the understanding that we need to give those ones a few days’ heads up about deadlines (and they sometimes will turn down the assignment), rather than expect them to be 100% available to us.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Anyone who thinks your contractor costs a lot should take a hard look at all the benefit and tax costs that they are not incurring (or to look deeply into how much hiring a full-time employee whose specialized experience you only need 1/3 time would cost).

      I have a couple of highly-compensated contractors who are worth every penny we pay for them. I’d love to hire them on full-time, but it’s not in the cards on their ends. I want them to want to keep working with us.

      1. sofar*

        Same! Every year, I am terrified that our contractor will get hired full-time somewhere because he does SUCH good work for us and is worth every penny. I’ve also had to push back when people at my company say things like, “Contractors should be available to come onsite regularly, take part in meetings, and be integrated into our company emails/slack, and take initiative/propose taking on more projects based on the company’s goals. ” I always say, “OK it seems what you’re looking for is a full-time employee! Or we need to pay our contractor even more to do all that stuff.”

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Ha! Yes, the beauty of being a contractor is more freedom to pick and choose the corporate stuff you want/need to be involved with. All my contracting agreements have to have specific provisions about what they’re being hired to do (and, at their rates, I can’t afford the full-time suite of stuff that can’t be cost-recovered), and “pretend you’re a full-time employee” would not pass muster with HR or employment counsel who signs off on the agreements.

          I have a friend who does contract work, and she’s been offered full-time jobs by clients multiple times, but, even with benefits/taxes, they can’t touch what she makes as a contractor and she has the luxury of not having to participate in what she calls “corporate BS work”. It just works out better for some people not to go full-time.

  18. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    He/she is a great partner. We get along well and never argue. There’s just this one thing….

    1. Daniel*

      I got a little bit of that vibe from the letter proper, but when OP mentioned that they are getting an hourly rate *less* than that they would have had as employee, it got cranked up, for sure.

      1. Contractor*

        Yeah, if you translated the salary I was expecting if they offered me the job I applied for into an hourly rate…. it’s about $5/hour more than what they’re paying me now as a contractor.

        It’s not good.

  19. Contractor*

    LW here. As an update, I did establish some boundaries. I said I would happily check my email regularly (I already do that anyway, so it’s hardly a stretch) but didn’t guarantee I would be easily reached on Skype all day or available for meetings outside of fairly set hours–though they were welcome to send me invites based on my calendar availability. I said I would reply promptly to emails regarding my expected availability and TAT on work, would be more responsive to their emails during a certain chunk of the day as I picked up a project that is very deadline-heavy on a consistent schedule, and would keep my calendar updated.

    However, in that time, I have also not really been getting much work to do. A lot of that was the result of people taking PTO during the holidays, but it still feels far slower than I had hoped. I am also simply completing work quickly because it is less complex than expected. I’m billing for fewer hours and always feeling like I’m waiting for them to assign me promised work. I’m really starting to feel like they offered me this contract to keep me on the hook because they couldn’t hire me for the job I applied for and they didn’t just want to let me go because they did genuinely like me as a candidate.

    I have another large project starting up next week. If that ends up being fruitful, I see myself dropping this contract in pretty short order.

    It’s a shame, because I felt like the company was a match and the work was going to be a match.

    1. Daniel*

      I feel you…but that’s how it sometimes is. However, I am very happy that you have other options open to you. Best of luck!

    2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Ships that pass in the night. You like them. They like you. The timing just isn’t right. No hard feelings all around will be best.
      I think ultimately that their offer for contract work was naive more than malicious. And I think that you treating it as professionally and as clearly as you did prevented any hard feelings!

      1. Contractor*

        To be honest, I think they’d want to fill this as a part-time role with someone less experienced than I. The work I’m being asked to do is beneath my skillset.

        I mean, I was asked to do something that was estimated would take probably 2-2.5 hours, and I finished it in about 1. I’ll probably bill for 9 hours this week, but only because I was invited to about 4 hours worth of meetings.

        1. Perbie*

          How long was the term of this particular contract? Maybe when it’s time to reassess (say, in after 3-6 months of work, whatever is reasonable) you can point out that you finish work quickly and rates need to go up to continue. Pick a rate that would be worth it to you.

    3. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

      How long is your contract for? If you are approaching the end date, you may be able to negotiate more of a fixed-capacity / fixed-fee type of contract for your next iteration. Your client would get a bank of hours per month to spend as they will, but you are guaranteed to be paid for those hours whether they are able to make use of them fully or not (I say this because you note that you’re not getting as much work as you expected).

      Most of the time, companies that do this kind of thing do so because they don’t really have any idea how to handle contract workers, and aren’t necessarily looking out for your best interests when they enter into contracts–just their own. If you start to perceive that the company you’re contracting for is deliberately mistreating you, you’d want to think about whether or not you’d keep that client. But if you get the sense that they’re inexperienced and/or dense about how to handle contract workers on part-time schedules, I think Alison’s advice is top-notch.

      1. Contractor*

        The contract goes for a bit. It is my understanding that it is standard for them to do contracts at 6 month intervals, so I still have a few months to go.

        I do think a lot of it is more a scheduling issue–it doesn’t feel like outright mistreatment as much as it feels like internal work in flux to the point that they just need to hire someone. If they want to pay what I’m making, perhaps they need to hire someone not as experienced as I and pay them a lower salary to do more entry-level data entry type tasks.

        1. Wintermute*

          This feels to me like a company that just isn’t adapting to the economy– employers can’t pick and choose at will and pay low wages for tenured experts anymore, you’re going to get what you pay for.

          I had a similar situation with a company that wanted to contract with me for some technical writing, they wanted to pay 15 an hour I told them ‘no thanks’, two weeks later I get a call from the recruiter and they said they really, really wanted me because they couldn’t find a candidate as good as I was. I was fairly blunt because the recruiter and I had a good relationship, I said “they can’t find anyone as good because they’re looking at 15-dollar/hour employees, I’m a 27.50 an hour employee, at least that’s what my current contract is paying me– they want to pay half rate they’re going to get half as good.” I hope they took that to heart and didn’t continue to hold out, but I did get one more call about it later so who knows.

    4. old curmudgeon*

      Out of curiosity (and apologies if someone else already asked you this) but when they first offered you the contract job as an interim step, did they define the length of “interim?” In talking with the employees who made the switch from contractor to FTE, did they say anything about how long it took for that to happen for them?

      If you really feel like the fit is good and you have the economic resources, it could be worth giving the gig a little more time. I get the sense in your comments that you’re losing interest in waiting much longer, which is understandable. I’m just wondering if it might help you handle the uncertainty to at least set an internal deadline for when you either need to see a solid offer or you’ll move on to other options.

      Good luck in any case, and I hope that things settle for you soon. Looking forward to an update!

      1. Contractor*

        They didn’t define the length of “interim.” It sounded like a budgetary matter, and I do know their budgets would be reassessed at the end of the summer/early fall. That’s a long interim, but it didn’t necessarily mean that I would have to wait quite that long.

        And yes, I’m starting to lose interest. Mostly because I’m pulling in other work that pays better and is more consistent/understanding of my schedule. If I set communication or TAT expectations, or say I cannot meet a client’s expectations for xyz scheduling reason, my other clients are all understanding. Aside from one guy who is great to work with but always pays me later than he says, I feel like everyone is orders of magnitude more reasonable to work with.

    5. CM*

      I had something similar once. A company I used to work for that offered me what sounded like a huge, regular stream of contract work after I left — it turned out to be hardly anything. It was really frustrating, because they’d lead into a specific project saying that they estimated it would take XX hours and then the work was so basic and simple that it would just take a couple of hours to do, and I couldn’t, in good conscience, charge them for more.

      After a while, I realized that they offered me the contract to stop me from complaining about them when I left.

  20. From That Guy*

    I don’t like being the person to rain on your parade. On the surface this sounds like a promising situation leading to full time work – however it really is not that promising. This could be a long comment so I will cut to the chase: at this time you have no commitment from them for any work and should behave in that manner, that is as a freelancer looking to fill your days & weeks. They may mean well and such but like they say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” You are now on your own. I would aggressive court other work with other companies or full time work. I realize you want to make this work, however they have all the control and you have to make a living one way or another. If they call with work, take it, otherwise start prospecting. There is no negotiating here or going back and forth, you are now running your own shop. I wish you success in your new endeavor!

  21. Crooked Bird*

    “I’m wondering how to address this without appearing as though I am inflexible or unwilling to go above and beyond at work.”

    Why is “unwilling to go above and beyond” a flaw that makes you unhireable? That seems to go directly against the meaning of “above and beyond.”

    To clarify, I do know why, but I feel it’s a bit of a sign we’ve got a cultural problem…

    1. Wintermute*

      More importantly, when you’re giving someone the stability, path to advancement, and other benefits of a traditional W2 employment arrangement, “above and beyond” is a reasonable thing to look for in an employee– but contracting is strictly pay for play. A contractor is being paid for their time, you have none of the carrots (promotions, bonuses, raises) that you can offer a company man to make uncompensated extra effort worthwhile.

  22. Formerly Ella Vader*

    I manage some casual remote employees, doing work that ebbs and flows. I definitely don’t expect them to be “on call”, though I do try to work around any schedule constraints that they give me ahead of time, such as “available most evenings, check first” and “any weekday but Thursday”. And I try to give them all a fair proportion of the work and also give them a chance to learn all the tasks. Given that, when I’m in a hurry or overloaded, someone who always responds quickly that they are available now is going to get more of the work.

    Your employer’s expectations sound different. But if they haven’t managed casual workers before (would the work be remote? or would you go in when they called you?), maybe they haven’t thought through how it would work, and haven’t realized that you are good enough that it’s worth them being a bit more flexible with you.

    I wonder if it might be worth you trying out treating them the way my best workers treat me – let them know at the start of the week or whatever when you anticipate being unavailable, check in each day to see what they have, ask when they need it done by, and just carry on with the other things you want to do. It might turn out that they are initially irritated “Oh, I wanted OP to do this new draft for the client right now, but she’s not available til 1 pm — I could get someone else to do it, or I could wait for her” might mean that you don’t get the work this week but next week they plan ahead, or it might mean that they teach the new guy to do it and he keeps doing it, or something else. Just be matter of fact about your other commitments.

    1. Contractor*

      The work is remote.

      I have been good about providing updates as to my availability–for example, letting people know about holiday travel and similar. But it seems like when I’m told to expect work, the work doesn’t come until I get random messages like “can you talk now? I have an assignment” and I’m more or less expected to be available or provide a time when we can meet to discuss that day.

      I’m the only contractor assigned to this specific team, though there are several more throughout the department as a whole.

      In a perfect world, they’d send me something at regular intervals with “here’s the next stuff we need from you with deadlines!” and I could just work to complete it, provide updates or ask questions as needed, etc. But, alas, that doesn’t seem to work for them. They really are treating me like a fulltime employee, which means I’m invited to all sorts of team meetings that end up being a waste of time, or I’m expected to learn their org chart. It is really hard to manage with other projects right now, and probably not worth keeping on.

  23. AnnieB*

    Ugh…. my sympathies. Totally unacceptable to do this to you!

    My story: no guarantee of any work at all, just “you will be placed on a panel from which work will be allocated”. And we had to keep Mondays and Fridays completely free in case there was a meeting. Meetings were unpaid.

    I know she was legally entitled to it, as all people should be, but I was *very* sore when the salaried administrator took her 6 paid months maternity leave.

  24. CouldntPickAUsername*

    “full-time availability while paying for 15 hours a week!”

    sounds like retail.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      Yeah, that was the first thing I thought of also. Is is possible the managers here are not very experienced using freelance workers (assuming this is NOT retail)?

      1. Contractor*

        The broader organization is very experienced with using freelancers, but it is quite possible my direct supervisor/department is less experienced.

        There are a lot of remote teammates, so I kind of feel like I’m just being treated like remote staff. Not in the office, but can still be asked to do whatever needs to be done whenever because I’m an employee, right? heh

    2. Ugh*

      I remember years ago, there was a retail manager bragging about how he refused to hire anyone for a part time position who didn’t have totally open availability, because “Your job is your number one priority”.

      As a grizzled retail veteran, my eyebrowa are raised. Managers act like they expect full availability, but they don’t get it. Granted, I worked on cities with major retail labor shortages (high cost of living, most wouldn’t accept retail pay). The labor shortage meant we could put our feet down with some things, because we were not in fact easy to replace. So this manager just wouldn’t be able to hire or retaib. A corporate culture used to disposable peons didn’t always understand that the hiring difficulties meant we works had some actual leverage, which caused its share of drama and harshly learned lessons.

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yup. A few localities have thought to ban these kinds of schedules, but jobs with those requirements need to be made illegal nationwide ASAP.

      1. CouldntPickAUsername*

        honestly rather than legislate good boss behaviour we just need to institute universal basic income, they’ll suddenly lose a lot of power and have to cleanup their behaviour pretty quick.

        1. Persephone Underground*

          +1000 So excited that universal basic income is finally being given real thought. It’s truly amazing how well it’s worked out in test cases. People still worked (because no one particularly likes living on the bare minimum, especially given our consumer culture in the US), and overall education levels, happiness, and the health of the entire economy increased.

          Avoids the problem of how hard it is to legislate to eliminate abusive behaviors like this. Because “your boss can’t cut your hours when you reduce your availability” sounds unreasonable, because of course those things are related, but how it gets applied such that two part-time jobs, both of which refuse to make you full-time, both punish you for not giving them full-availability, is just wrong. So legislating against each thing gets incredibly tricky.

          1. Wintermute*

            You legislate for effect, then. Lower the minimum hours for providing benefits to five or ten hours a week or even “if you employ someone, you must pay benefits, if they work half an hour, if they work 60 hours, doesn’t matter” so that employing anyone in a meaningful way requires them to be paid benefits and abusing part-time labor is a lot less attractive. Alternately you could require businesses to employ people at full time before part time, so that if they say they need 1000 hours of labor they would be mandated by statute to hire two full-timers before they could hire a part timer for the rest, but that could be difficult for businesses where they have legitimate non-abusive reasons to employ multiple part-timers rather than a full-timer.

            Also, you make it so any on-call time has to be paid at full wages (as in if your boss says “we may need you to come in saturday sometime between 8 and 4” you get paid 8 hours at full wages).

            But the biggest thing you could do is eliminate at-will employment and require contracts, so that you cannot fire someone for refusing to be abused or for refusing to break those labor laws without explaining to the government’s satisfaction why they are being dismissed.

        2. Wintermute*

          I argue that nothing is MORE capitalist than universal basic income– because capitalism should be about the VOLUNTARY exchange of labor and goods right? “work or starve” undermines the basic concept that people should be free not to take a bad deal.

    1. Contractor*

      To be fair… they’re probably paying me like 60% of what they should be paying me for my normal hourly rate. hah

  25. Is it Friday yet?*

    At my last job, I worked remotely, and one of our contractors was in almost this exact same boat. Management was also so terrible that they had her go on a work trip to a tradeshow and then didn’t compensate her for any travel time or hours for the trip beyond the 15 hours/week. They said they thought she would enjoy the trip away…

  26. Contractorof4years*

    I am in a similar situation. One thing I added, after being burned by a sudden drop in hours, was a tiered rate card. So for a commit of # hours per quarter, the rate is X, at half that commit per quarter, the rate is higher, and at no commit it’s the highest rate. Then I tagged in that if they don’t meet the commit, I will bill the remaining committed hours at the end of the cycle as a flat fee. Each quarter, I have them confirm the hour commit.

    I also have in the rate card that the booked hours must be contiguous – because scheduling me for an hour each at 9:30 and 2:00 functionally takes up the whole day.

  27. WS*

    This kind of behaviour about contractors was part of what destroyed the town where I grew up. As background, the main local employers were the coal mines and the power stations that ran on the coal from those mines. The power stations were government owned, and had good employment pathways, including taking apprentices aged 15 and up. The year before I finished high school, the power stations were all sold to international companies, who immediately fired 90% of the workforce, including all the apprentices, and put all the fully-trained fired workers on contracts. If you were one of, say, the 150 electricians, and you weren’t immediately available when they called you (which could be for an hour of work or six months of work) you’d go back to the bottom of the list. Oh, and they weren’t going to train anyone anymore. Youth unemployment (people aged 16-25 actively looking for work) the year I graduated was 47%. The population plummeted. House values plummeted. The town has never recovered. And yet the trend seems to be more and more towards “the gig economy” where large businesses have all the power and workers very little.

  28. Bunny Girl*

    I’ll be honest, I totally wish I had done something similar to #1. I wanted to go into a creative field when I was younger. I graduated high school earlier, took a year to work and save some money, and went to a specialized school and, I didn’t like it and almost immediately realized it wasn’t a career for me. It required a certain type of personality and I just plain didn’t have it. I worked for a few years and eventually went back to school part time and now I’m slowly chipping away at a degree going part time and working full time. The bonus is I’m making enough money to not have to take out student loans, but the bad news is I’m almost 30 and in a job that I despise while just peering into a light at the end of a tunnel.

    I’m a total advocate for gap years, but I do wish I had knocked some of at least the basics out from a degree closer to when I graduated high school. Trying to pick math back up after you haven’t used it for years is really hard.

  29. SerialFreelancer*

    If they want you on call 40 hours a week, that’s called a 40-hour/week retainer and should be paid as such.

  30. Employment Lawyer*

    Not only should they not ask this because it’s insensible, but if you’re expected to be on call and instantly available, they might even legally have to pay you (this is a complex area so DO NOT rely on that simple summary!)

    Talk to them and see if you can work it out. If you really want the work you might have to bend a bit, but the value of doing so will depend on the other competing work you have on offer.

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