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Recently I joined a company as an unpaid intern for 3 months during which I worked on a project. My internship finishes this week. This project is almost completed as per initial scope that my manager had discussed during the start of the internship.

But now he asked me to add more features which can take more than a month to finish. I conveyed my concern to my manager to which he said I must complete the project so that he can evaluate my performance and grade me accordingly and if required I can finish it working from home. He said the grades are in his hand and If I don't finish it sooner then results might not be good.

This internship is to be graded and 60% of the credits are with my manager and 40% is with my guide at college. I also conveyed my concern with the guide at college to which she said I should finish the project soon and there is nothing she can do about it.

I am not sure what to do. I just want to get out of it without damaging my overall CGPA. I thought of complaining to HR about it but that will surely get me bad grades.

  • 1
    Add 0 features, because by terrorizing you manager harms you (work without a price just blackmailing), harms company (it's reputation will go down sooner or later and no internships will be received), harms country (instead manager should employ somebody/you for a work and pay taxes). We must respect our time and our energy, these must be most valued things,- not a grades. If you don't say "STOP" to this bad situation - who will then ? – Agnius Vasiliauskas May 2 at 17:17
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    @AgniusVasiliauskas easy to say when someone else is facing the repercussions, No? – bruglesco May 3 at 2:43
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    @bruglesco you know I have faced a LOT of repercussions, because of my straight view about general human values and for saying truth to many people either they like it or not. But I never regret it, because I am what I am. So you don't have a right to blame me for this. If everybody will be talking like you and everybody will be afraid of saying "NO" (politely or otherwise) - then NOTHING will change. Of course my view may not suit to other human with other character types. – Agnius Vasiliauskas May 3 at 6:52
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    @AgniusVasiliauskas "time and our energy, these must be most valued things,- not a grades" Low grades will result in loss of time and energy. This is one of those situations where you can choose to lose a bit on the left, lose a bit on the right or lose big time in the middle. – Mast May 3 at 9:33
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    Don't you have anything to do after the internship? E.g. courses starting or even a long vacation? – Dennis Jaheruddin May 3 at 14:09

10 Answers 10

162

Talk to your academic adviser. That is a person in your home department who is responsible for helping students progress.

Come prepared with:

  • initial scope of work
  • timeline / schedule / something that says initial scope of work is almost finished
  • email from your manager saying "hey, there is more work, and I know that's a lot, but you can finish it from home or I'll give you bad grade"

Consider this situation similar to classroom issue, where teacher changes requirements mid-project and expects extra work from you. Add here threat of retaliation.

This is a very bad situation for the workplace, and your university/college will want to intervene to make sure students don't get to intern there ever again. Unlike HR, student advisers are there to help you

  • 8
    It sounds like the college adviser has already told the OP that there's nothing the college can do: "I also conveyed my concern with the guide at college to which she said I should finish the project soon and there is nothing she can do about it." – Anthony Grist Apr 30 at 21:14
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    The OP needs to step up a level from the guide for the specific course to someone higher up the department hierarchy. The guide may not know all the options, and has a strong interest in good relations with internship managers. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 30 at 22:13
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    So in effect the school is requiring the OP to do unpaid work, beyond the planned internship, or get a bad grade? – Patricia Shanahan May 1 at 6:43
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    @noob Escalate, go higher up in the hierarchy. This is in no way appropriate, and hopefully you'll have someone in your chain of command who's not too absent minded or willingly negligent to realise that. – Cubic May 1 at 11:12
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    Even if they don't want to damage their relationship with the company, they can privately change the OP's grade to an A regardless of what the manager gives them, but the OP should get that in writing from them. – IllusiveBrian May 1 at 12:29
63

It sounds like you're in a bad situation, @noob. The manager is trying to squeeze more (free or cheap) work from you with extortion. And unfortunately any attempt to defend yourself too much will only lead to a bad outcome for you.

If I were you, I would make sure that I first completely finish the project in the exact scope agreed to in the beginning. And announce/release that, making sure your guide at college is completely aware that you are successfully done with what was agreed to. If you can manage to get the offender to agree in email that you have indeed done the 'initial phase', that will be very helpful, but he might be too wily to go for that. I also hope you have a written agreement of what the initial phase consisted of, make sure you have a personal copy of that and not just an email sitting in your mailbox waiting to be casually deleted when your internship is over?

Then, and only then, continue by adding the new features requested, one by one. Till you get an evaluation from the extortionist, and then make sure they get not one more line of code from you, and be sure not to be tempted to take any offer from them because working with psychopaths is never a good idea...

I think that you will be forced to work some amount on those new features, but if you proceed as above you will be able at some point to persuade your college guide to pressure the blackmailer into declaring you done. You might not get as good a grade as if you continued working for him for 6 months, but at least you will get officially finished enough to get a decent job elsewhere.

When your grades are in, and you have officially finished, do file a formal complaint with your college, if possible backed up by whatever relevant emails you can gather, and try to prevent others from falling into the same trap. Someone will be grateful :-). And really, this is awful, sorry you fell into it.. Don't blame yourself, there's no way you could have known in advance.

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    You shouldn't call the op a noo... Nevermind. – Julien Lopez Apr 30 at 23:07
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    Technically it's Extortion (obtaining things via threats). Blackmail is specifically about using the threat of revealing a secret. – Robin Bennett May 1 at 9:53
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    As mentioned by @JulienLopez, the first sentence is distracting. While it is technically accurate, it would work better if you removed ", noob" – Aaron May 1 at 17:31
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    Thanks Robin, your'e right – George M May 1 at 18:00
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    @gnasher729 I don't believe that the illegality of the threats is essential to extortion. – Martin Bonner May 2 at 14:53
8

There is an underlying life long lesson here that many of us only learn with work experience, a lot of bruises and dealing with older people more seasoned in office politics.

As a local saying of my country says "words are taken by the wind". Often lazy, or less motivated people, or colleagues, or people playing political games do not take much head of what is said or verbal complaints, or what is said/decided in meetings. They usually just brush it off. e.g. if it not written, it did not happen.

Enlist the help of a senior, either friend or family, as they are better equipped with life lessons to deal with this kind of bullying/extorsion. Make it official and make it on writing on your University side e.g. document it.

Depending on University policies, the University also might step in, and take back ownership of the project, and grade you instead. I have seen it happen.

PS Many of us as youngsters have been bullied in academia by "old dogs". The error of some of us was not involving our elders in the process. Whilst on the workplace that does not make much sense, in academia it is fair game. Use those advantages while you can.

PPS If the manager is smart to not put on writing, nothing prevents a email or even legal letter being written to him with CC to HR saying you are sorry your schooling is coming to term with them, and will keep to the original goals of the project, but you maybe available to do it after being graded if paid. Note that the intention is not being paid, it is documenting what is happening. Doing a consultation with a lawyer for a small fee might be beneficial for this. - I also had people clearly bullshiting others in office settings, and they got furious when people documented their antics, because they wanted to keep it private to keep going at it. As I said, long life lessons, often bullies are cowards, and will only bully you while you let it happen.

  • Well, that's a nice fantasy.. – George M May 2 at 16:35
5

I feel for you. What is happening here is extortion. I would consider it criminal. (It's not blackmail, because you have not done anything wrong that you try to hide). If I heard of it happening in a company in the UK, most companies could be convinced to fire that manager.

As it happens, my company had an intern, and my manager wanted him to do more work. He got an offer, there is an empty desk waiting for him, and he'll be starting soon. As a valuable and well-paid employee. That's how it is supposed to work.

I assume that you did a good job during your internship - or the manager wouldn't want you to do more work. What he does is not only reprehensible, but also stupid. Many companies remove people from their desks and send them home when they are laid off, to avoid someone causing damage. Now this manager extorts you to work for a month. I'm sure you wouldn't do it, but many people would come to work and then do the maximum possible damages in that situation. (Don't do it. You'll hurt the company, but you hurt yourself more).

But what can you do: You can negotiate. Instead of "I won't give you an unjustified bad grade", you ask for the best grade possible, plus payment. (Your university wasn't going to help with an unjustified bad grade, so I assume they don't mind if you get an unjustified good grade). That way you change things from extortion to negotiation. That manager is happy to lie about your grade anyway, so giving you a good grade costs him nothing. The payment can be negotiated. You ask for an amount where you would be happy to do the extra work, and you take as much as you can get.

Whatever happens: If you ever get into a position where you can hurt that manager, I won't blame you if you do it to the maximum degree. And if you ever get into a position where you could use extortion yourself against someone with less power, don't do it.

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    The point of the extorsion is that the manager is short sighted and sees the OP as a young inexperienced, scared prey that will work for free. Sigh, I have encountered people trying to extort low paid or free work even as a experienced on the field, several occasions in my life, and it is rather tiring to deal with them and put them on line. Fortunately, I also had the luxury to be able to fire them as a customer, or not accept them as a customer to start with; but in a project where the project interested me and I got more deep into it, it left a sour taste. – Rui F Ribeiro May 2 at 7:45
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You can escalate it to head of the department. Ask the manager in that company to send you email regarding what else features he wants with cc your project guide in college. Record all his calls. Escalate it to college head and everything fails, sue that company. File lawsuit. This is the only way you can stop blackmailers from doing that stuff again.

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    You are sadly mistaken if you think a lawsuit will stop others from having a similar experience. The company's lawyers will make such an experience as expensive (in time and money) as they can for OP, challenge standing etc. (e.g. what's the hard evidence for the currency equivalent of the alleged loss?), and eventually get the pesky little case dismissed. Meanwhile, OP's efforts to seek a FT position will be hampered by a reference on public record that he filed [what the company will undoubtedly characterize as a "baseless"] suit against the internship hosts. – WBT May 2 at 13:42
1

In the end, my story was similar; but of course, different. I had a manager that offered me a part-time job at the end of my work-study engagement. I accepted on the condition he permit me to continue my studies.

Then he pressured me to drop out of school after school had been two weeks in session.

Then he got really mad when I indicated I was going to complete my education. That's when it all went badly.

  1. He hadn't told me my "part time job" was a second work-study engagement.
  2. He submitted two "F"s for the work I did (one for the 2-week engagement, one for the previous semester which warranted his "hiring me" for the second engagement).

In the end, I managed to talk the work study administrator to change the grades to have zero grade points, but it does irritate me that the grades still appear on my transcript.

  • 5
    Good anecdote, but you didn't answer the question. What you you recommend the OP do? – Tim Grant May 1 at 17:19
  • @TimGrant For those that missed the answer, talk to the University Administrator for the work study program. Often they can find solutions, like setting the hours of credit to zero, or possibly overriding the employer's assigned grade. – Edwin Buck May 1 at 20:07
  • @EdwinBuck I had a problem too, and my home University overrode the grade because they knew better. Long story, I was young and dumb. – Rui F Ribeiro May 2 at 7:52
1

This is a form of bullying and there's generally three types of responses you can give: walk away, fight back, or simply let it happen.

Walk Away

This basically involves quitting the internship right here and now and accepting whatever grade they give you. It gets you out of having to do that extra work and makes a statement that you won't stand for this kind of extortion but can potentially have a significantly negative effect on your grade, which can have a negative effect on your ability to graduate or find employment afterwards.

This is something that does sometimes happen in the real world too. There comes a time when something is no longer worth the investment and it's time to cut your losses and move on. Companies have terminated contracts with clients and people have quit their jobs over things like this. It's a drastic measure and usually burns bridges so it's not an option to be taken lightly.

I'd only recommend this option if you 100% believe you have a viable means of mitigating the consequences of the worst possible grade the employer can give you. Even then, I'd strongly recommend having a backup plan in case this career path suddenly becomes unavailable to you.

Fight Back

The goal here is to let your manager know that this situation is unacceptable to you. There are a number of different ways you can do this, each with their own pros and cons:

  • Standing up to the manager and refusing to do the extra work.
  • Going up the chain at your university until you find someone who can step in and help you.
  • Re-negotiating the expectations of the project/internship with the manager.

Refusing to do the work

This is essentially taking a hard stance that you won't go beyond what the original agreement was. This position only has strength if there is a written statement of what exactly the work would be, along with evidence that both parties agreed to it. If no such agreement exists, you're pretty much out of luck here. You can still technically refuse to do the work but that would then be flat out insubordination and that'll almost certainly get you fired with a failing grade.

But even with a written agreement, this is still risky. It's very confrontational and quite likely to result in a failing grade just for attempting it. I'd avoid it unless you have some other kind of leverage to ensure you get graded fairly based on the work you did in the scope of your agreement.

Going up the chain at the university

This basically means going above your adviser's head until you find someone who is willing to step in on your behalf and tell your manager this is unacceptable. There is no guarantee that such a person exists, however. There's also a risk that the only person willing to try does not have the authority to actually do anything about it. But if you do find someone sympathetic to your plight, there's a decent chance you can get at least some measure of protection against a bad grade.

Re-negotiating the expectations

IMHO, this is probably your best chance for a win/win outcome. It involves sitting down with the manager and explaining that this new work is essentially impossible to do in the timeline provided with the resources you have available. In a normal working environment, the scope, the timeline and the available resources would all be up for negotiation. In your case, however, it's likely only the scope that can realistically change. Your timeline is essentially fixed by the length of the internship and the resources are also likely fixed, unless they're willing to assign someone to help you. Let them know what you think you can reasonably do in the time allotted and ask if that's acceptable. But be prepared for the answer to be 'no'.

Any reasonable manager is not going to fault you for bringing up these concerns right away. In fact, this is a very desirable trait in an employee because it means you're planning ahead and giving your manager as much opportunity as possible to prevent failure. But that doesn't guarantee that they're going to be able to budge on anything. It's entirely possible that this is work they desperately need done in that time and there isn't anyone else to do it (unlikely, given that it's work assigned to an unpaid intern, but not impossible). And if that's the case, you're probably in a position to ask for some form of compensation for going above and beyond what the original expectations were.

I should note that there is also a decent chance that the manager isn't reasonable and will stick to their guns. It sucks but such people do exist and if that's the case here, this option can backfire horribly. They may or may not fault you for attempting to negotiate. If you feel like they are the type to hold this against you, there's a chance they'll give you the failing grade out of spite. If they're that kind of person, there's not really a winning scenario here for you.

Letting it happen

Basically, just sucking it up and doing the work on the hope that they keep their word and give you a good grade. While this has the highest probability of staying in your manager's good graces, it also sends the message that you will tolerate this kind of bullying and extortion, leaving you open to being subjected to it again.

Sometimes, you do just have to bite the bullet and do something unpleasant to get through a bad situation. Before rolling over, though, I generally like to have reassurance that there is, in fact, an end to the bad situation and that choosing this path will leave me in a position where I have enough control to not have to go through it again. But even if that reassurance isn't available, I might still choose it if I'm convinced none of the other options are viable.

Final Thoughts

Essentially, my recommendation is to either re-negotiate the expectations if you feel that might work or suck it up and just do the extra work. IMO, the other choices don't have a good enough chance of working out favourably for you to be worth the risk. But regardless of what you choose to do, this is not an acceptable thing for your manager to have done and you shouldn't stay quiet about it. I'd strongly advise waiting until after they give you a grade (and you're certain they can't change it), though. But once you're sure that they no longer have any influence over your grades, I would be telling everyone I know about it. Nothing may come of it but at least the next person to take an internship with them will know what to expect going in.

-1

Despite what others say this type of situation is often encountered in business life, all over the world - its reality. Boss or client changes the scope expecting that the project still comes in on-time and on-budget at the initial scope. For your situation take the positive approach: this manager is trying to teach you a life lesson. Document a scope change letter #1 defining the initial scope and the changes requested. In the document include the initial cost and duration and the impact of the change to cost and duration. Ideally get the manager to sign off before you start work on the changes. If they don't sign-off (which happens more times than it should) then keep the a copy of the scope change #1 and issue it along with the project on the due date stating in a covering letter that the project will be revised to include the scope change work on the later date that you estimated in the scope change. Let the marks fall where they may - at least you will have made the best effort.

-1

If you are going to budge and do 1 month extra work on a 3 month project, ask yourself: What will happen afterwards?

I have been in similar situations, and can tell you a likely continuation is that near the end of the extra month, there will be 2 more weeks needed. And after that, perhaps another week. And after that, maybe it turns out the situation changed, you did not give them something they were hoping for (e.g. extra documentation) and so on.

In short, if someone is deviating from the agreement this will likely not be the only time.


However, do try to think on why this is happening. Did you discuss a certain outcome, which has not been achieved? Traditionally managers (and students) are horribly bad at estimating required tasks/effort to get to an outcome. So even if you did all the planned tasks, you might not have the expected outcome.

Unfortunately, doing a little bit of extra work is unlikely to change this. So unless there is a very clear finish line, don't get trapped into a journey of discovering what was really needed.


Normally your school board should interfere here, but as they don't do this we need to evaluate the situation as any business situation.

Evaluate the scenarios:

  1. Accept a bad grade
  2. Negotiate to a good outcome
  3. Negotiate to a bad outcome
  4. Do what they ask now and in the future untill they are completely satisfied

I would try to negotiate, some example outcomes that may be OK:

  1. You are done and get a fair grade. (Possibly the manager is made happy by letting the school provide a new student.)
  2. You are compensated (living expense, tuition fee, perhaps even an interns wage).
  3. You strictly limit the time you can keep working on this (NOT dependent on scope/achievements), and put hard guarantees in place to ensure things don't drag on. (If you already did this the first time, this is probably not going to work).

Stay away from bad outcomes:

  1. You just try to do it as 'fast as you can', they promise to want only the bare minimum (for now...)
  2. You agree on delivering a limited outcome (which may need unlimited work in practice)

I would try to make clear you will stop the work at the earlier planned moment if no agreement is reached. This gives the manager the incentive to think with you, with minimal risk of collateral damage to yourself. You will also want to do this asap, before doing any other work.

In most cultures/situations you will want to stay away from petty threats (like holding back previous work, or giving the company a bad name). This is likely to backfire (and may even be illegal).

-3

This is a type of unfair negotiation that works against you and to the benefit of the company or manager. It's blackmailing, but it's still a negotiation, so it's your turn to negotiate. I think it's silly to churn out more work and effort for a bad manager. Not to mention that you will likely see a bad grade anyway, or he will re-negotiate for more work, or for future promises to keep you there for years. First, send a "nice" letter explaining this entire situation: you're finished, thank you for your time, you cannot do additional work that was added after initial scope, and that giving you a bad grade is not a reflection of your fine work and dedication, and that if he values your work you can discuss employment opportunities. Send a copy to your school. Second: find out what is the manager afraid of? His boss? Company regulations? Something bad he did in the past? Mention that in a conversation where you advise him that it's a bad idea to do what he'd doing and "you don't want to have to do that". Very likely you will receive a less than stellar grade from the guy, but listen, does it matter? You will be able to find a much better employer. Best of luck for you.

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    I was following you until you basically recommended to blackmail the manager. – GrumpyCrouton May 1 at 15:48
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    @GrumpyCrouton Yeah, this answer took a dark turn. What's next? "Find out where the manager lives. When sending them the followup email, include, 'You live at XYZ, right? I hope I don't have reason to visit there in the near future.' Include a receipt of a recent weapon purchase as an attachment." Lol – Kevin May 1 at 20:56
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    @Kevin "Great looking [insert personal belonging on bosses property] you've got there... It'd be a shame if something... happened to it..." – GrumpyCrouton May 1 at 20:58
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    "Make him an offer he can't refuse." – Evorlor May 1 at 22:41
  • The answer is bad advice. As others say, I can easily see it going "Pay a dinner to all your family, and at the end of it, find the guy and have a "talk" with him." – Rui F Ribeiro May 2 at 8:28

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