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My friend recently got a coop job (he's a university student). The job starts in 10 days. His exams finish tomorrow and the manager who hired my friend told my friend to start training for the job and start and learning JavaScript and JQuery tomorrow. Are companies allowed to do that? I mean, I'm all for going prepared on the first day and being super productive, I myself have been told I'm a really hard worker, but I just don't like how he JUST finished exams and the company told him to start training.

I don't like it because he signed the offer letter and it said he starts in 10 days (and in the interview, before they even gave the job, he mentioned that he didn't know JavaScript but he's a quick learner), it states nothing about early training. He just finished exams and I think they shouldn't be sending him an email telling him to start training and learning JavaScript right when he's got a 10 day break between university and work. The coop job I have gave me the first week to ease into work and started me off with small projects which require html, css, javascript and JQuery so that I can learn on the job.

My question is, if my friend mentioned before he got hired that he doesn't know JavaScript / JQuery but he can learn it on the job, and if the offer letter states that he begins in 10 days and doesn't say anything about early training, if the manager emails him to start training and learning 10 days before the work starts, is it appropriate / normal for the manager to stack him with JavaScript work on the first day and say 'well I told you to learn this 10 days ago so it's your fault if you can't get this done within the next few days because you still need to learn it'?

Note: Again, I am all for being prepared fully for the job and even before my work term began, I did learn stuff at my own will ahead of time, I just wouldn't like my manager emailing me before the work even starts and telling me to learn stuff (especially given the fact that my work place gave me a good first week of work to ease into the work and learn what is required).

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    Can you clarify: is it actual training they're talking about (i.e. he is being sent on a course to be trained in JavaScript)? Or rather that they expect him to start immediately on self-study at teaching himself JavaScript? – Carson63000 Apr 14 '14 at 3:54
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    Maybe there's some misunderstanding in the original email - we're getting this information second or third-hand. Nothing wrong with a boss saying "congratulations, looking forward to you starting and I suggest you start gearing up for the role" - that's a far cry from "spend all your time learning or else" – HorusKol Apr 14 '14 at 4:06
  • The company can do absolutely anything they want. If he doesn't like it, he should politely tell them "I'm no longer interested in the offer, but thanks." – Fattie Apr 14 '14 at 11:54
  • @Fatster - You can still accept the job, decline to do whatever they ask you to do and have them suffer the consequences if it leads to a wrongful termination. – user8365 Apr 14 '14 at 16:08
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    @JeffO I'm not so sure that being terminated for refusing to perform work that you were hired to perform is considered "wrongful termination". – Triplell89 Apr 14 '14 at 20:24
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This is definitely within what a company is allowed to ask of you, although, if it's an absolute requirement, it should be discussed prior to them making the offer, or included as a condition of the offer itself, because you may have other things to do during these 10 days - strictly speaking, you have no obligation to give them your time prior to the commencement of your employment, unless you agreed to it.

We don't know the exact details of the communication - it may just have been something like:

If you get some time during the next 10 days, we'd appreciate it if you could start working your way through a JavaScript tutorial or two in preparation for the role.

This is more of a polite request than a command.

Although it could certainly also have been more like:

Please spend the next 10 days learning as much JavaScript as possible. We expect you to have a moderate grasp of the language by the time you start.

Which, if you wish, you could certainly respond to with something like:

Unfortunately I have some personal obligations to tend to during the next 10 days, and likely wouldn't be able to spend much time learning JavaScript. I sincerely hope this doesn't affect the job offer.

Although, in the worst case, this could lead to you not getting the job or being let go as soon as you start (depending on whether the labour laws in the applicable country and the contract allow for this) - while they may or may not be allowed to withdraw an accepted job offer, they may also be allowed to let you go with one day notice without reason during a 'probation' period (the duration may vary - it's 3 months at my current employer).

While it doesn't seem likely that they'll get rid of you straight away after going to the trouble of hiring you, they may consider docking your pay (which may be illegal), and it would certainly make a lot better impression if you spend some time during the next 10 days learning JavaScript. Honestly, if you have the time, spending 10 days of your personal time to make a good first impression at your job is definitely worth it.


My two cents on learning a language in 10 days - that's really only enough to get a basic understanding of it. The type of things you'd be expected to do in a job would require quite a bit more time than that, not to mention the fact that you'd spend quite a bit of time getting familiar with the existing code base, if there is one. You could certainly be asked to code something or fix a bug or make a minor change in the existing code base starting on the first day or two (assuming all admin issues are resolved quickly) - while expecting that you figure it out all by yourself would be unreasonable, throwing you into the deep end and letting you ask questions as they come up is perfectly reasonable - don't expect hand-holding.

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    I opted for "you" rather than "he", as I prefer to write answers that way. – Dukeling Apr 14 '14 at 6:25
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    Spending 10 days relaxing and decompressing after finishing ones studies is not a luxury in my opinion (maybe depending on how busy the period up-to the finishing was). Starting your first job is quite a busy and stressfull period, so getting some downtime is important. Any new hire needs to get up-to-speed, and the employer should take this time into account. – Paul Hiemstra Apr 14 '14 at 7:49
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It sounds like your friend was hired for a job that he was not quite qualified for, with the expectation that he would begin working to remedy his deficiencies before starting the job.

If his contract didn't state this as a requirement, the company can't obligate him to do so, but he's been given an opportunity to make a good impression and make the firm feel that they didn't make a mistake in hiring a less-than-qualified individual.

Since your friend indicated that he was a quick study, or that it wouldn't be a big deal for him to learn Javascript/JQuery, I would suggest that he put his money where his mouth is, and prove it. Your friend can be an adequate employee who does exactly what is required of him and nothing more, or he can go above and beyond in many ways, one of which would be getting a jump start on his new skill development during his break.

If he decides that he is not willing to beginning to learn these skills before the jobs starts, he should communicate that. ("I'm sorry. I'm not going to be able to begin working on Javascript until I start work on X date, because I have other pre-existing plans for my time between now and then.")

tl;dr Your friend is not obligated to begin bringing his skills up to speed, but he's been given an opportunity to make a good first impression by doing so, and it would be a good idea for him to take advantage of that opportunity.

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Unless it says otherwise on his offer letter, your friend is in no way obligated to attend training before his start date, as he is not getting paid before then. That said, I would still recommend that your friend attend training, as, if nothing else, it would probably be a valuable skill to learn Javascript and JQuery, and the company is providing that training free of charge. Not to mention that it would make your friend appear to have a hard-working and determined work ethic.

Now, I can't speak for what the manager will actually expect, but no one (that I know, at least) can become an expert in any language or library in 10 days, so the manager really should not expect that your friend will know everything he needs to know. That said, the manager might task your friend with a somewhat simple Javascript project to get him started and to help him apply his knowledge to an actual work function.

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There may or may not be a problem here, and they may well just be enthusiastic for him joining; generally a little bit of preparation is standard for the industry. He should reply to the manager's email to clarify exactly what their expectation of his JS/JQ abilities on day one and the first few weeks. At what point is he maintaining code? committing new code? fixing bugs? writing unittests? What are their general plans for the site/product? Yes agreed they should give him a good first week of work to ease into the work and learn what is required.

In general it's always a good question to have asked in interviews "What will my tasks be in the first 15/30/90/365 days?" (ask that of multiple people and compare the answers to see if you see any alarm-bells/ conflict/ lack of clarity/unrealistic estimates). (It shouldn't come down to week one to see if they're slavedrivers, lunatics, workaholics, stressbunnies, deathmarch zombies or decent people. He should have developed a sense of this in the interview process.)

So, after he clarifies their expectation, only then can he judge if it's a reasonable request or not:

  • if it's generally reasonable, figure out the number of days he can spend on this, let them know. He should tell them "I'm out of town/on vacation for n days, so I will only be able to read for m days". Then give that his best shot, close the books and relax. I agree with you he deserves downtime/vacation time after an exam.
  • if they're totally unreasonable (doesn't sound like it though), consider taking a different offer or reinterviewing.

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