The company I work for has a large contractor 'population' and we just received word the company has mandated a 2-week, unpaid vacation for all contractors.

With the holidays just around the corner, I hate the winter season because I already miss a lot of pay due to holidays and now this!?

If I wanted unpaid time off I wouldn't be a contractor.

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    What does your contract say? – Stephan Kolassa Oct 10 '14 at 13:31
  • I can't seem to find anything in the contract, but i was placed here through a staffing agency. I only have copies of my contact with them, not their contract with where i physically work – sab669 Oct 10 '14 at 13:32
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    I'd recommend you go back to the staffing agency and ask them if they can find you work elsewhere during the two weeks. – Adam V Oct 10 '14 at 13:33
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    It's possible that some other client of the agency happens to be short-staffed over the holidays and might need a warm body to do some coverage of the systems. Of course, you can't do a damn thing on your own given your unfamiliarity with the systems but they can off-load some tasks on you under their supervision. – Vietnhi Phuvan Oct 10 '14 at 13:55
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    If not having to fund your own holidays is a big issue then maybe you should try and find a permanent role – Pepone Oct 12 '14 at 23:17

Can they do this?

In most of the world yes, this is why they hire contractors. Contractors are called in for temp work, in a pinch they are usually the first to be let go, and when cost savings is in effect you'll get the short end of the stick.

Actual employees have way more rights and restrictions about what employers can and cannot do than contractors. They get PTO, protection from wrongful termination, mandatory notice periods, etc. (the specifics and effectiveness of these perks vary greatly depending on where you live)

Contractors on the other hand have very little in the way of legal rights and protection in regards to employment. Essentially if it's not explicitly mentioned in your contract (Or against the law) they can do it. In many places in the world a company CAN force you to take a vacation, it's up to you if you burn PTO on it. (Since most contractors don't get PTO you get shafted here)

What can you do?

You can ask your agency for something to do to float the lapse, or even request a transfer to work for someone else. You could also ask the client if there is anything you can do to work through the lapse.

What should you expect?

From the client, probably not much. You're a contractor, as far as most companies are concerned you're disposable labor. You enjoy the freedoms of being able to shift from place to place and not stress over being stuck working in anyplace too long, at the same time it costs you job security.

The agency is probably a 50/50, if they have a small project that needs doing they could throw it your way, but if they don't they aren't going to pay you to stand around. On the other hand if you're not happy with the treatment from the current client they might be willing to bump you to someone else, really depends on what they need right now.


As a contractor you have very little in the way of rights and are considered "disposable" by most companies standards. This sort of behavior is legal in most places and annoying, but not unheard of. Your only likely choice are grin accept it, or find someone else to work for.

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    +1. As to your last sentence, there is one third option, in the medium term: get hired somewhere as a normal employee. Being a contractor has advantages and disadvantages; if the disadvantages such as this one dominate, it may be time to change status. – Stephan Kolassa Oct 10 '14 at 14:23
  • and some times companies have to force a break so that contractors are not considered permanent staff – Pepone Oct 10 '14 at 21:16

It is important to understand that the company you are contracted to is not the one forcing you to take unpaid vacations. The staffing firm you are employed by is. So any negotiations over this are going to need to take place between your employer and you not between you and the company you are contracted too. Whether or not they can mandate this break will depend on the contract they have with the staffing firm. But even if it is against that contract your employer can still bend to their will and allow it since they are the ones must actively choose to enforce the contract.

Your employer may have a short term assignment you can fill, so you should check with them. If you have a contract with them that guarantees you a certian number of hours of work time and this break will violate that you can attempt to enforce that contract as well.

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  • That's not the case; the email i received from my staffing agency said <company i work at> has mandated it. Other contractors, placed through other companies, received the same email. – sab669 Oct 10 '14 at 15:50
  • @sab669 - That is because your employer does not want to take the hit. They could find work for you during that time, or they could choose to pay you anyway. Trust me they are making enough to take that little hit if they wanted. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 10 '14 at 16:42

Are you employed at the staffing agency or are they only finding you contract work?

If you are employed, they have to pay you the two weeks. If they only find you contract work and you then make a contract with this other company, then it depends what is in your contract with them.

If you are not employed at the staffing agency but don't have a contract with the company, then something went definitely wrong and you should try to avoid such situations in the future.

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Looking at three scenarios:

  • Lets assume you are an employee of the company where your desk is located. If they were to pay you for those week they are shut down, that would be considered holiday pay. Or they could demand that you use vacation days. Either way they structure their pay and benefits such that they can afford to do that.

  • Lets now assume that you are a 100% independent contractor who has one customer, the place where your desk is located. They don't pay your for holiday, sick days or vacation. If you can't get to the job site you aren't paid. [I am ignoring things like making up hours on weekend and being allowed to work from home]. To cover your self and the other benefits you don't get a a contractor you need to charge a higher rate for those hours you do work.

  • But you are in the middle. The contracting company needed to structure its finances such that they knew exactly how many billable hours per year you would be able to work. Set the rate they would charge for those billable hours so that your paychecks would be steady for 52 weeks per year. That extra charged per hour would cover down town, and other benefits.

This is one reason why a rule-of-thumb is that the billing rate per hour has to be 2x the pay rate of the employee. Charge 50 per hour but pay 25 per hour.

There is one other possibility. They are short on cash. They know that business is slow during the holidays. They will conserve cash by forcing most employees to take vacation, and contractors to stay home. This was don't an unusual situation in the Fall and Winter of 2013-2014 in The United States. The Government shutdown meant that contractors didn't get paid; and many contracting companies forced employees to take vacation in late December. Because none of this was planned, the contracting companies were unprepared for the gaps in work; therefore some families had less income during those gaps.

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If I wanted unpaid time off I wouldn't be a contractor.

Well actually it's called a "Furlough" and is quite common for contractors, especially around holiday times.

The thinking is usually that there will be no-one in to make sure you have work to do, or to make sure you are working, especially around Christmas, but can happen at other times.

The multinational I used to work for would send all contractors off for 3 weeks over Christmas /January.

It's also useful, if for tax/contractual reasons, you want to show a break in a contractors service, say to avoid them being seen (in the UK for example) as a disguised permanent staff member (and being caught by IR35).

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