How do I handle my previous employer who is asking me for unpaid help?
February 26, 2013 12:53 PM Subscribe
My previous employer is asking for unpaid help with web design issues. At first I gladly helped, but now it's turning into a regular thing. The cherry on top: I'm unemployed and using her as a reference so I don't want to burn any bridges. How do I professionally handle this?
posted by daisies to Work & Money (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Last year I had a four month temp position with an organization as a web designer. I worked closely every day with my supervisor, Claire, who is the same age as me (mid 20s), and we developed a friendship during my time there. We never saw each other outside of work, but we did get along very well and talked about our personal lives often. We keep in touch via Facebook and texts, but nothing too frequent or personal.
After my temp position ended in September, she hired someone to replace me to continue editing content and making graphics for the site. Because of lack of funding, they could only afford a federal Work-Study university student, otherwise I would have continued my work there.
In January, she texts me to casually mention she fired my replacement because she always goofed off at work.
Fast forward to today. I am looking for full-time work and am using Claire as a reference. She has gotten a couple reference calls already and will probably get 2-3 more in the following weeks and possibly months. Last week, she sent me an email to say that she needs to shuffle things around on one of the webpages - simple stuff: removing a div element, changing a list of links from one column to two, etc. This is pretty easy and I'm glad to help, so I quickly make the changes, draft up a document detailing all the steps and changes to the code, save as an HTML file, and send it back to Claire within a couple hours. I wipe my hands clean and consider my deed done.
Now, Claire is emailing me almost every day asking for help. First, she couldn't figure out how to open the HTML file and view the actual code. Then she couldn't figure out why things weren't showing up the way she wanted (turns out she deleted an entire line of code without realizing it). Plus more little things that are adding up.
Now, none of this work is particularly hard. But I don't want to set an expectation where I will fix her issues on a moment's notice, especially when she was supposed to hire someone to help her with this anyway. I don't want to be the unpaid wizard behind the curtain that does her job for free and saves the organization money from hiring a student worker. The catch is that I need her on my good side as a reference.
So what do I do? (My instinct would be to offer hourly or contract paid help, but I know from working there that they can't afford that, which is why they were hiring a part-time Work-Study to replace me.) I don't want to ruin a good reference but I also don't want to keep doing unpaid work. Or am I totally off-base and is this a normal thing for web design freelancers/contractors to expect?