How to decline a job offer, edition 876
November 1, 2017 12:32 PM   Subscribe

I have been offered a job under funky circumstances. I think I have to decline the offer, but I don't know exactly how to word it, and also -- I'm not 100% sure I ought to decline it. Please advise!

Earlier this year I agreed to a project with Company A as an independent contractor. The project was meant to last 15 months. 6 months in, the client abruptly put the project on hiatus (for "reconcepting," basically). They promised a new project plan within two weeks. Two weeks rapidly became a month.

Since I don't get paid for "hiatus" and there was a chance that they would decide to abandon the project entirely, I naturally started looking for other gigs. One client I contacted about short-term freelance work, Company B, ended up offering me a full-time staff position.

I told them that I was somewhat open to the idea, but contingent on my current contract being canceled. They completely understood --contracts are contracts, even though I'm not technically forbidden to quit-- and we agreed that I would contact them as soon as I knew my availability.

At the time, I expected to have an answer from Company A within a day or two. Unfortunately, that handful of days has passed, and Company A can still only give me, like, 80% assurance that my project will resume. They're theoretically on board with a new plan, but costs haven't been approved, etc.

My question: When I write to Company B, do I explain the situation and decline the offer? Explain but not explicitly decline (letting them decide whether to rescind or wait longer)? In either case, how should I word it?

Relevant details:
-While I could, legally speaking, just quit Company A's project, it would be a suuuuuper dick move. It's a very small team and I'm in a management role. (Yes I'm aware that it's ultra shitty that they can string me along and maybe lay me off, but if I quit I'm suddenly the jerk. Capitalism!)
-Both jobs are full-time 9-5, and one is in-house; it's physically impossible to do both.
-Pay with Company A is better, but Company B's offer comes with benefits. Financially it's a wash.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese to Work & Money (27 answers total)
 
I would try to explain and not decline, see if you can buy a little time.

Also...if I quit I'm suddenly the jerk. Capitalism!

I hear you. Be the change you want to see and all that. Honestly, Company A is not inspiring confidence of their being able to do anything competently. It's been how many months of "we are not paying you but we expect you to be here waiting, ready and willing, IF we decide we can pay you later"?

Now that I type this all out. I would lean strongly toward happily accepting company B's offer, and do your explaining to A, that you can't take no pay and wait around that long. As far as contracts go: they already broke it, because they couldn't pay you for 15 consecutive months of work like they said they would.
posted by SaltySalticid at 12:42 PM on November 1, 2017 [24 favorites]


No sorry; if Company A wants you to be committed, they hire you full time; they don't leave you hanging out with no income and expect you to be available to come running back when they get their shit together. You absolutely take the offer from Company B.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:43 PM on November 1, 2017 [58 favorites]


I'd ask Company B for one more week and set an ultimatum with Company A. Dick move or not, they are asking you to go for an indefinite amount of time without pay and that is incredibly poor treatment.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:44 PM on November 1, 2017 [11 favorites]


I'd mostly be concerned about burning bridges. But at the same, I think it's reasonable to look out for yourself.

Company A has not behaved well. You do not owe them a huge amount of consideration; they've shown you little. I assume that beyond this contract being restarted, there's no work or payment owing between the two of you, so there are no lasting strings here either. I assume also that they've offered you nothing in terms of formal assurances, only verbal updates like "we'll be getting you a new contract soonish!". They have not yet made an actual offer, just promises. And even if this does pan out there is a) no guarantee that they won't delay again; and b) the contract is free-lance and not permanent anyway.

Company B has made you a decent offer. They're not offering future, theoretical consideration, but a real actual full-time job that's competitive.

B has a solid upside with a few downsides. A seems to have few upsides, and quite a lot of down, with emotional freight and considerable uncertainty.

I would be very tempted to write a cordial note to A that said something to the effect of: "I've been happy to help you guys move forward on your project for the past few months. You guys are great. But I've just recently been offered full-time work elsewhere. I look forward to hearing of your future successes and hope we might have a chance to work together again in the future! Best Wishes, etc..."
posted by bonehead at 12:46 PM on November 1, 2017 [5 favorites]


A should be a lot better paying since it is a contract job. Give A a deadline (like November 6th) and then happily take job B when that deadline comes and goes without any work from A.
posted by soelo at 12:46 PM on November 1, 2017 [5 favorites]


Unfortunately, that handful of days has passed, and Company A can still only give me, like, 80% assurance that my project will resume. They're theoretically on board with a new plan, but costs haven't been approved, etc.

I would not take this as any kind of assurance, btw. This sounds very much to me like middle management stringing you along hoping that the VP will approve their pet project. While this can work, it's high risk, IMO.
posted by bonehead at 12:48 PM on November 1, 2017 [12 favorites]


A company that is not paying you has no claim to any of your time. None. If they have a written promise to pay you at some future date, then you owe them some measure of consideration in your future plans, but still not ultimate loyalty. Turning down a paying job is way more consideration than you owe them when you have no written promise and only a possible offer from them at a random future date. If they make it a problem for you in your field that you took another job, you dodged an even bigger bullet than you took because you don't want to work for a place like that.
posted by soelo at 12:51 PM on November 1, 2017 [9 favorites]


contracts are contracts, even though I'm not technically forbidden to quit

I hire a lot of contractors. I am a capitalist. You need to take the job at Company B right now. If anyone at Company A even hints that you are acting unprofessionally, you have my opinion to ignore them and/or curse them.

I expect that if I stop paying my contractors for a single day, they will stop working for me and find a new place to work. Hence, I try my darnedest to make sure that doesn't happen. Correspondingly, I expect that if a full time position is ever offered to my contractors, that they will take it immediately - and I will be happy for them.

You've not been paid by Company A for a month and Company A still doesn't have funding in place for you? You should take the job at Company B yesterday. Preferably, you'd've taken it when Company B offered a full-time/non-contract position.
posted by saeculorum at 12:52 PM on November 1, 2017 [25 favorites]


Wait, what? Company A is literally expecting you to wait around for an undetermined amount of time with zero pay, and refuse other work? I feel like maybe you have been brainwashed here or something by a toxic work environment, but you are definitely NOT the jerk here if you quit, and it is 100% reasonable to let them know you have another job offer with guaranteed pay, starting now, so obviously you have to go with that. Any reasonable company will understand this. If they push back, I would literally just repeat what they are asking of you -- to remain permanently on call without any pay -- in a deadpan voice. Ask them what they would do in this situation. Assuming you are not independently wealthy, how in the world are you even paying your bills now??
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:54 PM on November 1, 2017 [12 favorites]


Unless I'm missing something I can't see how you can be giving any consideration to company A. Yes, you signed a contract, but that was a 15 month paid contract. Yes, just as there are provisions to allow you to quit, I'm sure that there's the provisions for A to put the project on hiatus, but the second they stopped paying you, they immediately lost any loyalty owed from you.

Take your job with company B, make sure that they haven't already given it to someone else, and then let company A know that you're no longer available, BECAUSE of the hiatus.

I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, but how is this even a question?
posted by nobeagle at 12:55 PM on November 1, 2017 [6 favorites]


To Company B: Can I have until Friday?

To Company A: I'll need a commitment by Friday or I'm going to have to accept another offer. I really want to work on the project, but I can't afford the downtime.

You are not the bad guy, just a person who needs a paycheck. Any hint otherwise is jerk behavior.
posted by theora55 at 12:55 PM on November 1, 2017 [18 favorites]


If you're not getting paid, you don't have a job. This is one form of "constructive dismissal" in the employment market. So, Company A has already laid you off. They considering making a "new" offer in the future, maybe, if they feel like it.

Take Company B's offer.
posted by flimflam at 1:05 PM on November 1, 2017 [6 favorites]


Look at your contract and proceed accordingly. But I agree with the approach of giving A an ultimatum and then moving on.
posted by salvia at 1:21 PM on November 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


Independent contractor for the last 16 years, here. Company A has almost certainly already cancelled the project. If by some miracle they haven't, be assured that they will if they want to, without giving you a moment's thought. They will also let you twist in the wind for any period of time, again, without giving you a moment's thought. And if they wait six months and then start up again, they will probably expect the project to be finished by the same start date they originally had in mind, before they spent six months doing nothing. They won't be even slightly inconvenienced by having to hire somebody else--and if they will, if you're the only person who can possibly do this for them, then they should have been paying you for your time, to retain your services. Do not encumber yourself with the idea that you owe them something; you have a business relationship, and if they're not paying you, you don't even have that.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 1:26 PM on November 1, 2017 [12 favorites]


Pay with Company A is better, but Company B's offer comes with benefits. Financially it's a wash.

Pay with Company A is only better if you actually get paid. One of the benefits of Company B is that you will get paid.
posted by kariebookish at 1:41 PM on November 1, 2017 [15 favorites]


Reasonable option 1: You accept Company B's offer immediately, and send a letter to Company A - as of [date], I will take full-time employment elsewhere, and will not be available for contract work for the forseeable future.

Reasonable option 2: You ask Company B for one week to hand off your responsibilities at Company A (nevermind whether anything is needed for that), and you send a letter to Company A that says:

"I have received an offer for employment elsewhere, which I am ready to accept. If you wish to retain me as a contractor, I would need full-schedule work, beginning on $DATE [next week], and written assurance that this work has company approval and funding to last X months. I understand that the project may be in hiatus a bit longer, in which case, I wish you well with it; I cannot continue to wait for employment."

---
There's room to add, "I will hand over my notes/ documents/ email passwords; just let me know who's taking over" - but there's no requirement to say that. If they haven't been paying you, you're not obligated to keep track of their digital assets, even if they failed to ask for them a month ago.

They haven't earned the tiniest shred of your loyalty. Offering a 15 month contract and then putting it in limbo less than halfway through is a dick move.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:12 PM on November 1, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'll pile on. Take Company B's offer. It's not a contract gig! You will have benefits. Company A sucks because they haven't given you a permanent job. You haven't been paid in over a month. No. Company B is the way to go.
posted by clone boulevard at 2:13 PM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


Jesus, no. Ask for another day or two with Company B, give Company A an ultimatum, and then take the job with B. What are you, treating your work as a charity project? Or are you independently rich? You've already given A a ton more time than is reasonable.

I'm a freelancer who works on a project basis, so I totally get this world. Company A may be a great opportunity in some ways but they're showing themselves to be a garbage client and you're a dummy if you let them string you along any further. (Which, by the way, they're doing because you're letting them.)

Also: you wouldn't be quitting A's project. They quit you when they put it on hold and stopped paying you.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:24 PM on November 1, 2017 [7 favorites]


You're already not working for company A so what's the difference?

What is it about company A, other than the contract, that would be compelling enough to wait for? And would it make up for the last 15 months if they start up the project tomorrow?

Also, contracts are 2 way agreements so feel free to walk away from it. It's not like you would owe *them* money right? ...right? How does the contract address a "hiatus"? If there is language in the contract that mentions this, just refer to that and say that you are exercising your right to terminate the agreement. Can you imagine if the roles were reversed and they had paying you for 15 months while you told them to wait?

And another also..they're not a client if they're not paying you. Go to company B before that offer goes away. You have been very generous with your time with company A. Accept the job offer at company B and live your life. If company A ever contacts you again, you have moved on because you have bills to pay too.
posted by eatcake at 2:32 PM on November 1, 2017


It is legitimately moving to have so many total strangers come to the defense of my paycheck! I And I recognize the incredible good fortune I have to even consider this A Question.

Lest I come across as completely dense, I feel like I should clarify that Company A is a long-time excellent client of mine, and they have built up a lot of trust. They've done very right by me a lot of times even when projects have gone wonky. But I do need to be careful not to trust them beyond the point of reason, so thank you all for that good looking-out.

Additionally, I've been freelance by choice for more than half a decade; taking an in-house staff job is not in any way a slam-dunk "yes" for me. To be honest, I'd have reservations about it regardless of my situation, and feel supremely grateful that I am in a position to weigh those reservations.

But based on y'alls good advice I have made my boss aware of the job offer, and she has immediately escalated it to someone who (presumably) has the power to do anything about it. Thank you all for shaking me out of my paralysis!
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:34 PM on November 1, 2017 [5 favorites]


Oh also holy cow, on preview, I need to clarify that I have gone ONE month with hours cut, not 15! I'm probably bad at business but not bad enough at it to go unpaid for over a year.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:36 PM on November 1, 2017 [3 favorites]


I feel like I should clarify that Company A is a long-time excellent client of mine, and they have built up a lot of trust. They've done very right by me a lot of times even when projects have gone wonky. But I do need to be careful not to trust them beyond the point of reason, so thank you all for that good looking-out.

As a fellow freelancer, I'm telling you that a reliable paycheck is worth a lot more than an otherwise excellent client who has begun stringing you along.
posted by kariebookish at 2:56 PM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


I understand they've been good clients in the past but now they're not.

Take Company B's job. It's unlikely that Company A is going to call you back. If they do, tell them that to your enormous regret you're not available anymore but you can refer them to someone who'll be happy for the business.

I don't think you should give them an ultimatum because, I mean, if the project isn't moving forward, what is your ultimatum going to change? All you'll get is more assurance, which will just make it more awkward for you to say "that's not enough." If they were set up to fire it up again, they wouldn't have cancelled it in the first place.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:17 PM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


Ha, this reminds me of the company who told me they wanted a freelancer who would be available at the drop of a hat, and if I wanted to work for them I wouldn't be allowed to freelance for anyone else. They also told me that they couldn't guarantee a steady flow of work or any work at all?!!! Yet they expected me to be on standby forever with no guarantee of a pay check from them or anyone else. I'm pretty sure I literally laughed out loud when they told me this.

When I asked if they actually had freelancers agree to these terms they told me it had never been a problem with anyone else! Reader, I passed on that unique job opportunity and so should you.
posted by Jubey at 6:44 PM on November 1, 2017 [5 favorites]


There is a real chance that if you appear flaky to company B then they will withdraw the offer. If you keep dragging your feet, and ask for a few more days multiple times, then they will naturally take note. It looks both like won't commit, or that you have a higher priority project, or that you just aren't really that interested in taking their offer. People can tell when you're not that interested in working for them, and that's a sign that it's not a good fit.

I would just take the contract now. Company A's tactics, intentional or not, are already screwing up this situation and it doesn't sound like they are on the ball even now. If they didn't want you to sign a contract with someone else, they would present you with an offer today.
posted by cotterpin at 2:44 AM on November 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


This has been touched on before, but I'd like to emphasize that if a full time job offer is a wash financially with your contracting rate, you're not charging enough as a contractor precisely because of this sort of thing. Building up a buffer for when you're not getting contact work should be part of the overhead that you're including in contacts.
posted by Candleman at 7:18 AM on November 2, 2017


Update: my boss was able to get a guarantee of continued work from her higher-ups. They've committed to keeping me on and my work will resume on 11/6. They're also including a sufficient increase in my rate to recoup my losses on the past month. (The increase is permanent; so eventually it just becomes a straight-up raise.)

I've notified Company B and offered them an excellent candidate in my stead. They have responded that they understand and would be happy to have me aboard in an IC role at any time in the future.

I realize this is not the MeFi-approved decision, but I really have taken all of this advice to heart (even the, uh, direct insults...always good to know how one comes across, even if the answer is "people think you're a dummy"). The pile on was apparently what I needed to shake myself off and ask for what I needed, so clearly I have much to improve on in terms of advocating for myself.

if a full time job offer is a wash financially with your contracting rate, you're not charging enough as a contractor precisely because of this sort of thing

Of note: It's not a dollar-for-dollar wash, not even close; it's just that the peace of mind of company-sponsored benefits and the idea of vacay would theoretically make up for the significant financial hit. I do have a substantial buffer. Overall, though, pay in my industry is very low; contractor pay is somewhat higher, but there's nowhere you can get the "2x salary" rate generally recommended for freelance. It's just not a thing. Yes, I should almost certainly leave the industry, but that's a question for another Ask day.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:21 AM on November 2, 2017 [12 favorites]


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