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I was placed on a personal improvement program a few weeks ago for making too much conversation at work. I had to move my desk to my manager's office and we started a much more intensive training program to get me up to speed, since for 8 months no one would assign me any work except for easy scripts or stupid impossible tasks like "Make a program that lets me speak to Microsoft Word". The job is bioinformatics by the way, and yes I'm actively applying for new jobs.

The project manager who's doing this training is assigning me homework, and I've already said that I'll only do it if I have time at work. I didn't for this last assignment, and he got mad and said this looks bad for me on a PIP, and I should be doing it at home to prove that I "want to stay here".

I'm paid hourly, not a salary, so this really would be working for free. What's a good way to push back against this?

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    What sort of tasks? Can you elaborate? Is he asking you to do major projects in your off time? Or something as simple as reading a short article? – Keith May 28 at 16:12
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    If you're paid hourly, your location makes a difference. Are you in the US? – thursdaysgeek May 28 at 16:54
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    "Work for free" what do you call the pay they already gave you whilst you were on "Workplace"? If anything, it sounds like you are ahead on pay, and will be for the foreseeable future. – Aron May 29 at 2:28
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    Probably you were not placed on a personal improvement program a few weeks ago for posting on The Workplace too much during work hours but were placed because you have achieved way less that you were expected during your actual work. – Salvador Dali May 29 at 9:07
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    There are inconsistencies in this question which are quite crucial to the advice to be given. Do you count The Workplace hours towards your worked hours that you charge for? If so, the homework is kinda understandable. Also a program to "bring up to speed" and not having an assignment are different things. You can be brought up to speed when you are slow doing normal tasks, not training. If you have essential skills to do the job, then why not give you one and let you be slow at first? It seems that you were paid for 8 months and still not produced value. This might change perspective. – luk32 May 29 at 12:05
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The direct answer to your question is: If, as you say, you are paid hourly, then you could say that you expect to be paid for any extra time that you have to put in and that you will record this time on your timesheet. (Or however hours are kept.) You could soften it by saying, "hey, I just can't keep up with this workload", i.e. make it your problem instead of a complaint about the company.

That said, how much "homework" are you being asked to do? If it's 8 hours a day, then yeah, I'd push back. If it's a few hours a week, I'd just do it.

You say that you're being given this work because you were reprimanded for an earlier infraction. I don't know if that complaint about your work was justified or not, or reasonable or not. But in general I'd advise you to suck it up and do what you're asked. Unless it is really over the top unreasonable. Even then, I'd say if at all possible, do it while you are looking for another job.

I've had jobs where I didn't like something the company asked me to do for one reason or another. My response has always been to do what I was asked while looking for another job. That way you can leave on good terms. You never know what will happen in the future. Maybe some day you'll want to come back to this company. Maybe someday you'll get another job and your old boss from this company will be there. I've had several times that I found myself working with people that I had known from a previous job.

Sure, I've seen those scenes in movies where someone curses the boss out and storms out in righteous indignation. I don't doubt that it feels good. But aside from the emotional surge, it does you zero good, and may do you active harm. That might be appropriate if the company demanded you do something illegal or that violates your morals, but not for a routine complaint.

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    Thanks, this is a much more reasonable answer than Joe posted. – user104566 May 28 at 18:28
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    How can the OP leave on good terms with a company that's pip-ing them? Why would the OP want to pretend to be incompetent when they are in the process of being fired for exactly that? When exactly is the OP going to cash in these 'brownie' points from doing unpaid overtime, given that the company is in the process of firing them? – Nathan Cooper May 28 at 19:44
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    @NathanCooper I'm sorry, was I unclear on that point? He may want to come back to this company someday in the future. Even if not, if his experience there is so unpleasant that he would never want to come back, he might run into some of the same people at another job in the future. That is, he might "cash in the brownie points" at a future job. Even if you suppose that that is unlikely, it's certainly possible. As I said, it's happened to me. Can you imagine any scenario where screaming at the boss and storming out in a rage would help you in any way ... besides the emotional satisfaction? – Jay May 28 at 21:04
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    There is a difference between rage quitting and not being a doormat who does free work. – bruglesco May 28 at 22:28
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    @bruglesco At the same time, OP hasn't done any work in 8 months. I'd say the company has put in a fair investment into taking care of the OP, who seems to be unwilling to repay. – Mars May 29 at 0:45
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I had to move my desk to my manager's office and we started a much more intensive training program to get me up to speed, since for 8 months no one would assign me any work except for easy scripts or stupid impossible tasks like "Make a program that lets me speak to Microsoft Word". The job is bioinformatics by the way, and yes I'm actively applying for new jobs.

The project manager who's doing this training is assigning me homework, and I've already said that I'll only do it if I have time at work. I didn't for this last assignment, and he got mad and said this looks bad for me on a PIP, and I should be doing it at home to prove that I "want to stay here".

I'm paid hourly, not a salary, so this really would be working for free. What's a good way to push back against this?

Since you don't want to stay there and you have already decided you don't want to do the work for free, simply say that you won't do unpaid work from home. Then don't do it.

Clearly you are on a path to be gone soon anyway, and this will make them angry again. Being on a Performance Improvement Plan pretty much always assures that you will either quit or be fired at the end no matter what you do but it doesn't appear that you care. So no use doing any free work.

You could offer to stay and work extra hours in the office (i.e., not for free) if you so choose.

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    What warrants the comments clearly you're on a path to be gone soon anyway and it doesn't appear that you care ? Plus this "free work" sounds like it is training, so it's likely that the company isn't even directly benefiting from it. – Mars May 29 at 0:52
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    Didn't see the edit. It certainly changes things a lot! Kinda skeptical of the PIP = fired regardless part, but not my area of expertise! – Mars May 29 at 1:12
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    @Mars: Joe is right. Being put on a PIP does mean the employee is going to be fired no matter what he/she does. Giving "homework" is just an excuse (they'll find something wrong with the homework even if he/she does it well) to bring up accusations that will lead to being fired. OP has to actively look for a new job instead of wasting time doing the homework. – Nav May 29 at 7:39
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    I tend to agree with what you wrote about PIP and the local equivalent in Israel (שימוע לפני פיטורין) but I couldn't find any data on either - I would really love some numbers like "this percent of people who went on a PIP ended up being fired". I have a guess that this number is 99% but some data would be awesome. If anyone can finds some (general) data and edit it in that would be swell to back this answer up. – Benjamin Gruenbaum May 29 at 8:22
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    I've survived a PIP (it was for a minor issue in an area where I had uncommon expertise, but still). I'll agree that a PIP isn't a great sign, but it's fundamentally going to be associated with work performance below what the employer wants-- and those employees, consequently, are going to be disproportionately fired/reassigned/demoted relative to others. To say that it's definitely an early (and irrevocable) step in a firing process is strictly inaccurate. It's fair to say that the job of a person on a PIP is in jeopardy, but more than that is too reductive and not well supported. – Upper_Case May 29 at 18:29
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If you're interested in remaining employed there, and the number of hours of this "homework" isn't excessive, then maybe you should consider doing it, seeing as you've spent some number of hours for which you were paid doing personal things like posting on Workplace.

That seems like a fair and equitable way of dealing with this.

They pay you to work. You've been paid for time that you were at work but were doing personal things. If you want them to respect your time and money then you must respect theirs. If you want to get paid for the time that you work then you must work for the time that you get paid for.

It's a two way street.

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    It's a two way street This. I'd give it it's own line to make it stand out more – Mars May 29 at 0:57
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    If we take the OP case at face value -- clocking in to work 8 months and not assigned any tasks -- then how much unpaid work do think they now owe the company? – Daniel R. Collins May 29 at 4:29
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    @DanielR.Collins They are paid for being available to do work they are assigned. If no one assigns them any tasks, management has failed. Especially in the first months you have to supervise new colleagues (= at least one weekly progress meeting) until you are confident that they can work on their own. – Alexander May 29 at 7:01
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    @DanielR.Collins they don't own the company anything. It's the company's fault that OP was not assigned tasks, not OP's. – Ave May 29 at 8:21
  • @Ave: I agree, but this particular answer hinges on the OP seeming to owe the workplace time for past pay, so I'm looking for clarification or limit of that claim. – Daniel R. Collins May 29 at 13:30
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Define homework.

If you're being asked to do workplace tasks in your own time, that clearly isn't acceptable. If the homework is directly linked to a project, consider complaining.

However, you say you're on a PIP. This implies that you are lacking key skills to do your job - and not just that, but that you were probably lacking those skills when you started. An employer can use a PIP to give you the chance to acquire and practice those skills, but it would be a stretch to assume that they had to let you do it all on work time. If the homework is more like working through maths exercises, then absolutely you can be expected to do that kind of studying in your own time.

Of course you can choose not to. But if you're on a PIP, you're being given a last chance to prove you want to stay at the company and do that job. At any point, if it doesn't look like you're taking that opportunity, they can fire you. So that's your call really.

6

Instead of spending work-time on stack exchange, do you work.

Then do stack exchange at home.

This eliminates the need for homework and will serve you well should you stay at this job or go to another. If you do the work well, it will effectively make the PIP successful, and you will be too.

4

Get an email from your manager instructing you that it should be done at home, outside regular hours.

Do it, put in the hours for it on your time-sheet, like you would for any other work. If they don't pay you, file an unpaid wage claim with your state DoL (or federal DoL if you're in Florida).

If they terminate you after the unpaid wage claim, file a wrongful termination complaint with the DoL.

They then have a fun time of proving it wasn't retaliation regarding your unpaid wage claim, especially once the PIP and 'homework' comes up during the investigation, which you will make sure it does.

After the unpaid wage claim, they will know that any termination will result in the DoL coming a-knockin', and don't want that headache, so they likely won't fire you. Employers are exceedingly labor lawsuit averse, oddly enough.

If they do fire you, you're not really any worse off as now you likely have unemployment (which they likely won't fight due to the unpaid wage claim) and your unpaid wage payout to buoy you while you job search.

Your state DoL website is a good resource to reference regarding your legal protections RE: unpaid wages, claims, and retaliation.

EDIT: I want to add - this isn't bulletproof. Legal processes take a while, you could lose your claims, it's all down to 'what will the other people involved in this process decide.', but I offer it as an alternative to 'grin and bear it', and I personally think it's a reasonable course.

  • You're teaching a leech how to exploit the legal system to screw over a decent business for giving the leech free money for 8 months? This is why businesses shouldn't be good samaritans. This leech should've been fired long ago. Downvoted. – Jack May 31 at 20:15
  • @Jack It's odd that you would advocate someone NOT exercising their legal rights.By all means, feel free to drive everyone's wages down by doing unpaid labor, but please don't encourage others to do so as well, or downvote information about how to avoid being illegally forced to do so. – Adonalsium Jun 3 at 12:26
  • Whether someone is or is not at fault for their poor work performance isn't an excuse to allow them to be forced into performing unpaid work illegally. There is a reason that wage theft is the largest form of theft in America by far, and a large amount of it is people doing unpaid work and not knowing they have options to enforce their right to fair pay for their time. – Adonalsium Jun 3 at 13:09
  • Ok, now I know for sure you're trolling. – Jack Jun 3 at 16:34
  • If I was trolling I'd just call you mean 4 letter words. Clearly I am trying to persuade other people reading these comments that your outlook is bad. – Adonalsium Jun 3 at 17:11
0

Let's look at the big picture, here. It may not be your fault, but it sounds like you do not match their expectations of you. If that's true, then the only thing worse than staying would be to get another job which has the similar expectations.

"Since for 8 months no one would assign me any work..."

For whatever reason, you have not been able to meet the company's needs for 8 months. Perhaps your hiring manager misunderstood your level of experience. Perhaps you misunderstood their expectations. Interviewing is hard, and we all get it wrong.

It sounds like they were hoping you would show more initiative, since they did not prepare someone to train you 8 months ago. In fact, it may be that all of the people who are qualified to train you are already stretched thin within their own roles.

"... except for easy scripts or stupid impossible tasks like "Make a program that lets me speak to Microsoft Word".

The folks assigning work to you may not be qualified to do your job. They may not even be qualified to know exactly what your job is, or what the difference is between a small script and voice recognition software.

If that is the case, they were hoping that you were fully equipped to carry out that role on your own, without support from a more senior developer; or perhaps that you would seek and find your own mentorship within the company. In other words, these people view your professional development as your problem to solve; they need you to be ready to meet their needs right away.

"... we started a much more intensive training program to get me up to speed..."

So now, you have been assigned a PM, who is likely working extra hours to get his/her primary job done. That person is covering for your mistakes. He does not care if it was your fault or not. He does not care if you must do homework, because your job is now his homework. His success in his role is now tied (at least partially) to you. His priority is to make sure he does nothing wrong so that he will not be blamed if you fail.

This PM could look bad by giving you leniency, because (ostensibly) the PM's job is to get you ready to meet the company's expectations. In reality, I've heard that a PIP is often a formality, to make sure they do not get sued when they fire you.

Be careful how much you push back. Charging the company for the hours you spend outside of work sounds reasonable to me. However, know that if you push back too much, you are already very close to being fired. That will give you more time to focus on your job search. Do you have enough in savings to survive for a few weeks or months?


I would look for a job which has more opportunity to train you. A recruiter can help you find a good fit. My first employer did not emphasize experience, and would take anyone who said they were willing to learn to program. My boss was also a software developer (the position I was hired for), and he would feed me any task in three or four pieces if I could not grasp the big picture myself. Also, because he was a developer, he knew exactly how much I should be able to accomplish in my first week, and did not overwhelm me. He spent time finding the perfect tasks for me to get started on, so I could train by developing code to go into the product.

That was a lot of extra work for my boss! He was willing to do all that because he could not afford to reward someone for experience. He had a limited budget, and the company had a policy of hiring on one-year contracts: no full-time employees. Before hiring me, he had just lost or let go everyone in my role, and I was the first of three replacements he had hired. I had no future there, but it was a great place to start out.

My second job required me to display a lot more initiative. I was not ready for it, and nearly got fired in the first year. Someone else covered my mistakes, and I adapted. This experience is part of your adaptation. I'm sorry that the job is not working out, but it will be an important step to build your future. Hang in there!

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