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I've been working for a small software company for the past five months. The job posting bragged of flexibility and part-time work at home, two things which I desperately needed as I am trying to launch a freelance web design business of my own.

The employer did not discuss salary at the interview. Later the next day, I get a call where the employer tells me they want to hire me, and now would like to discuss salary. I don't want to be too specific, but to say the least I'm being grossly underpaid.

I took the job anyways because I was expecting ample flexibility (that the employer had described to me) to setup my freelance portfolio while still collecting a paycheck (small as it is).

Boy oh boy was I naive to believe all of the so called "perks" of the job. I come to find out that the employer is not flexible, part-time work at home is non-existent (1 day in 5 months), and not to mention I'm expected to be available for technical support on our products 24/7. I have gotten calls anywhere from 9PM to 3AM that have led to hours of troubleshooting. If I don't answer my phone at any hour of the day, I'm scolded for it. I'm often called on Saturday and Sunday to pick up my coworkers' slack on projects with deadlines.

All of this, and I'm still being grossly underpaid (50% of the average median salary for this position in my city).

Now, all of that said, after struggling for the past five months to even find the energy to launch my freelance web design company, I am finally up and ready to go. My parents (who are partially financially dependent upon me) just lost their jobs two weeks ago. I knew I needed to make a change. I have built my freelance web design portfolio and have a long list of clients who I am actively in contact with that are waiting to purchase a website when my freelance business launches. I have a large chunk of money in savings, so I'm not worried about the instability of freelancing, but that money is being spent very fast and I feel like I need to pursue this opportunity ASAP.

My idea is to offer up an ultimatum: I can no longer work for this company full time. I will, however, offer to complete work remotely on a freelance (hourly) basis for an indefinite period of time.

This is really the ideal situation (and is actually the same situation that someone is in with the company), however I'm not sure if this is something they are looking for moving forward. This brings me to the real question:

Is it fair for me to impose an ultimatum like this? If the employer denies the ultimatum, would it be unreasonable for me to quit without notice given the situation? Should I make it clear that I cannot give notice when I give them the ultimatum?

Usually, I would have no problem providing two weeks notice. The issue is simply that in addition to all of my other responsibilities, I am also in a client-facing position. I am set to be working on-site for the following week, meaning I would largely be offline and this simply doesn't fly with me. I need the necessary time to get the ball rolling on this freelance thing for my sake and that of my family. If I were to return to work Monday, I would be putting myself in a rough position. I don't want to go into too much more detail about this, but if you have any questions please post them in the comments and I'll do my best to respond.

Thanks, John

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    Not really an answer, but a week-or-two project delay can happen for a lot of reasons. Family emergencies, flues, etc. So it's unprofessional but don't think you're the first or last person to cause a project delay. Try not to let five months go by and let a situation get this messy again though. – Eric Nov 17 '13 at 0:31
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    Why haven't you confronted this employer about failing to keep the promises made during the hiring process? – user8365 Nov 18 '13 at 1:41
  • One advice "there is no security only opportunity" dont look for a part time job just for the sake of security..take the plunge go full time freelancing keep your online profile strong so that your exprnc adds if you want to do job again. – amar Nov 18 '13 at 5:33
  • What is most important ? Your family who depends on you ? Or the company who underpays you ? – Nicolas Barbulesco Mar 31 '14 at 8:22
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Part 1: Ultimatums

A bad idea. You're either in or you're out. From the sound of it, you're out. It seems like the employer didn't really hear you when you were talking about part time and work at home - s/he heard another employee babbling about 'quality of worklife' blah blah blah and told you whatever you wanted to hear. Given what they've asked you to do since, you have no business being there.

Part 2: Freelance Overcommitment

If you actually have 'a long list of clients' you will have more work than you can stand. Working for this employer 'part time' is adding too much to too much. You're going to have to make sure you don't promise too much to too many people - people starting out do that routinely and fry. Don't have more than three open projects at any one moment. Two is the ideal number if there if one of the clients asks you to suspend work from time to time. If you're in an area that has thousands of listings on the job boards - you're going to overcommit - I guarantee it.

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    The only thing I would add to this is that if your company complains that they can't do without you (and don't assume they automatically will) then tell them they can hire you on a freelance basis for some amount of time to allow for a handover - but at the rate you set. Pitch that high enough so that it's worth your while to put off your other clients - at least a good bit above the going contract rate. And write into the contract the stuff you want about flexible times and working from home etc. – DJClayworth Nov 17 '13 at 23:12
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    Don't work freelance for the same company. That is a huge mistake. If there are issues enough with the company that make you want to leave, working part-time on a freelance basis (or even getting a raise) won't fix the problem. Be nice, but be firm and head out the door. – guitarthrower Nov 18 '13 at 17:24
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I recently found myself in a somewhat similar situation (except there wasn't bad blood between my employer and myself - it sounds like you have a bit of bad blood there) and I was successful in my 'ultimatum' request (not that I would call it that).

What I did (i.e. similar to what you can do)

I arranged a meeting with my manager, in which I stated that I would not be able to continue my current employment arrangement and gave the applicable reasons, and I said that I would be willing to continue with a new arrangement, if my employer wishes to keep me on under those terms. I went in knowing exactly the terms I wanted, knew they were reasonable (given that other employees were working under similar terms), and ended up getting them (but I was open to negotiation, to some extent).

Don't say you're going to resign if you don't get what you want - that sounds like an ultimatum. The above phrasing should be sufficient to make your intention to resign clear.

The phrasing I used was making it fairly clear that I was most likely going to resign if we couldn't come to an agreement on my proposed terms. This may not always be wise (it still may sound / come across as an ultimatum) - you may want to dial it down a little, if you wish - perhaps just say you'd like to spend some more time on some personal projects and would like to renegotiate your employment arrangement for this purpose (or something like that).

Give it some time

There may be various administrative issues to sort out or discuss. It's reasonable (but not guaranteed) to expect a definitive answer in less than 2 weeks (assuming the applicable parties aren't on leave) - I don't think there's much you can do beyond stating that you would appreciate an answer (as to whether or not it's acceptable) soon (perhaps adding a timeframe - e.g. "in the next two weeks"). Giving a hard deadline can also work, assuming it's reasonable and you've got a valid reason.

If they decline your request, you should only give your two-weeks notice afterwards. If this is not acceptable, you could consider giving notice and saying you would be willing to renegotiate your contract terms at the same time, but I don't expect this to go particularly well.

Get it in writing

It's best to get anything in writing. If it's not written anywhere, it's your word against theirs. If you have it on your contract, they're essentially violating the terms of the contract, which may have legal repercussions for them, along with possibly giving you the freedom to just leave at any time (as far as I'm aware - I'm not a lawyer though).

I'm assuming you didn't get the claimed perks in writing - they would be less inclined to not allow them if they are in writing (although they could also have been stated very vaguely, i.e. they're not actually violating the contract).

This of course assumes you have an official contract - if not, you could at least get official agreement in the form of an e-mail, if nothing more, from the applicable parties.

Read carefully

Something like support is fairly easy to be slipped into a contract without getting too much attention.

Read your contract carefully and request clarifications (in writing, preferably in the form of changes to the contract) where necessary.

Bad blood isn't good

As mentioned above, there appears to be a bit of bad blood here. If this is the case, you're likely to go into the above meeting with a negative attitude, which is unlikely to go well. And this bad blood is not particularly likely to go away with a different work arrangement (although it's certainly possible - the bad blood may have been caused by miscommunication or mismanagement - people agreeing to terms without having the proper authority to do so, or people not being aware of any agreed terms).

Overcommitting

As Meredith mentioned, overcommitting can certainly be a problem. Be sure you'll have enough time for both before you make any decision - it won't help a whole lot to go to the effort of getting this new arrangement approved if you're going to resign soon afterwards because you realize you need more time to work on it.

Don't fall into the same traps

You've seen now that there may be some hidden terms. Be sure to make everything explicit, and get it in writing. Some possibly applicable examples:

  • Have an upper limit to the number of hours per day / week / month you'll work.
  • Make it clear that there are no additional hours involved, under any circumstances (could be a problem for some employers as there may be some strict deadlines to meet / support requirements - perhaps consider agreeing on how often you'd be willing to go beyond these hours).
  • Say you're not willing to work after hours (or consider an upper limit of hours per week / month that you'd work after hours).
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Is it fair for me to impose an ultimatum like this? If the employer denies the ultimatum, would it be unreasonable for me to quit without notice given the situation? Should I make it clear that I cannot give notice when I give them the ultimatum?

I'm not sure about fairness, but it would clearly be unprofessional.

I'm sure you know that most employers expect a reasonable notice period, and that two weeks is the custom in most US situations. So you are basically threatening to be unprofessional unless they meet your ultimatum.

It seems unlikely that an employer would permit a disgruntled employee who has only been there for 5 months the ability to work remotely on a part-time basis (at least I wouldn't). So it's reasonable to expect their answer to be "No".

Thus you would be left leaving immediately.

Is that fair to the employer? Probably not. Is that unprofessional? Almost certainly.

Should you care? That depends on how much you value your reputation, and perhaps on how much your new business might be negatively impacted by those who know or learn of your immediate less-than-professional departure. If I were starting a freelance business, I'd want as sterling a reputation as possible. For freelancers, referrals are rather important.

Is a two week delay fatal to your new business? It's hard to imagine that it would be, but only you are in a position to know for sure.

It's quite possible that your employer would be willing to let you go on good terms if you removed the "ultimatum" part and just explained that you would like to get going in your new position as quickly as possible, but would understand if they need you to stay the full two weeks. After all, you have only been there 5 months - you can't be irreplaceable.

That's the approach I would take. At best, I'd be on to my new business in short order, and have left my prior company on good terms, with my professional reputation intact. At worst, I'd be there two weeks longer, but I'd still be leaving on good terms and with my good reputation.

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    Thanks, I appreciate the answer! The only point that I'm not sure if I expressed in my original post is that the job description stressed part-time work at home (working remotely) as a key point. Not to mention the fact that about half of the company is based remotely. Only five of us work in the office. – John Nov 17 '13 at 0:40

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