My job situation is that I work as part of an R&D team at a University. I was placed on that team by a staffing firm who was awarded the position as part of a subcontract. As a member of that team, I'm asked to do data science that I find very challenging and rewarding.

The staffing firm has continuously asked me to help them with things like website system administration for their company site, preparing demonstrations for potential clients, and training other employees on various data science topics. I am not compensated directly for these favors. Instead, the research group let's me do it on their time but they've become increasingly agitated.

Things with the staffing firm took a turn for the worst last week. They flew me down to their office and told me that I did a great job this past year. They said that I would have to write federal contracts on nights and weekends in addition to my data science day job to have opportunities for advancement in their company. Writing federal contracts is a COMPLETELY different skill than data science. It was NOT in my original job description.

Once I flew back, we had a conference call about a rush contract that had to get out in two days on Christmas Eve. This came as a complete shock because they had designated me as a "writer" with no previous training. I hung up the phone. They sent me a follow up email asking why I dropped off the call and if I knew what to do next. I responded very respectfully by all accounts and said that I was unable to participate in that activity. When my boss called later that night I ignored his call. He said to call back when I was available.

I feel like they were setting me up to fail. I was given no training on federal contract writing and a ridiculously short deadline.

The R&D team where I was placed is very happy with me. They were shocked to hear that I was asked to do this. It has NOTHING to do with my original job description.

TL;DR A staffing firm is trying to radically change my job description but not train or compensate me for those deviations. They're located remotely so I just hung up the phone.

I have to call my boss back next week, what's the best way to handle this situation?

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    Soundx like time to find someone to work for other than that staffing company. Ask the school if they can hire you directly? (Work outside your job description is unfortunately covered by "other duties as required". Working for free is a problem.) – keshlam Dec 28 '15 at 1:38
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    The school may not be able to hire you for contract or budget reasons, but there's nothing keeping you from finding a job elsewhere and then giving notice to the staffing firm. – keshlam Dec 28 '15 at 1:43
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    Point taken. It's true that the staffing firm needs to go. – Tyler Dec 28 '15 at 1:45
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    Even if the R&D team cannot hire you, they may be able to use their network to help you make useful contacts. They probably know other people who need the sort of work you do. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 28 '15 at 3:24
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    @beng that's been a discussion but it's complicated because there's contracts and multiple teams involved in the project – Tyler Dec 28 '15 at 14:41

First up, you should apologise for hanging up the phone; even if you disagree with someone, that's just unprofessional. It doesn't really matter that the staffing company is being unprofessional on their part - you want to show that you're better than them, not sink to their level.

Other than that, you need to work out what you want to do - do you think the situation with the staffing company is rescuable? Personally, it doesn't sound to me like it is, so you need to be working on an exit strategy. That obviously involves finding another job, but what do you say to the staging company in the meantime? I'd go with something like "Thanks for the interest in furthering my career, but I'm happy with my primary roles and responsibilities at the moment. Would it be possible to find someone else to write the documents, or if not would it be possible to pay me overtime for doing the work?" You need to establish the position that you don't work for free.

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  • I like your answer, it is concise and has all the necessities: "get a new job!". Although given the circumstances here I don't think an apology is absolutely necessary. By the sounds of it, the people that OP has the pleasure of being employed with have been behaving MUCH more unprofessionally: using University paid hours, not compensating work... sometimes you have to stand up for yourself. – Underdetermined Dec 28 '15 at 10:19
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    @Underdetermined You lose any moral high ground (aka respectability) by lowering yourself to the misbehavior of others. Just because they're acting like jerks doesn't justify acting like a jerk yourself. – Kent A. Dec 28 '15 at 14:36
  • Given the significant change in type of work, "or if not would it be possible to provide training and pay me overtime for doing the work?". – Patricia Shanahan Dec 28 '15 at 16:36
  • @KentAnderson I agree with you on principle, but I wouldn't say any moral high ground, but rather you loose some... in this specific case it is my opinion that an apology is not necessary. YMMV. I actually believe an apology will not help at all in this situation; but i'm not prepared to argue this point because it relies on too many assumptions (seems to me like a toxic work environment). – Underdetermined Dec 28 '15 at 16:46

First things first: the staffing company is your employer. Nuff said. USA federal law states that there is a minimum wage for contract work of $10/hour.

Also, though the agency is your employer, the university is paying for your billable hours, and the best thing to do here is to send a message to the staffing agency: "dear boss...I need to take a meeting with my university team supervisor to discuss which university account I should bill your non- university task time to, and to coordinate the competing demands on my scheduled time from your outside projects. Do you have any details I can share in this meeting?"

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If the Uni really likes you, they may be able to help you jump to a different staffing firm, thereby keeping your current posting. If there's someone else they already do business with, it may be as simple as talking to your supervisor and suggesting this option. From the sound of it, your current employer is falling apart at the seams anyway. This isn't super common, but it happens; I've been the "supervisor" in this scenario.

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