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I currently work as a mentor for an online boot camp as an independent contractor. When I was hired, I was only informed after I started meeting with students that I am only paid for the first 30 minutes of a call regardless of how long a student wants to talk. I am also not paid for any grading work or for a monthly mentor meeting. The company also asked me to do a Q&A session with students without pay.

I let all of these go, even though I'm not sure that it is legal. But a few times now, the company has asked me to have a meeting with a representative to glean insight about my employer and trends in the industry. This is again, without pay. This last time, I have chosen to simply ignore the email. However, the employee (let's call him John) has escalated this request to another employee (let's call him Fred) A few hours ago Fred emailed me requesting for me to meet with John. This is the third email already regarding this matter.

Would it be appropriate to reply by saying that I will only meet if these are billable hours? Should I make up a lie to get out of the meeting instead? I have zero intention of doing anything for them for free ever again.

  • 41
    Do you get paid the full 30 minutes even if the call only takes 10? – Llewellyn Sep 10 at 7:09
  • As a simple action, have you send them an invoice for past "free" work before? If yes, what has been the response? – rkeet Sep 11 at 7:14
122

I have zero intention of doing anything for them for free ever again.

So don't. Polite but firm along the lines of 'Are these hours going to be billable?' At this point you're not refusing to do anything or burning bridges, just after information in writing, preferably from the person authorised to pay you.

I'm actually wondering why you're bothering at all.... but at least this will clear the air and you can make an informed decision from the reply.

When things get murky it's best to ask clear questions and just ignore anything that isn't a clear answer to the question posed, don't dance around hinting,it's not a disco. Especially with money.

  • 71
    This, and optional follow-up: "I'm sorry, but I just can't afford to do unpaid work, I'm sure you understand!" – Geoffrey Brent Sep 10 at 11:18
  • @GeoffreyBrent, I understand where you're going with that, but most people who are OK with managing people in this situation don't understand that people can't work for free. They absolutely expect people to work for free, otherwise they'd be paying them appropriately. The company is working under an illegal premise, so nothing the OP can say to them is going to change their situation. – computercarguy Sep 10 at 16:36
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    @computercarguy for clarity, I am suggesting the "I'm sure you understand" as a polite form of words, not as a factual statement about the situation. The implied subtext here is "...or at least you bloody well ought to", but saying that out loud probably isn't going to get OP a good outcome. – Geoffrey Brent Sep 11 at 0:25
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    @GeoffreyBrent briefer the better is the best policy in my opinion, implying etc... is what I meant by 'dancing'. A simple clear question with no wiggle room invites a simple clear answer, ignore anything else. – Kilisi Sep 11 at 1:29
  • @GeoffreyBrent, well in that case, that's condescending and not likely to get the OP what they want either. Best to just leave that off, since it doesn't help the situation and, said in the wrong tone, could even make matters worse. – computercarguy Sep 11 at 15:53
26

No pay, no work. It's as simple as that. There are times when we give our employers a little more than what they're paying us for, but this is a clear case of your being taken advantage of.

If it were me, I would cease performing all unpaid work... and I'd be looking to terminate my relationship with this company.

You need to be in the "You" business. If you don't get paid than you shouldn't perform work or provide services.

  • 6
    No pay, no work. It's as simple as that. The thing is, it's often not as simple as that, especially in some niche professions where there are expectations that are very different than that. Such as teaching - where the expectation is that teachers will do work like lesson prep and grading without "billing" those hours to anyone. – dwizum Sep 10 at 20:02
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    True but you're speaking to a wider context. My answer addresses the OP's employment as an independent contractor, as was stated in the question. As a fellow independent contractor I perform no work for which I don't get paid. No pay. No work. – joeqwerty Sep 11 at 1:43
16

It's real simple, they are taking advantage of you. What they are doing is probably illegal. You need to stop working for free, now. This is a form of a sweatshop and I'd advise getting out now. I know that's generally not immediately possible, but you need to do yourself a favor and find a new job.

Compliance Assistance - Wages and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

-Covered nonexempt workers are entitled to a minimum wage of not less than $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009.
...
-Hours Worked (PDF) : Hours worked ordinarily include all the time during which an employee is required to be on the employer’s premises, on duty, or at a prescribed workplace.

https://www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/

Definition of "Employ"

By statutory definition the term "employ" includes "to suffer or permit to work." The workweek ordinarily includes all time during which an employee is necessarily required to be on the employer's premises, on duty or at a prescribed work place. "Workday", in general, means the period between the time on any particular day when such employee commences his/her "principal activity" and the time on that day at which he/she ceases such principal activity or activities. The workday may therefore be longer than the employee's scheduled shift, hours, tour of duty, or production line time.

Also:

Lectures, Meetings and Training Programs: Attendance at lectures, meetings, training programs and similar activities need not be counted as working time only if four criteria are met, namely: it is outside normal hours, it is voluntary, not job related, and no other work is concurrently performed.

https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs22.pdf

IANAL, but it looks like what your employer is doing is illegal. You and your coworkers should report this company for their unfair wages. Reporting this to the correct authorities provides whistleblower protections. Not that I'd want to continue working for this company, but it can provide protection against discrimination, firing, blacklisting, and other forms of making your life miserable. Doing this anonymously or by stating you wish to remain anonymous from disclosure should protect you. If they start punishing everyone, you can report that, too.

https://www.whistleblowers.gov/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whistleblower_protection_in_the_United_States#Labor_disputes

Edit:

erickson brings up a good question.

The below article says that a contractor isn't covered by labor laws.

https://www.acf.hhs.gov/css/resource/the-difference-between-an-independent-contractor-and-an-employee

Yet they are apparently treated as an employee. There's only a few details in the Question along these lines, so it's not 100% clear, but that's what I get out of it. Which means to me that they could be incorrectly classified as a contractor and are actually an employee. My advice is based on this idea. When I read the Question, it didn't read as a contractor, it read as an employee.

The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work, not what will be done and how it will be done.

  • Behavioral Control: A worker is an employee when the business has the right to direct and control the work performed by the worker, even if that right is not exercised. ...
  • Financial Control: Does the business have a right to direct or control the financial and business aspects of the worker's job? ...
  • Relationship: The type of relationship depends upon how the worker and business perceive their interaction with one another. ...

Consequences of Misclassifying an Employee

Classifying an employee as an independent contractor with no reasonable basis for doing so makes employers liable for employment taxes. Certain employers that can provide a reasonable basis for not treating a worker as an employee may have the opportunity to avoid paying employment taxes.
...
Workers who believe an employer improperly classified them as independent contractors can use Form 8919 to figure and report the employee’s share of uncollected Social Security and Medicare taxes due on their compensation.

https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/understanding-employee-vs-contractor-designation

It's not beyond the realm of possibility this company is classifying the OP as an independent contractor to try to avoid all the legal problems with their current way of trying to pay their workers. This is shady as anything, and needs to be reported.

  • Does any of this apply to independent contractors? The OP doesn't have an employer. They have a client, and the client keeps asking for freebies. As a business owner, the OP has to decide whether that's in her long-term interest or not. – erickson Sep 10 at 17:09
  • @erickson, good question. I've updated my Answer. – computercarguy Sep 10 at 17:25
5

I am not a contractor, nor am I a lawyer.

My understanding of the way contracting works, at least in my field (which is not education) is that you are not paid a salary; instead, you are paid an hourly wage: you calculate how many hours you worked, multiply that by your wage, and invoice your employer for that amount, and they pay the invoice or you sue them. That's called "billable hours".

It looks like your employer has negotiated (perhaps unilateral negotiation, which you implicitly accepted by taking the job) certain conditions on what you are/are not allowed to bill them for in your billable hours. Therefore it is in your best interest to minimize the amount of that sort of stuff that you do, because then you're giving your time for free. But you already know that.

So here's what you do:

  1. You are only being paid for 30 minutes of class time. So keep your class time to 30 minutes. If your student wants to talk for more than 30 minutes, kindly explain that you have other stuff to do in your life and other students to teach, and you don't have time to chat for longer than 30 minutes. It's definitely about the money, but the students don't need to know that; as a teacher it's expected that you have other students so just say that.

  2. You aren't being paid for grading homework, so don't grade homework. One alternative to grading homework is to have your students complete their homework, and then review it with them during class time together, rather than grading it yourself. If your school requires a marks sheet, you can use a "present/not present" system, where the student gets, e.g. 0% for incomplete, 50% for complete but with errors, and 100% for complete sufficiently.

  3. If you are running a session for your students, or attending meetings, you should tell your employer these are to be billable hours, unless it is pre-written in your contract that they are not. Your employer may use an excuse like "But it's part of your job", to which you reply (much more nicely than this but this is the point you want to get across), "paying me is your job, and you're not doing yours, so why should I do mine?" This may be seen as dereliction of duty and you may be fired for this, though, so make sure you are prepared for that possibility if it comes up.

The above is all assuming that you are in fact a contractor, as laid out above, paid by wage with billable hours laid out by contract. If you are paid by salary, this gets more murky, because there's probably a clause in your contract that says something along the lines of "and you may be expected to work small amounts of overtime here and there without pay" in very murky language that more or less allows them to do whatever they want until they piss you off enough to find something else. There exists a concept called Constructive Dismissal (Google it) that prevents them from really screwing you over in this way, but the situation as described doesn't rise to the level of constructive dismissal imo, so I don't think it applies here.

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    I would tell the students that I only do calls of at most 30 minutes. But that they are welcome to request another one immediately after finishing the earlier one due to that limit. Sure that produces a weird process, but if students have a problem with that, they should raise their issues with the boot camp. – Ángel Sep 11 at 0:38
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Would it be appropriate to reply by saying that I will only meet if these are billable hours? Should I make up a lie to get out of the meeting instead? I have zero intention of doing anything for them for free ever again.

This sort of thing happens often when consulting. Managers come to you and try to get you to do work for a customer without billing your hours to their project. At the same time, the manager bills their client. The manager's numbers look better because the client is being billed but there are no labor costs.

One place I worked was so awful about it I ended up resigning because I had to use personal days to make up for a 16-hour gap. I'm a technical guy and not a contract negotiator. I don't want to barter for each job I work.

I don't think you should say, "I will only meet if these are billable hours". Rather, you should give a rough estimate of the time for the task and ask what project gets billed for the hours. The manager will learn you have an expectation of billing without the direct demand for billable hours.

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