Some weeks ago upper management gave me the task of updating the company's website without telling it to my team leader. They were clear that this task was going to be unpaid and should not interfere with my current assignments, also they gave me a soft-deadline of 1 month to do it. They also said that it wasn't a mandatory task, and my decision would be taken into account. While I knew that it was going to be a lot of work, I decided to do it just to refresh my front-end skills and to disconnect a little from my painfully boring back-end job.

What happened? Well, I got really engaged in this task and it interfered with my current assignments to the point that my team leader noticed my drop in performance and connected the dots after catching me working on the company's website. Then he reported me to upper management and I had a meeting with the person of upper management who gave me the task. In the meeting they said that the website was an optional task and that I owe the company 3 working days (24 hours). On top of that they asked me to go back to my back-end duties and give them all my progress related to the company's website. After this I felt quite frustrated as I was starting to enjoy creating the website, and I believe it was an unfair request considering that they know that I regularly do unpaid overtime (around 20 hours per month).

Now I'm starting to look for another job, but I am not sure if I should work these 3 extra days, or tell upper management to take them from my vacations or simply not pay me for them. Which is the wisest decision?

Extra information:

I am part of a team of back-end workers, and our company is a consultancy company.

This is the US but I am not an at will employee.

I am leaving not only because of this incident, but because I don't enjoy my work, the working environment is quite toxic to the point that sometimes I have nightmares about it, and I am paid below average.

Thanks for reading.

  • 6
    Why did they come to you with unpaid work to do, and why did they keep it from your team leader?
    – jesse
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 18:38
  • The task is not mandatory - but there is a deadline? You start doing something without telling your team leader you will drop out of what he thinks you are busy with?
    – puck
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 4:02
  • There's a lot of text here but crucial details are missing: what does "I am not an at will employee" mean? Are you a contractor? I kind of assume as much because if not I would assume you're salaried. Or do you have an employment contract? And why are you getting deadlines on optional work (as per jesse's questions)? Is it normal for you / your industry to get "unpaid work" (which is normally illegal)?
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 10:44

2 Answers 2


Afaik in US you can't really "owe" your employer working days as long as you attended work (and even if you didn't attend, it's at worst be considered vacation/pto not owed). It depends on the contract about whether your company can give financial penalty for your "low performance", but most states' labor law prohibits employer to cut off your dated salary as long as you attended.

So since you already decided to leave (good call btw), move on that route, keep your head down before you get a ideal offer, but make sure you keep record of all extra work that your management assign to you, and the record that you attended work on time. Once you have a signed offer, send in your letter and if your current employer still brags about the "owed working days", make it clear that you owe them nothing and make sure you get whatever benefit you legally deserve. As long as you have enough proof that you attended work, there's very low chance your current employer would want to dispute further on it.

  • No sense rocking the boat as you're trying to get out. In addition to carefully logging all worked hours, I would keep three PTO days in reserve though, just in case, especially as the OP did not follow their instructions.
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 19:47

You should not work there anymore.

I feel like you made a mistake by regularly doing unpaid work. That has put you in a situation where it would seem bad if you didn't take the "optional" task because you have done so much optional work in the past that it's kind of expected from you to do anything they give you.

And now that you have taken the optional task, naturally this would affect your performance, causing issues with your main duties, it's very irresponsible of the management to even ask you for such a thing. That seems like a toxic environment.

  • This does not address the main question. OP already stated they were planning to leave. How do they address the 3 days with their management?
    – Summer
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 19:21
  • They tell management to discuss the issue with their attorney. The illegal and inethical request will evaporate at that point.
    – arp
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 13:14

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