I am graduating this summer and going towards a master's degree. I had an offer with a zero hour contract for a few months with a startup. On the contract, no start/end date is specified, but I did set a start date. Also, the CEO and CTO shown a lot of interest in hiring me, especially since they have no one currently with my skill set.

After signing the contract, my circumstances have changed. It is a combination of the master's degree starting earlier than expected, some relocation and personal issues. This would reduce my availability (I was supposed to work about 15-20 hours per week for about 12 weeks, now it has been reduced to only 4-5 weeks).

The contract has the standard 2 weeks notice, but since it is zero hours, I've been told that I can simply stop taking hours.

What is the best way to proceed with minimal damage? I could go for the 4-5 weeks available and then resign, but I'm afraid this would create a lot of hassle (both for me and the company) and would help no one. On the other hand, explaining upfront what happened might get as unprofessional.

Some clarifications: I've been given a zero hours contract because I couldn't commit to a fixed number of hours per week, but I've been verbally guaranteed at least 16 hours per week, if willing to take them.

  • 2
    Am I missing something. Zero hours contract can mean you just work zero hours if you choose.
    – Ed Heal
    Apr 4, 2018 at 21:47
  • 1
    Why turn up to this job? They cannot be bothered to give you some hours per week. You deserve better. I wish people will stop taking zero hours contracts. They are bad for society
    – Ed Heal
    Apr 4, 2018 at 22:07

2 Answers 2


Things change, and businesses will usually understand.

If they value you, they will work in collaboration with you, i.e. finding a mutual agreement.

However going down the technical route of not accepting hours, is a sure fire way to sour a relationship.

Just because it's business doesn't mean morals are thrown out of the window, be honest and explain the situation, by the sounds of things it's out of your control rather than your lack of planning and therefore isn't unprofessional.

  • 1
    I think morals left a long time ago when they are using zero hours contract
    – Ed Heal
    Apr 4, 2018 at 21:48
  • Zero hour contracts aren't always put in for the benefit of the Employer.. Holiday entitlement will be worked out on average hours and days worked over a three month basis by law. The zero hours may have even been at the request of Paul due to not knowing how many hours he could defiantly commit to, but this isn't the issue he has raised
    – AdamT
    Apr 4, 2018 at 21:53
  • Its a zero hours contract you don't work if you don't want to Apr 4, 2018 at 22:43

After OP Edited

Tell them, it's the professional thing to do.

Oh interesting.

I suppose the first question is "when does this job start" and then "how much do you need the 4-5 weeks of money?"

See, while it is very weird (to me) that companies are hiring skilled workers on zero-hours contracts, it means that you owe the company nothing. They are, incidentally, promising you nothing. These contracts are more for small companies hiring inexpensive staff on an ad-hoc basis, but of course, they're open to abuse.

With that tentative rant out of the way, you have some choices.

  1. tell them
  2. don't tell them

If you tell them, you run the risk they'll find someone for the full 12 weeks, leaving you with nothing. Alternatively, maybe this is perfect for them!

Not telling them is tricky. If I'm running, like, a coffee shop, then I fully expect a worker won't turn up or act unreliably. It's part of the business, and also why I get to justify paying a minimum wage. On the other hand, running a tech startup (it sounds like a tech startup, and you're at Workplace - or am I wrong?) means as the employer you want a degree of reliability. A degree that isn't given by a zero-hours contract.

This in turn makes their decision to hire on zero-hours more confusing.

I'd lean toward assuming they're just trying to make life simple for themselves, and they're not malicious. But then again, most people who run a company have a certain streak of maliciousness (or self-centeredness).

I would talk to them. You're probably not needing the money - 5 weeks isn't a lot of jam - so you can afford to have a learning experience about the value of being honest. Sometimes it works... sometimes not.


Just noticed you seem to think that explaining this all up-front could be seen as unprofessional. Not even slightly possible - it would normally be the more professional thing to do, but as it's a zero-hours, it makes concepts like "professionalism" seem antiquated.

  • Indeed, it is a tech startup. They offered me a zero-hour contract to accommodate my other commitments (i.e. be able to finish the degree), not because that's their policy. As for me, indeed, it's not a lot of money, so I could afford not having that.
    – Paul92
    Apr 4, 2018 at 22:06
  • @Paul92 that's kind of important information. 100% please tell them, they've gone out of their way to accomodate you you should do the same to them. In this case, to not tell them would be unprofessional.
    – bharal
    Apr 4, 2018 at 22:40

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