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I work as a developer in a very small startup. We have an online platform, and my job obviously consists of developing and maintaining this platform.

Last week my boss asked me about estimates for a simpler version of our platform that he wants to sell to another company. I told him that this is basically consultancy, is not what we do, and is going to be a very painful project because we (specially he) are really bad at management. I was trying to dissuade him from it, but yesterday he told me that he wants to do it. He's even asked me to review CVs for the person that would be in charge of maintaining the project in that company once we've delivered it, because that company has no technical staff. I want to emphasize this, the position is in another company, I would basically be doing HR for another company. I very much want to stay away from this, and I think that this is quite far from my actual responsibilities.

Am I legally obliged to do it or can I refuse it alleging that it's not my job because that's not our business and what I was hired for?

Clarification (because of the comments): I'm not looking for advice on career development and I don't want to explain why I'm asking this. My reasons for not wanting to take this project and not wanting to change company are complex, personal and boring, but I'm carefully considering every option. All I want to know is if I'm legally obliged to do software that is not our platform and reviewing CVs for another company.

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    What are you hired for, specifically? If you're a software engineer or the like, this seems to be part of your job dscription. – Erik May 9 '17 at 11:42
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    Confusion seems to be arising from your vague description of the legal structure of the company/companies involved. Is this new version to be owned by your current company or not? Is the other company (buyer of your new version) at all intertwined with your current company - subsidiary, venture funded, or sharing owners in any way? This does seem like odd behaviors for two completely separate distinct companies. – Basil Bourque May 9 '17 at 20:18
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    @Blaisorblade If this author is indeed creating software and overseeing hiring for a completely separate company while using the resources, paid time, and intellectual property of another, then he/she may be opening themselves up to serious legal liabilities. If on the other hand the two companies are intertwined by ownership or a consulting contract, then all of the tasks mentioned in the question could be considered normal work duties. – Basil Bourque May 9 '17 at 21:18
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    You should add "other country" to the question; it changes things a bit. IMO, this situation will improve your CV; on the other hand, it it is in another country that ought to mean also extra payment if you are going there (because you will eventually) or a big bonus. However, I do feel your pain about the big boss thinking it knows than the people that it is on the field. Do not do something stupid, if you are not comfortable enough fire yourself or just move to another job. To play the devil here, what if you are being strung along to hire your own replacement? – Rui F Ribeiro May 10 '17 at 8:57
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    This is not an unusual situation at all. I've worked for companies in the US which licensed their software to European companies and I had to work (phone, webex, email, in person, whatever) with their developers to help them modify the code for their uses. Support was part of the agreement when they licensed the code. We weren't a "consultant" company, but took on that role for this situation. I sure wish I had some input into who I was working with on it sometimes. – bluegreen May 10 '17 at 14:50
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Am I legally obliged to do it or can I refuse it alleging that it's not my job because that's not our business and what I was hired for?

Refusing to do you job is called Arbeitsverweigerung and a reason for an Abmahnung, the first step to being fired for cause (Verhaltensbedingte Kündigung). Basically, even religious reasons are no general excuse for refusing to work. If there are reasons for you to not do specific tasks, you must declare that before you are employed.

Reasons to legitimately refuse a task are the following exceptions:

  • A task that threatens your life or physical health
  • A task that in itself is illegal
  • Your employer has not paid you for a long time
  • You have immediate health issues to attend to, requiring a doctors visit now
  • Death of first grade relatives

Refusing to work for other reasons might be legal if the work was "unzumutbar", but that is Lawyer territory, do not try to figure this out yourself and do not go with what your gut tells you. People study years just to find out they are wrong in court. This will have consequences, so consult a lawyer before you refuse to work.

You said you are asked to build essentially a minified version of your actual product. And you were asked to explain your work to a single fellow professional. This is well within your responsibilities. None of the above reasons apply.

I'm not planning to quit, I'd rather be fired for not doing it.

Let me add a piece of opinion here: being fired for cause over something is beyond stupid. It's a major red flag on your career. Germany is not the US, you can only be fired for a real bad cause and everybody knows this. Quitting without a new job is one thing, being laid off is another, but being fired for cause is a black mark. For real. This is bad. If you really don't want to work on that project, then talk to your boss and if he says he'd make you do it, then quit. Do not get fired.

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    Thanks, that's a very insightful answer, I didn't not think of being fired that way. Just to clarify, I have not been asked to explain my work to a single fellow professional, I have been asked to review CVs for a position in another company, I don't see how that can be part of my job. Also, if only those reasons you enumerated are legitimate to decline a task, he could ask me basically anything, exaggerating, like sweep the floor? – garci560 May 9 '17 at 14:57
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    Sure, reviewing CVs is not your direct job. You could probably say "no thanks". But why? It's not like you will be sorting CVs for the rest of your working life. It's a privilege, if you refuse, it only means your boss will pick one without your input. As for sweeping the floor: no, you cannot be degraded to janitor, even if they pay you the same salary. But you can be asked to sweep the floor once in a while. Even if they want to degrade you to janitor, the correct way is to sue them, not to refuse work. For details on this, you need to consult a lawyer. – nvoigt May 9 '17 at 15:05
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    If you're being asked to review the CVs to check they have the technical skills to maintain the platform post delivery (i.e. you are not actually conducting the hiring process, salary/contract negotiations etc.) then you aren't really doing their HR. Given the bespoke nature of the platform and the client's lack of technical staff it's not an outlandish request. Unusual, but I can see the reasoning. As @nvoight etc pointed out an "occasional" request like this, that is related to your role as the platform's developer you don't have legal grounds to refuse. What are your specific objections? – motosubatsu May 9 '17 at 16:04
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    @nprensen - As a Software developer, I have been asked for input in my company's hiring process. Looking at resumes and meeting with candidates. It is certainly not my job, but I am best equipped to do it, because I am one of few software devs currently at my company. Yes, it's more annoying due to it being another company, not your own, but the reason is the same. No one else is as qualified to review the CVs because you built/are building the platform. You know best what skills are needed to upkeep it. This gives you power in your company, and could even land you a raise. I would just do it. – EvSunWoodard May 9 '17 at 19:05
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    @Relaxed Maybe. That's lawyer territory. I won't speculate on that. The best way to handle it is do as asked and then get legal council and sue if possible. The only obvious exceptions for not getting legal council first before refusing work are listed above. I'm not getting into details on the rest, because we don't give legal advice here (for good reasons). – nvoigt May 10 '17 at 5:33
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can I refuse it alleging that it's not my job because that's not our business and what I was hired for?

Well, yes but there could be consequences.

He is your boss, so generally speaking since this falls into what I would consider your job description you need to do it. You may not like the upcoming project - but there is nothing unethical about what you're being asked to do.

Your other alternative is to find another job if you dislike the work that is about to come your way. Your manager cannot make you do anything you feel uncomfortable doing, but he can fire you for refusing to do the job and hire someone else who will.

I would advise you in general to leave the business decisions to the business people. As developers, our job is to satisfy the business requirements.

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    Yeah, I don't see the issue here, it certainly looks like it's within the op's duties. – Kilisi May 9 '17 at 13:15
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    For those saying this is within the OP's duties, consider questions like this: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/87085/… Some people have no interest in doing work outside of their regular tasks and it is completely understandable. I think you are a bit out of line trying to convince your boss to pass on an opportunity to sell software and make money, but make it clear that you don't want any responsibility outside of what you would typically do. Or consider asking for compensation for the added responsibility. – Eric May 9 '17 at 16:06
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    @Kat One of the reasons I participate here is to work on my writing skills. Thanks for your most helpful comment – Mister Positive May 9 '17 at 18:37
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    "leave the business decisions to the business people" I understand the sentiment being expressed here, but I disagree with it. When your a subordinate, you have a vested interest in the success of your company, because if it goes under, you have no job. It's therefor in your best interest to do everything possible to prevent business people from making bad business decisions. I understand that the intent here was to prevent insubordination, in which you find yourself out of a job. YMMV, but my recommendation is for a frank discussion with all parties involved to find the best approach. – zzzzBov May 9 '17 at 19:40
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    When you work in a very small company, there are tasks that need to be done by someone, that are outside of anybody's normal range of tasks, and these tasks just need to be done. In that situation, refusing to do a task strongly reduces your value for the company. – gnasher729 May 12 '17 at 17:08
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Direct answer

Sorry if my answer may sound a little harsh, but it is what it is:

Do what they ask of you.

Reviewing CVs is absolutely part of your job as a software developer. Do you expect some HR guy (which I assume you have none in your small company) to decide who to pick? Based on which expertise?

You will, in the rest of your professional life, very likely be reviewing CVs over and over again. Count yourself lucky that you were asked, it means that your boss trusts you and your ability to make decisions. Maybe you can even sit in on interviews; you should be glad if you can do that sometime.

It does not matter that the other company will hire the person, anyways, not for you at least. They have to decide whether they trust your opinion, they carry the whole risk. You should be glad that you are trusted in this way.

I told him that this is [...] not what we do,

You told your boss that? Holy... your boss carries the risk of running the company. He can do damn well whatever he pleases to do (within legal boundaries, obviously).

is going to be a very painful project because we (specially he) are really bad at management.

So you trust him to manage your work life, but not to talk to other companies? If he is so bad that you do not want to do that project because of his incompetence, why are you still in that company, in the first place?

Your boss may have very good reasons to do it, which you may or may not be able to know about.

refuse it alleging that it's not my job because that's not our business and what I was hired for?

If you were my employee and you did that, I would be pretty sure that I can never trust you with anything of importance again. You would be in the "only ever does what he likes" drawer for the rest of the time, and I would not go out of my way to get you to develop into more mature directions. You do not want to be in that drawer; there may well be "boss decisions" in the future where you would be glad to be involved in instead of learning about them after the fact.

If you really do not wish to develop in that direction

I interpret the answer in the light of an "event" - i.e., a current project, where the boss needs something from you.

One exemption to the things I write here is if the boss tells you that he wants to develop you from being a software developer to, for example, a fulltime consultant or team lead, with minimal coding. If you truly do not wish that, you are of course free to (and invited to) tell the boss that (and, if he insists, skip along to looking for a new job). But I do not really get the impression that the boss in our current scenario intends to do anything like that.

How to handle this kind of situation

Get your act together. If your boss asks you to do something (within boundaries, obviously), there are two possible answers (maybe after you asked to make sure that you really understood what he meant):

  1. "Yes, when do you need it?"
  2. "Not right now, but if you give me X, Y and Z, I can do it."

Any other answer does not fit into IT businesses.

Obviously I am not talking about life-changing things here. If your boss asks you to renew the paint job in your office, you might just be a bit more rebellious. But anything remotely involving your expertise as a software developer, and this absolutely includes reviewing CVs and consulting (by the way, what you call "consulting" here is just "talking with people about stuff you know pretty well". It is not "real" consulting in the fashion that you sit down with a team of consultants to work out grand schemes of how to improve a business or whatever.).

This answer is not sarcastic, by the way. If the request is absolutely outlandish, then X, Y and Z will be expensive enough for the boss to decide himself that you are the wrong person. You still were open for it. That is what counts.

Also, your boss may not even be aware about X, Y and Z. By telling him, you help him, and the company as a whole. He will, likely, not forget that, and come to you for advice again and again.

What now

Think constructively about what X, Y and Z are needed right now to make the plan of your boss work. If your boss is, in your humble opinion, not able to handle such a project, then X will need to be "hire a project lead". If you truly feel unable to review CVs (I could not imagine why, but just to assume...), then Y could be "I need to visit a training course about People Management". If the fact that the guy will be hired by the other company bothers you so much, then make it objectively clear why that is so (for example to protect your company's rights on the software), then Z could be "hire that guy in your company, and then outsource him to the other company".

I hope you see what those X, Y and Z do. If you manage to convince your boss that those X, Y and Z are necessary, then he will do the calculations. If at the end of the day it is too expensive for him, he will decide against. If he does decide to invest, then you have reached your original goal, and improved the company.

(And obviously these X, Y and Z are just examples; adapt the process to your full situation.)

If there are no X, Y and Z

Oh. And if you do not find any X, Y and Z, then the answer is

  1. "Yes, sure" & do the best you can while looking for a new job.
  • Reviewing CVs for other companies? Sounds a bit odd to me... – CramerTV May 10 '17 at 0:46
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    @CramerTV Odd, but not "quit my job" odd. Seems reasonable to me. In fact large companies do something similar all the time. Cisco for example sell Routers and Switches, they also recommend people for maintaining them (through their certification program). – Aron May 10 '17 at 1:16
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    @Aron, I agree it's not a 'quit my job' task. A normal request for this type of task though, is to write a job description and requirements - not review another company's prospective candidates' resumes. That being said, while odd and definitely not an industry norm, to sell another company a product I could see it being a way of 'courting' a potential new client. – CramerTV May 10 '17 at 1:28
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    "You would be in the "can only write lines of code" drawer for the rest of the time" to be fair, it really seems like that's what the OP wants. – industry7 May 10 '17 at 14:23
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    ' ' "You would be in the "can only write lines of code" drawer for the rest of the time" to be fair, it really seems like that's what the OP wants. ' ' I changed this line a bit to become closer to what I intended to say, and will add a little bit about what I would suggest if he just doesn't "want to do it". @industry7 – AnoE May 11 '17 at 13:21
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Others have responded to the legalities of your situation, and to various cultural aspects (I live and work in the United States, so I have no perspective to anything unique in Germany).

I would agree that reviewing CVs is not necessarily outside the scope of your work. As an IT person, I have frequently been asked to look at resumes and even participate in interviews to fill positions as a co-worker or even a supervisor. Yes, doing that for a completely different company is a bit unusual, but I'd agree that it's still not a thoroughly unreasonable request.

That said, it seems likely that you know nothing of how that other company works, what their culture is like, what other responsibilities the person they hire will have. What you do know is the sorts of knowledge and skill-sets that would let someone else support the application you've been working on.

So, if you're concerned about how others will take your statements, I'd recommend being very specific in what you say. Don't say, "These 3 candidates are the best for the job." Instead, I'd say, "Based on the CVs, these three candidates look like they probably have the knowledge and skills to support the application." Or, even add on, "... with appropriate training from our company."

If the main issue is you feeling uncomfortable with how your advice could be used, this may make you feel more comfortable; it may even help change your perspective enough on what you're being asked to do that it does feel more within your responsibilities.

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This request doesn't seem strange or out of place to me.

Your job is to provide software for your company, at the direction of your boss. Your boss has determined that the company requires some software to provide to another company. Your boss has asked you to develop that software.

So, you develop that software. It is not your job to filter out requests based on whether you think the company's strategic plan is sound. If you want that power, find some way to get onto the director's board.

As for reviewing CVs, is this an arduous task? Read some CVs and give some feedback. Maybe it wasn't specifically mentioned at your job interview that your role may occasionally involve reading some writing on some paper, but complaining about this (even setting aside whether can be deemed part of your day-to-day job or, again, within the scope of whatever you've perceived the company's mission to be) seems petty at best.

2

Are you in Germany? I don't claim to know anything about relevant German labor law.

But briefly, I think you need to get a whole new attitude toward your job. As an employee, and perhaps an expert in your field, it is certainly your right and responsibility to tell your boss if you think a project is not a good idea. But unless you have a contract that specifically says what work you can be given, you do not have the right to refuse assigned tasks because you think they are bad ideas. If you did, and if all the other employees had this right, it would be almost impossible for any company to ever get anything done. Almost every real-world project surely has pros and cons, reasons why this is a good idea and reasons why it is a bad idea. And any employee could certainly have opinions on the subject. The reason why someone is the boss is so that there is a person who can say, All right, everyone has had a chance to have their say, we've heard all the arguments, now it's time to make a decision: this is what we are going to do. If all the employees who disagree refuse to do it, the company will never get anything done.

Suck it up and do your job.

If you think the company's decisions are so bad that you just can't stomach going along, get a different job.

Update in response to comment

You say, "it's not that I think it's a bad idea". So what's the problem then?

In your original post you say "it's not our business" to do consulting work. Were you promised when you took the job that the company would never expand into new business areas? Companies do that all the time. And while I don't know your specific job responsibilities, I'm guessing that it's not your job to decide when the company should explore new business areas.

If you mean, "it may be a good project, but I don't want to do it because it's not the sort of work that I like to do": I've joked with my boss that I should never have to do anything boring, but we both know that's a joke.

If you mean, "I'm not qualified to do this": This could be a good opportunity to expand your skills. And "writing software for a client where our company is acting as a consultant" does not require seriously different skills than "writing software for our company's internal use".

Perhaps I'm missing the point. If nothing I've said here accurately describes your objection, than what is your objection?

  • I understand that how I worded the question might lead to confusion, but the reason why I don't want to do it is not that I think it's a bad idea. – garci560 May 11 '17 at 20:02
  • I updated my post in response to your comment. – Jay May 11 '17 at 21:24

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