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I've been working as a software engineer contractor for the last year and a half, at a company that has been promising to onboard me as a full employee for over seven months. However, I was recently told that our whole team is being eliminated, and most of the team members will end up getting moved to different teams.

I was then later told by my boss that I will be one of the first employees to be "rolled off," at the end of March, and they do not have any position lined up for me afterwards. Furthermore, he expects a very complex project to be done before that time - including documentation, testing, etc.. I am the only person who knows all the details of this project, and I have been pushing to work on it for over a year, but this has mostly been ignored until now.

The timeline he has given is very unreasonable for this project, especially considering I have a lot of PTO to use before my contract is over. Because of this, I am planning on giving them an ultimatum: they can either guarantee me work until the official end-date of my contract (in July), or I will leave immediately (halfway through February) without doing any work on this project. My contract gives both parties the right to sever it at any time, so I am within my rights.

Would you consider this course of action reasonable? If so, would there be any downsides, besides the possibility of being unemployed for a few months?

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S yesterday
  • 2
    Does your PTO need to be taken before your last day of work? Would it make more sense to be paid out the PTO? That way you don't have to shove a lot of vacation in a time when you don't really want it, and you ultimately make more money from the contract. – MineR 20 hours ago
  • 1
    This was asked on February 13th. (I point this out since the question mentions July, which is five months from now, and that might be a bit less obvious after this question becomes old and archives summarize the posting time by specifying a quantity of "years".) – TOOGAM 13 hours ago
  • Uhm @TOOGAM, the creation date is always above the name of the OP below the question ;-) – rkeet 7 hours ago
  • Is PTO legally payable if they sever the contract before you take it? Or is it lost? – user13655 1 hour ago

14 Answers 14

300

Act out of professionalism, not out of spite.

That said, you can act professionally without making it easy for them.

You need to get your resume out, NOW

Start scheduling interviews ASAP, take time off if you need to, with or without compensation for those interviews

DO THE MINIMUM REQUIRED

It's not personal for them, it shouldn't be for you. They are not owed anything more than your basic output.

THEIR DEADLINES ARE NO LONGER YOUR CONCERN

You won't be there for the end of project, since they cut you off before it could be reasonably completed, don't kill yourself to get it done on time. Being professional does not mean going the extra mile for someone who is showing you no loyalty in return.

YOU ARE NOT LEAVING THEM IN A LURCH, THEY ARE LEAVING THEMSELVES IN ONE

It's not your fault that they cut you off without giving you time to complete the project. Go to work, put in an honest day's effort, but arrive exactly on the hour, leave exactly on the hour, take your allotted breaks, and don't concern yourself.

DO NOT NEGOTIATE, DO NOT TRUST

They have shown a complete disregard for you, even if you did manage to get them to agree to keep you until July, they'd likely have security escort you to the door 30 seconds after they verified the project complete.

You're angry now, but there is nothing to be gained by trying to negotiate with people who have already proven that they will act in bad faith. Stay above it all, but don't negotiate. They are not trustworthy.

LEAVE ON A HIGH NOTE

Do your work, do it well, don't stay late or come in early, but put in a full day and be above reproach. If they yell and scream, and try to pressure you, simply tell them that you are sorry, but because you are leaving four months earlier than expected, you simply don't have the time to dedicate to their project, as you have to plan for a period of unemployment and job hunting.

Then, do your work.

On your last day, send out a broadcast email saying what a pleasure it has been to work there, and move on.

They are not worth your time. Give your next employer your efforts, they have acted on bad faith and don't deserve anything more than a view of the back of your head as you walk away.

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    I disagree with the "minimum required". Minimum required would include sloppy and/or slow work. – David Thornley Feb 12 at 20:40
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    @DavidThornley You'd have a point if I hadn't included "Do your work, do it well, don't stay late or come in early" – Richard U Feb 12 at 20:54
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    I think doing your work well but no overtime is the minimum required. Doing slow, sloppy work is less than required! – Meg Feb 12 at 21:27
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    @Meg exactly. Doing substandard work is not doing the minimum, it is doing less than minimum. I wouldn't want to employ anyone who thought that shoddy word meets a minimum standard. – Richard U Feb 12 at 22:05
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    ‘They are not worth your time’ <— this forever – Predrag Beocanin Feb 12 at 23:39
118

There are a number of reasonable responses you could make. That one is rather extreme. In particular, the way you've presented it it sounds rather like blackmail - something you might not want to present the appearance of.

The better way to handle it, I think, would be a bit of an adjustment. Straight up tell the man that there is too much work to get it done in the time allotted, especially given your PTO. Explain why. Tell him when you'd leave work to burn off your PTO and how much you expect that you could get done by then. Tell him how much time you'd need to get it done right, and what that would have to mean for your departure date. If he insists that you get it all done anyway without giving you the time to do it, tell him that you refuse to put in lousy work and offer to leave immediately.

You still get the meat of your argument across, but it's "If you're utterly unreasonable, I'll leave" rather than "If you don't promise to keep me on for extra time, I'll leave." The second is rather more dubious than the first.

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    Also OP can likely just be paid their leave at the end in a sum, rather than needing to use it. – Tas Feb 13 at 0:50
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    @Tas And if that's the case hopefully management will offer that as an option during this discussion. – David K 2 days ago
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    @Tas - depending on jurisdiction, that could be illegal, but since OP is most probably in US, it's a battle royale anyway. – Davor 9 hours ago
80

Consider, the time to complete the project and your end date are not related in any way.

My first position would be to develop a reasonable timeline for the project then present that to management, irrespective of your end date.

At that point, they can either

  • pay out your PTO and end the contract early
  • offer you an extension until the project is complete
  • have you insert some project time to hand it over to a remaining employee to complete.

Since you are already prepared to leave early, it's seems there is little risk to giving them a choice.

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    "Consider, the time to complete the project and your end date are not related in any way." The manager in question seems to be unaware of that reality. – jpmc26 Feb 12 at 21:03
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    @jpmc26 Right, so make them aware. – Konrad Rudolph Feb 12 at 22:59
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    @jpmc26: Isn't being unaware of that sort of reality part of a manager's job description? – jamesqf Feb 12 at 23:06
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    My answer pretty much. In addition I would ask about the priorities of the tasks so if the manager insists on doing the project until unrealistic end date I would notify which tasks most probably will not be complete due to inadequate amount of time. And then report any significant deviations from the plan. Two more bits - this should be done in a written form (e-mail) (I would probably first send it to the manager and then come for a talking stating something like "I've send you a list of all tasks and it's clear there is no way to complete everything in a given time. What should I focus on?" – Ister 2 days ago
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    @jpmc26 In my personal experience (20+ years) most managers are well aware of reality, they just don't care – jean yesterday
18

You should explain to your boss exactly why the timeline for this project is unreasonable. If they still decide that your end date remains unchanged then you simply do your assigned work to the best of your ability until either that date has arrived or you have found a new job. You should be looking for a new job no matter what while you still have one as you know that you will likely no longer be working with this company in the future.

Also, one thing to consider about end dates is that they can be extended. I have worked at a company that was bought out and all employees were given end dates but some were extended due to the circumstances regarding unfinished work that was still necessary. If this project is as important as you have implied, it is possible to have your end date extended however I wouldn't count on that. Brush up your resume and start applying to new companies.

9

Complex or not, you are paid contractually. Trying to finish the complex project is the goal for your boss, but the goal for you, as a contractor worker, is to show up and do your best work.

Simply put, if finishing is not reasonable, you should tell him you probably won't finish in the time allotted, but you will do your best.

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    Tell them in writing/email. Make sure there is a record and bcc your own private email account to make sure you have a record. Just in case, as they say. – StephenG 2 days ago
8

Because of this, I am planning on giving them an ultimatum: they can either guarantee me work until the official end-date of my contract (in July), or I will leave immediately without doing any work on this project.

Assuming you are not bluffing, this gives you two possible outcomes: a.) You are without a job now. b.) You are without a job in July.

Would you consider this course of action reasonable? If so, would there be any downsides, besides the possibility of being unemployed for a few months?

I don't see any other downsides, but I don't think it is the best alternative out there. Either way you will have to look for a new job, so you should as soon as possible.

My contract gives both parties the right to sever it at any time, so I am within my rights.

This gives you the option to quit the moment you got your new job. This seems more flexible to me than to look for a job that starts exactly when your contract is finished. You don't owe your employer finishing the project.

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8

I wouldn't recommend the ultimatum idea. I don't think this will reflect well on you, and certainly won't help secure longer term employment with this company. What I'd be inclined to do, is work your hours, take your allocated breaks, don't push yourself, and don't do a second of extra work. If the project gets done, great, if not, too bad. Their deadline is simply not a problem you should care about.

I worked with a developer who ended up in a similar situation. He was being put under a lot of pressure to produce work faster, but he'd already been told his contract was being terminated, well short of the original plan. He didn't get ruffled, he just worked at his normal pace, and didn't care in the least how much they pushed. As he put it, they didn't have a carrot or a stick, to try to push him harder.

A golden rule for employers, which seems kind of obvious, if you're relying on a particular resource to complete a critical project, don't terminate their employment.

5

You seem to be acting emotionally to a situation you should be treating professionally. You are contractor. Contracting means no security of employment, that's just the nature of the gig. Take this on board. Your current employers have actually shown courtesy by giving you plentiful advance notice of the end of your contract rather than terminating with only the minimum amount; you should be viewing this as a good thing not a bad.

Ultimatums are highly unprofessional, and in most software industries contractors live and die on their reputation. You don't want to wreck your reputation over this; that's stupid and self-destructive.

So what should you do?

Provide a detailed, reasonable, schedule for the remaining work - including your PTO - and show it your supervisor. Ideally explain options for work completable in the time and then give them the opportunity to select between them. Whatever you do, continue to do your best work until the contract ends.

  • 1
    "no security of employment" exactly. When I was a contractor this was the downside, and the reason I took the permanent job in the end. – RedSonja yesterday
  • By the same token "contractor" doesn't mean "Abused toadie" – Richard U yesterday
3

Would you consider this course of action reasonable? If so, would there be any downsides, besides the possibility of being unemployed for a few months?

It's not unreasonable, although I would be more focused on job-hunting than giving ultimatums.

The downside of being unemployed is that it makes the process of job-hunting more difficult for several reasons (some exposed here and here), not to mention the lack of income and having to depend on savings, etc., so I say that your priority should be in finding a new job.

I suggest you simultaneously do the following:

  • Job-hunt ASAP. Start looking for new jobs, interviews, etc right now, while you are still employed.

  • Start working on the docs and tests, but also expose to your boss the reasons why such due date is not achievable, and present a date that you consider could be achieved. This will give you at least until March to line up a new job and avoid the unemployment gap.

However, if your boss continues to be unreasonable, and you feel OK and confident in giving the ultimatum (and its possible outcomes), then the way to go is to proceed to give it.

Just, whatever you do, start job-hunting ASAP.

2

A professional way to look at this in the way of project management.

The basic variables are:

  • Number of people
  • Length of elapsed time.
  • Quality
  • Scope

As everyone ever responsible for managing a software project has learnt, you have to explain to stakeholders that you cannot fix all of these externally and expect it to add up.

If the company wants to fix the project scope, then they need to vary something else.

Alternatively, you can make the scope a variable. Break the project up into the usual 2-3 day tasks and require the business to prioritise on a regular basis. You simply work through them in order and get as far as you can.

A side effect of this approach in your context is that if by the end of March you are half done, they are in a position to extend. This amount of time is just about enough that if you assign story points to tasks you should have a velocity measure to estimate the overall amount of time required.

Obviously, other answers already articulate some of the ways to communicate this.

Bottom line: Try to take the high ground, and at the same time have a contingency plan for yourself.

1

Here's the thing: Although they are being kind of bad about it, in that they are not honouring the length of your contract, they are allowing you to leave on amicable terms. This means they can be a reference for you in the future. If you give them an ultimatum and stomp out the door, that possibility goes out the window. So try not to do that.

Following on that logic, though, my recommendation would be to ask them for a reference letter, and do it now. If they won't provide you one, then get them to put in writing that, pending completion of your work until your scheduled termination date, if you come into work and do good work, then you will be given such a letter. This is the reason why you are going to try to play nice from now until March; if they don't give you a reason to play nice, then you can deliver your ultimatum (don't tell them that part!). Basically, look for something you want from them that they will reasonably give you for you staying until March, and ask for it. Don't ask for extra pay or something that would normally go in a contract, but go for something more soft, like a recommendation letter, business contacts that the company might be able to help you with to find another job, etc.

As for what to do in the meantime: Make sure your boss is aware that the project you have been given is too large. PUT IT IN WRITING. Explain you will do your best work to get it done, but in all likelihood it won't be done in time. As others have said, do your contractual obligations: Come in when you are scheduled to, leave when you are scheduled to, and nothing more. As for your PTO, see what the company policy is on unused PTO; I believe in North America (Canada and US), companies may be obligated to pay you for unused PTO at time of termination (IANAL). Make sure you have that worked out ahead of time so you can plan whether to use your PTO, or to take a lump sum payment at the end, and make sure that if your boss won't let you take your PTO (due to "business concerns"), that you will be paid for it at the end.

1

Fast, robust or good. Pick two.

Lay out what adhering to the other two factors does to the factor not chosen. If he choses which to focus on, follow that direction. Otherwise, select your own two. Leave with unfinished, but on its way to rock-solid and spec-meeting code. Or deliver a "finished" product with everything that may just break the moment someone sneezes. Ask yourself which of those combinations fits the developer you wish to be.

Your responsibility has NEVER been to the company, just as its responsibility has never been to you. Where your mutual values have intersected, there has been a job. Until that ends, work diligently under whatever constraints are reasonable and provide honest assessment.

Your manager is likely under constraints and pressures that he's attempting to drive beyond, but is ultimately sunk. So long as you are conscientiously performing on your end of the bargain, who- or whatever made those constraints is what's letting your manager down. Not you.

I would steer clear of the ultimatum. Lay out the facts. Do your job until you leave and sleep well each night.

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  • 3
    I'd imagine that it's going to be more like picking one of the three if he's only got a few weeks to do a project that should rightly be given months. – Matthew Barber 2 days ago
  • @m True, though I can stub out 200 features that just speak to "something neat woulda gone here" pretty quickly ;) – John Spiegel 2 days ago
1

It sounds like you are in need of money?

  1. Just think of your resume and how it will affect you.

  2. Also give a consideration about what is the best for yourself right now.

For 1, you do not want to have an angry employer unless you don't want to list him on your resume. If he does not matter however just get out right now.

For 2, do you need money? what is your life situation. Maybe you can ask for more money to finish the project and work extra hard.

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1

I think it may be good to separate out two different issues here.

The timeline given to you is unrealistic

Some answers have already pointed out that you should discuss this with your boss. My additional recommendation is to make sure that you also document the issue.

If you have written evidence of your previously saying that you should start working on the project to finish it in time, make sure you have a copy of them (preferably in a personal account or hardcopy).

Also going forward from now on, keep copies of everything. Don't make it about "I told you so", but clearly indicate that their deadline is not feasible and that you will need n time because of X, Y, Z and that your current estimation of the work that you can get done by July accounting for your outstanding PTO is only X and parts A and B of Y.

Normally this is important, in your case it is extra important in case they try to screw you over later and accuse you of deliberately delaying the project, delivering bad work, leaving halfway through the project, etc.

You don't want to work on the project at all

I can imagine that. You feel treated unfairly by the company, you will not be able to finish it and you will be under pressure in the next few months. However, as long as they are paying you, continue to do your job. If you do not want to do that, you can quit right now, but be aware that you will be without income and depending on your location you may have trouble getting a positive reference. In general, you want to avoid being without a job without having a signed contract for the next one.

Why an ultimatum is a bad idea

... has already been answered, but just for completeness: an ultimatum only has two possible outcomes.

  • They feel blackmailed (and rightfully so), and you will spend the next few months working in a toxic environment. Expect to be let go as soon as they reasonably think they can do without you (remember, the possibility to sever the contract works both ways), and don't expect positive reviews should your next employer ask for any.

  • They feel blackmailed (and rightfully so), and you will be asked to follow through with your threats and be walked out the door immediately. See the previous section. Oh, and don't expect positive reviews should your next employer ask for any.

The outcome where they exclaim "ohhh, you are absolutely right, we cannot do this without you -- we'll offer you a fixed contract and here is a raise" (or whatever romantic variation in which things end well exists in your head) is unlikely and unrealistic.

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