I used to work for a very small family-owned startup with minimum wage, zero benefit, and it was very exploitative and toxic in nature.

The family had other businesses and they used to run the startup on the side, more like an experiment. My colleagues and I were humiliated on multiple occasions including once when I had to take a few days off for some family problems, which they were aware of. We were asked to leave the job multiple times as we were very much replaceable by freelancers. So we were told.

I waited patiently quite long for the next best opportunity. In the meantime, all my colleagues left due to the mistreatment and I was alone in the team handling multiple people's work. I was the last one to leave, to their surprise. Ironically, they suddenly realised that they can't find another employee for my place very soon. I left them anyway and joined my new company, but these people have been trying to contact me every week for almost three months, trying to persuade me to do their job as a freelancer.

I tried ghosting them, told them I signed several contracts that forbid me from assisting any other business, but in vain. They are reluctantly sending me lists of tasks as if I'm still on their payroll. I'm avoiding them now. I don't want to do anything for them and have the stress again which I left them for, and also as I know them, they are not going to pay a fortune. How do I get rid of these people without being super rude?

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    Why do you feel the need not to be super rude? They are trying to exploit you. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 20:36
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    @PhilipKendall I was trying to keep a smooth relation for future references and things like that. But seems like this bridge needs to be burned.
    – X5010
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 20:48
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    Why can't you just continue ignoring them?
    – jcm
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 22:17
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    Android and iOS phones both allow you to literally block a number. Why hasn't this been done? If you have a landline, then you can still block the number, just have to contact your phone provider for assistance.
    – Donald
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 22:26
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    Did you try saying “no?” Seems like you (shortly) ghosted them and then made up excuses. “No, I don’t want to work for you any more, and that’s final.”
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 0:46

13 Answers 13


I tried ghosting them, told them I signed several contracts that forbid me from assisting any other business, but in vain. They are reluctantly sending me lists of tasks as if I'm still on their payroll. I'm avoiding them now. I don't want to do anything for them and have the stress again which I left them for, and also as I know them, they are not going to pay a fortune. How do I get rid of these people without being super rude?

If you tried ghosting them but it was "in vain", then you aren't doing it right.

Just stop responding. Don't answer any texts, emails or phone calls. Block them if it makes you feel better.

Eventually, they will go away.

(The "not going to pay a fortune" is completely irrelevant if you really do want to avoid them.)

  • 33
    Not sure why there are any answers other than this. Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 10:42
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    Definetly block them on all channels. Then you won't see the requests and won't have this company on your mind all the time. I doubt they mail printed-out Jira tickets. Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 11:02
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    If the OP has contracts that require not doing outside work, then how much they'd pay is irrelevant.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 15:53
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    Since it's something the OP says they're concerned about, it's worth noting that silence isn't rude when you're dealing with unreasonable people. Etiquette does not require OP to answer the same question over and over again.
    – BSMP
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 18:02
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    @joestrazzere I know, right? Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 17:10

How do I get rid of these people without being super rude?

I have a question for you. How do you get rid of pushy telemarketers and spammers without being super rude?

You politely decline their request and you hang up the phone. Then you block their number. If they continue by email, you just mark their emails as spam (or you make a filter for their email address that automatically skips your inbox). It's really not that difficult. And you can do all these things without "being super rude".

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    Leave out the "politely decline", and just hang up.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 15:54
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    @Donald, you should remember that the people on the end of the line are probably just like you. They may not even like their job, but have to keep doing it to pay bills. Just because the company they work for is BS, it doesn't mean the people who do the daily work are. Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 21:45
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    @Donald, I said "probably", not "all". Obviously some are horrible people, but those who aren't shouldn't be treated as if they are. I have no problems with being rude to people who were first rude to you or others. I quite often reflect back the same energy I get from people, and unfortunately that sometimes includes rudeness or even violent behavior. But I'd rather give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they don't like the situation they have to create any more than I do being in it. And actually scamming people is definitely "rude behavior". Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 22:15
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    Telemarketers and scammers are two different breeds. Yes, they're both obnoxious, but one of them still has some human qualities. @Donald you & kitboga
    – mcalex
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 5:18
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    "They may not even like their job, but have to keep doing it to pay bills. " - sorry, no excuse. I'm quite content to make them hate their job so much that they quit. The only ones I feel sorry for are the people making genuine calls, like telling you your car is due for a service, who now find themselves talking to customers who pick the phone up assuming it's going to be another scammer. Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 10:29

You have a couple of options, probably more than I'm going to list here

  • Block or otherwise make it so you don't see calls or texts from them, continuing to ignore them.
  • If you do have some spare time and are willing, give them a VERY HIGH price per hour for the work you will do for them. Make sure you have a written contract, and are paid quickly for any work you do. They will either accept, and you get money, or they will decline. Make sure, if you do this, that the price is actually high enough for you to be willing to do the work; and you have someone competent to help you with the contract. Don't accept a counter-offer for less money.
  • Contact a lawyer and have the write a letter to them, asking them to quit contacting you for work. (This will burn bridges, but might still be worth it.)
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    Make sure it is not merely ridiculous, but super-ridiculous. Don't accidently quote a semi reasonable rate. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 21:32
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    Be aware that with option 2 they may accept your offer, let you do the work and then just never pay you. If that is the route you go down you will want to CYA so very much.
    – GPPK
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 6:41
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    Don't make it super ridiculous, just high, and payment up front.
    – Stian
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 7:00
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    If you go route #2 (give them a price), don't forget that as a freelancer you will have additional costs related to your filing and tax obligations. So if you want X in your pocket for the work, you should probably at leat double the amount to take that into account (depends a lot on your location and actual status). If you can accurately estimate the time it takes to do the tasks, it may be better to work on a per-task basis (with very small, delimited, well defined tasks, and upfront payment for each task before you even start working).
    – jcaron
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 10:31
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    Also make sure your current work contract actually allows you to work on the side.
    – jcaron
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 10:32

I tried ghosting them, told them I signed several contracts that forbid me from assisting any other business, but in vain. [...] How do I get rid of these people without being super rude?

At the risk of stating the obvious: Tell them in unambiguous words

  • that you are not interested in continuing to work for them (without giving a reason),
  • that you are not going to change your mind and
  • that they should please stop contacting you.

No excuses, no "it's inconvenient right now", no "sorry, my contract doesn't allow that", but a simple NO. If this happens on the phone and they ask for reasons, simply repeat that you are "not interested". You owe them no explanation, and they are the ones being rude by pestering you.

This has the following advantages over the things you have already tried:

  1. If you give them a reason, you invite them to argue. If you don't give them a reason, they have nothing to argue against.

  2. If you explicitly tell them to stop contacting you, they know what you want them to do.

  3. It's a lot less rude than just ghosting them.

After that, I'd give them one more reminder ("I told you to stop contacting me", no "please" this time) and then ignore/block communications from them. Yes, ghosting people is about the super-rudest thing you can do in inter-personal communication (in my opinion - I am aware that not everyone agrees and that this is a cultural thing), but you gave them warning in advance, gave them one reminder (which you weren't obliged to do) and they left you no other choice.

  • This will not work. They will completely ignore this and keep bugging the OP. The only thing "DO NOT REPLY AT ALL". No life sign, no acknowledge, no anything.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 12:45
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    @Hilmar: I agree that this is a possibility, which is why your suggestion is already included as the last (third) step of escalation in my answer. But since OP explicitly does not want to be rude, it's the last step, not the first.
    – Heinzi
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 12:53

Send them an quotation, with a high hourly rate.

Tell them you can help them, but as you are no longer on their pay roll and you dont want to work for free, you have to charge an hourly rate.

A high hourly rate of (eg)150$, billing every started quarter, paid in advance, for all work relating to developing (eg designing, consulting, documenting, etc). Give an estimation, but make sure you add a clear note that it's exactly that, an estimation. And make sure you give them a realistic but high estimation.

It is not about getting the job, it's about setting a boundery, the intention is to scare them off with your rate, to not be the path of least(or cheap) resistance. You want them to reconsider. You've given your terms, they probally can get it done cheaper, great!

You might want to discuss this with your current employer, keeping them up to date. Explain that you have no intention of working or them.

Personally, I have had a lot of people with the "hey, you work with computers right? Can you xyz?". Politely telling those people I value my spare time is frowned upon and often met with a grumpy attitude. Using this method1, they often respond with a "Ah reasonable. Gonna have to think about it", only to never return. This is a very common technique (for IT people).

1 if you're not dealing with companies 60$/hour often is enough to get the message across.

  • 2
    I've added a line about discussing this with the current employer
    – Martijn
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 10:54
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    If OP as no intention of working for them, then they should not send this. Only send it if actually willing to do the work if the ex-employer somehow accepts the conditions. But check first if this is allowed by current work contract, make sure the rate takes into account all the overhead related to freelancing (accounts, filings, registrations, taxes, social security...) and make sure the work to do is very clearly defined and delimited.
    – jcaron
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 11:36
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    Also as recommended in comments above, if OP doesn't trust them, then if OP goes this route they should most definitely collect payment much more frequently than quarterly (e.g. daily) and add a "I can stop at any time for any reason" clause to prevent the possibility of the exploitative ex-employer getting a large chunk of work out of OP and then simply never paying them for it. By getting payment frequently and upfront, and by having no legal requirement to continue past any given point, OP effectively reduces their risks to near zero, transferring those to the ex-employer.
    – bob
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 13:31
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    $150 hour isn't that far off the type of rate I would expect from the author for a real quote. *That certainly is near my actual hourly rate. *
    – Donald
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 15:09
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    Be careful with this method i once totally over quoted the job and still got it! Worst day of my life.
    – JonH
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 3:29

It's a bit extreme, but you might talk to the police or your local political representative about what options are available to stop this "harassment".

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    +1, but I would add that a clear reply to them saying leave him alone should come first, and should be in writing.
    – donjuedo
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 18:19

I have the feeling that part of the problem is that you need to be more assertive, which is a problem I also know too well. With unreasonable and bad people, if you tell them no but are not assertive enough, they interpret it as "this person is weak, I can get him to do as I say". What might help you is a change of perspective. Here I leave you a list of thoughts that helped me. Feel free to pick the points that help you or even get creative:

  • It's ok to be rude to people trying to harm you on purpose.
  • Are you taking responsibility for other people's feelings? If so, remind yourself that it's their business, not yours. If someone gets angry because you told him "no", it's their problem.
  • Saying no to those people is saying yes to yourself: to your peace, your time, your well being, etc.
  • Think of telling them no and blocking them as some king of protective shield against their rudeness.

There is also a book called The Gift of Fear: And Other Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence, from Gavin de Becker. You can download it in pdf. It contains a chapter dedicated to situations when some harasser doesn't take no for an answer. It basically says what Joe Strazzere already wrote here (not answering them, block them), plus what you shouldn't do (be very careful to involve the police, because then you create a strong relationship), plus why such people do what they do (they are nor reasonable, they twist your words in their heads).


The important, and kinda neglected in other answers, part is:

told them I signed several contracts that forbid me from assisting any other business, but in vain.

Next time when they try to contact you in writing / mail, reply with something like this:

I am forbidden from assisting you per my contract with [company], signed on dd/mm/yyyy. Please do not ask me to breach my contract. If you will continue to do so, I will feel obligated to report this to [company]'s legal division and ask them for assistance.

This is not rude, this is factual, if cold, and shows you are serious about your contracts. Fear of a lawsuit from your current employer, and clear information that they might be entering illegal territory, should work like a really good deterrent.

And if it won't work as a deterrent, then by all means you should ask company you have a contract with for assistance. They deserve to know who is approaching you asking to possibly break your contract with them, and will be best equipped to assist you in the matter.


I had this problem with a staffing firm that would call me multiple times a day, even after I made it quite clear to them that I didn't want them to contact me anymore. Eventually, I contacted the police for assistance getting them to stop (which was successful). In my case, I was able to email the police department in the area where the company was headquartered, which was quite helpful. You can also file a harassment complaint with your local police department.

Before you try either option, make sure that you are quite clear with them that you don't wish them to contact you anymore. Keep copies of any communication and make sure that you get it in writing - for example, email (preferably with a delivery and read receipt requested, so that you can prove that they received it) and/or certified mail (again, so that you can prove that they received it). Also be sure to keep records of any phone calls or emails you receive from them so that you can prove that they continued to contact you after you asked them not to.

You can also block their email (e.g. have Outlook auto-delete their emails, or perhaps block them with your ISP) and use a call-screening app to reject any calls from them.


If you really want to burn the bridge, which it sounds like you do, and asking them to stop contacting you hasn't worked, ask again in writing by both electronic and physical means with an invoice for a letter handling fee for your time (much like some businesses like banks charge for sending you a "payment is late" letter). Each time the contact you send a revised invoice.

They will probably stop contacting you quickly. If they don't, then a few letters in the total will likely be enough to raise at your local small claims court at which point tell them you will take that route if they don't either pay the outstanding amount or stop contacting you. The goal isn't to actually make money off this, it is to stop them because they don't want it on public record that their business was taken to court, even the small claims court.

Of course the validity of this option depends greatly on the law of your locality.


Discuss the matter with your current employer as you have here...

...Now is there any mileage in the new employer stealing work from the previous employer. Clearly the previous company are at the very least struggling, so why not look upon it as an opportunity to get more work? Leave it to new company to do the pitching. Don't do anything underhand.


I would respond to them with an offer to freelance for an hourly rate that is high enough that you'd actually enjoy doing the work. If that's 10 times what they paid before - fine. If it's 20 times - no problem. It's a free country, they can choose to accept your offer or not.

After that, whenever they contact you, point to the offer and ask if they accept or not.

Clarification: I mean what I write: Quote them a number where you'd actually want to do the work if they actually accepted. If it's $1000 per hour, quote them that. Don't explain the price. And if they really take you up on it - make sure they pay in advance.

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    One million dollars, in advance.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 19:32
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    Making an offer you don't actually intend to follow through on is dangerous business. What if they actually accept, against all expectations? OP doesn't want to work for these people at any price, so he shouldn't waste his own time pretending like he would.
    – Steve-O
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 21:50
  • Why is it downvoted? Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 2:45
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    @Steve-O who said anything about not following through? I have one employer in my work history that I would definitely not work for again. But if they offered me, say, 10 grand a day as a freelancer I'd definitely go, swallow my pride for a month and then go on holiday for a year.
    – Tom
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 15:15
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    @soxwithMonica Nope. Tom's answer does not imply that "you don't actually intend to follow offer". Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 2:42

An expansion of @thursdaysgeek's last answer, but cheaper (even free).

Use your new company's legal team. Tell them you are being harassed by your former employers and need legal assistance on how to tell them to cease and desist. Your new employer's legal team will be more than happy to protect their own staff from harassment from another employer.

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    Your new employer's legal team will be more than happy to protect their own staff from harassment from another employer - That seems highly doubtful to me. Unless the former employer's "harassment" was having a tangible economic and material impact on the current employer's business then I don't see why the current employer would care or get involved. I can think of several reasons though why they wouldn't get involved.
    – joeqwerty
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 2:43
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    @joeq Poaching employees is a thing legal is interested in. Legal spends most their time doing Itty bitty changes to obscure documents that are never read, they'd love to get some action like this.
    – Stian
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 7:03
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    On that note, some companies offer Employee Assistance Programs, which often include legal advice Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 11:59
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    Downvoted. You do NOT want the get your current employer involved in this: It's an easy enough problem to deal with and asking for help is inappropriate (since it's a non-trivial expense for your employer) and makes you look incompetent.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 12:44
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    Your new company's legal department is not your personally retained lawyer. Weird answer.
    – Bort
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 16:54

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