I've been working as a contractor at a large company for three months. I'm the most seasoned developer in a small team, and so far it's been a good relationship.

However, as of a couple of weeks ago, they started demanding weekend work as we are approaching a release. I worked 8 and 12 hours each of the past two weekends respectively, even though they wanted me to do more, but I had to excuse myself.

I have been working quite a bit of overtime this week and at this point I m pretty tired and burned out. The code that I was responsible for developing is up and running fine, this is to support other areas of the project that I was not a part of initially.

Everyone else on the team is working the overtime without question, but I don't want to, but feel like I'm the only one objecting.

How can I professionally, and politely, decline overtime? Does it matter that my tasks are all working correctly and that it is other peoples tasks that are falling behind?

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    Your email is fine, if perhaps overkill. Is it mandatory overtime? If no, then simply say 'no thanks'. If it's mandatory, then find a new job.
    – DA.
    Commented Dec 15, 2012 at 23:43
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    Overtime was never mentioned in the contract or during the interview. i will start looking for a new job nonetheless, just in case
    – amphibient
    Commented Dec 15, 2012 at 23:46
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    Hi foampile, I edited your question to remove the examples of what you did so far, which will hopefully help address the issues raised by the community. Feel free to rollback the edits or further address the community concerns. Hope this helps! :)
    – jmort253
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 0:48
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    Comments removed. Please use comments to constructively improve questions and answers. For questions on why a question is closed, reopened, or deleted, use The Workplace Meta.
    – jmort253
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 16:04
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    you are missing nuances, @maple_shaft but i thank you for your insight and feedback nonetheless
    – amphibient
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 18:42

8 Answers 8


IMHO, you absolutely do NOT have to justify your decision; something like "I am unable to work more than XX hours per week (per day) because of personal reasons" should be enough. Any attempt to go into details looks like an invitation to challenge your arguments.

Was it inappropriate of me to decline extra hours that were never mentioned in my contract?

not at all

  • 1
    I removed the quote that was removed from the question. I think your answer stands alone with out it anyway. Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 16:42
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    +1 - They absolutely don't need to know the details of why. I just say it's for family commitments and leave it at that.
    – Dunk
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 20:57

As a contractor, assuming you're in the United States, you're relationship to this client is not the same as your relationship would be to an employer, and in most contracting relationships, you set your own hours, use your own equipment, and dictate the how part of your work.

Is it appropriate to decline overtime?

I look at this business relationship the same as I'd look at a plumber. If one of the pipes in my house were to burst on a Saturday night, most likely, If I try to call a plumber, they're either going to not answer, or they're going to want to charge me a higher fee for their services. Thus, I'd most likely just shut my water off to stop the emergency, and then wait until Monday to have the plumber come out and fix the broken pipe.

Now, if the pipe were to break in a spot where there's no emergency shutoff valve, and there's a threat of actual water damage to the expensive structure of my home, then I'd almost certainly expect to find a plumber to come out and immediately work on resolving the issue, and I'd be willing to pay the increased fees for these emergency services.

In your situation, you're working on a release, and while debatable, a release doesn't constitute an emergency, unless of course missing a deadline could create financial hardship, for instance, if we had to pay people to just stand around while waiting for the cement truck... Under normal circumstances, if resources can be reallocated, I'd expect a company to push back the release instead of calling everyone in for what isn't an emergency, financial or otherwise.

Could I get fired for this

I should also add that they could let you go if this is a blocker issue for them. That doesn't make you wrong to value your time, but it could mean you may need to clarify your availability when negotiating a contract and also do some research on whether your client would actually be a good client. You should judge and evaluate them just as diligently as they judge and evaluate you.

What a company should expect from you

To prevent problems with these expectations in the future, when meeting with a potential client, ask questions about overtime. Ask if it's expected and how often? Ask what can be done to prevent the need for overtime. Make it clear that you expect to be available outside normal business hours for emergencies, and then clearly define what is an emergency. If this isn't something you can agree on, then you or the company can politely move on with no animosity.

Contracts aren't mean to be something that you use against someone as a weapon; instead, they're designed to clarify expectations and prevent problems from escalating into a lose-lose situation for both parties, which is done by making sure the expectations of both parties are clear and that you're all on the same page.

With that said, I would hope that if the issue were a real emergency, for instance, if software you built suddenly stops working, and it's a weekend, and the client just dropped a million dollars on advertising, and the website was 404ing and not letting any of these conversions come through, then I'd expect to see you working to resolve what constitutes an expensive, detrimental leak, and putting your personal issues aside to be a team player. Hopefully, this is something that doesn't happen too often, as being a team player shouldn't mean you're a doormat. ;)

Keep in mind that the emergency scenario is just one example. As Chad mentions in the comments, another vendor or contractor dropping the ball on a deadline may have created great hardship for your client, and you may want to weigh your committment to your client against your own personal needs. Sometimes sacrifice is in order, as long as it's not constant or abusive.

Again, this information mostly applies to contractors in the United States, since that's where my experience comes from; however, New Zealand also takes a similar approach, if this applies to you.

How to handle this situation today?

Since you've already signed a contract, you'll need to discuss this issue with the client. Ideally, you should discuss this when there is no fire to put out instead of when they say they need you. My suggestion would be to bring up the issue in person, during business hours, and not by email. Email isn't really a good means of starting a discussion. There's no body language, and things you say can be misconstrued.

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    I think that the answer would be better if you emphasized what you would expect from the contractor more and less what you expect of the company. I almost down voted it halfway through and ignored the last half where you said the important part of the answer, how the OP should handle it. Commented Dec 16, 2012 at 2:03
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    Also say you hired a plumbing company to get your new house ready before your current lease expired. The plumbers are not meeting their deadlines and it is holding everything up. The plumbers do not want to work to get your plumbing done and it is going to cost you a lot of money in costs from delays. Are you going to be OK with them not working over to get it done? Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 16:10
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    @Chad: Plumbing is a bad analogy. There is a huge difference of fixing a broken pipe and fixing bad software.
    – Spoike
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 17:43
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    @Chad: Then there is also the issue of bad management; the foreman (or whoever is the manager of plumbers) has promised deadlines that they should've known from start that they couldn't keep, creating lofty expectations as a result and forcing the plumbers to work overtime. As a client all you care about is that the time estimation for completion is correct enough. If one of the plumbers is absent one evening, the client should really not care.
    – Spoike
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 17:52
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    @Chad: Yes, and there are ways for the foreman (the managers) to fix this and not completely burn the plumbers out. Like give the overworked plumbers some slack by hiring other plumbers or revise the plan with alternative solutions so that everyone is happy about it. There is really no excuse for a manager to force workers to work more than 40 hours a week for weeks at end (not to mention if a factory analogy is used instead, is downright hazardous/dangerous).
    – Spoike
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 18:50

This question is likely to draw debate but my two cents

  1. If you can honestly say to yourself that their world will not end if you didn't give them that overtime, you shouldn't worry.

  2. You gave too much detail/info in your email so you might want to blanche over all that detail with "For a number of extenuating circumstances, I will be unavailable". Your letter as it stands now seems like a polite way of giving them precise anatomical direction as to where they can shove their OT. Just sayin'. If their perception of you is the way you say think it is (you're the veteran developer), I'd think they currently hold you in high esteem. Your letter kind of poopoo's all that esteem there (IMO).

  3. Your desire to acquiesce their overtime request should not be held against a contract (at least I wouldn't), more to an off-book request from an entity that values your time and input.

The moral of this story is you could have given them a softer landing. Yes your time is valuable but so is everyone else's who will be showing up OT. Yes you're a contractor, but you might want to cut your clients a bit of slack from time to time as part of relationship building. And if you can't afford the slack-giving, you should politely decline without coming off as uppity on them, you know, burning bridges and all that.


The project manager's goal is to get the project done. Hopefully on time. Hopefully on spec. Hopefully under budget. That PM would like you to help the other staff to get this done.

As a contractor, they can't demand that you stay overtime. That would be one of the sort of things that turns you into an employee (in the eyes of the IRS). However the majority of PMs that I have worked for will be all too willing to cut you loose when the project is done if you are a clockwatcher and won't help with some overtime.

My advice is to help "babysit" the other developers and help them get this project done. Don't be working 10-12 hour days every day. There are times when you can help get one developer's backlog done - buddy up with one of the guys and help them get over the hump. That is the point of "teamwork" and what the slogan "there is no I in team" means.

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    The i in TEAM is hidden in the A-hole :) Commented Sep 4, 2013 at 12:28

Where I operate (NZ), a "contractor" is a company-to-company relationship, governed by, as you might expect, a contract. I use contractors as a fully-trained resource to cover a workload "spike", or for specific skills on a project I don't need permenantly.

Contractors are expensive - usually 50%+ more than the employee hourly rate - because I don't pay the standard overheads, and its on a short term basis. Contractor overtime rates are usually another 50%+ markup.

With that in mind, and based on my experience:

  • contractor overhead rates will chew through my budget very fast indeed
  • relying on contractors creates a significant "key person" risk
  • employees can resent the terms and conditions for contractors
  • contractors "taking over" assigned tasks can increase resentment
  • tired people make more mistakes and have lower productivity

So - from this I'd suggest there is some fuzzy -perhaps stressed- thinking going on within management, which if you are feeling a bit burnt out as well could make things tense. Its certainly not how I would prefer to operate.

The pressure they are applying is such that, depending on company size, their maybe some financial implications of a delayed release - so it may be worth keeping your ear to the ground in that regard.

I would suggest that the best path forwward is to have a quick face-to-face meeting with management to discuss - now your tasks are finished - how you can best be deployed as a very expensive, senior resource to support their full-time team in meeting their deadlines.

If you are not "in it for the money" then it should be possible to play down the "value" of having you simply deliver more coding hours on the basis of the risks this creates and cost, and suggest that they bring in more contractor resources to reduce risk while saving money and time.


I'd say you have two questions to answer:

First, What is the max time you want to spend working? Anything beyond that, book yourself to be somewhere else. Personally, I have to pick up my kids - that's a hard limit on how long I can stay at the office, because I must be at point X by time Y. (And most employers have enough self-awareness to know that "can't you get someone else to pick them up" is a very poor question). If you don't have kids, find somewhere else you need to be. Evening meeting. Classes. What isn't so important as making it clear that this time isn't available.

Second, how much do you value your free time? I'm presuming your contract has some sort of hourly rate (or a flat rate for X hours). If they want to go over that (and you're willing to), how much are you going to charge them for it? Employees get time-and-a-half as a minimum, after all. If you're willing to work for bonus pay and they're willing to pay it, then everyone's happy.


There are many factorss to determine what is typical, so I think in most cases, you have to focus on your agreement. I'm no lawyer, but it sounds like you need to determine the "letter" of the contract and the "spirit" of the agreement. An occassional over-time can be allowed, now it is getting habitual. You should ask to exclude over-time or renegotiate for an over-time rate.

If you're as good as they say you are and they are in a bind, they may be willing to pay much more for over-time. Maybe you can consider taking on the extra work for a short period of time in order to afford a lengthy holiday in the near future.


Do the following:

  1. Always begin your day on time and seldom take an extended lunch break.
  2. Be very efficient and very effective during your normal 40-hour work week.
  3. At the end of your normal workday, get up to leave. If anyone questions why you are leaving at this hour, simply say, "I have somewhere I need to be."
  4. Have no inhibitions about repeating #3 each work day.
  5. Never apologize for #3.

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