I am working from home(Turkey) and the company I am working is based in Switzerland. I am not an employee of this company. I think this is called free-lance working, I am not sure. We do not have any kind of official contract and they do not provide me anything besides the hourly wage I make, however we talked that I should be able to work 40 hours a week at least, which means I can not just find a full time job here and work in the evenings for 3 - 4 hours a day.

The work goes like this: I work for an amount of hours everyday. I do the tasks assigned to me, as well as because I am responsible of quality and testing of the software product(s) they have, I have a constant responsibility which is to make sure the product is working well at all times.

But sometimes things will slow down, no development will be done there so the product will be in "stable" position, where testing the same thing over and over again will yield nothing and will be kind of frustrating and a "waste of effort".

However my income solely depends on this work and even if there is not much to do, I sit in front of the computer every morning at 8:00 a.m. and sit at least for 6 - 8 hours and "be available" for them, even if I do not "really" do some work.

At the end of the month I am supposed to report how many hours I have "worked" and what I have worked on, and depending on the hours they pay me.

For example, today I did not have much to do. All I did was to reply to 3 - 4 emails, test 2 issues that were fixed and fix 2 export templates that some customer uses. (Minor fixes in the layout etc..) I did some my usual, routine testing on the software as well but did not find any bugs or etc..

What am I supposed to do if this goes on for like a week or two? Do I still bill them for 6 hours a day? On one hand I think it is not fair to bill them because I am home and not really doing anything. However, on the other hand, I am not doing anything because there is really nothing to do. And I do not just go do my personal stuff like taking the car to the shop or going to the bank or going to doctors appointments etc. I am home 'available' for them, sitting right in front of the computer. I am testing the same things over and over again but I sometimes already know nothing is broken.

Or is this the nature of this way of working, and should I just think like "well today was a bad day, no work to do" and not bill them at all, and if keeps going like this find a new job? I know they are happy with the work I am doing, when there is something to do so I am not sure if quitting is a solution for either for the sides.

I do not if this makes any difference I can say that the hourly wage I am getting is an amount that the company would pay an unqualified employee in Switzerland, but it is still a good amount for my country because of the Euro / Turkish Lira rate. So if they would hire someone to do the same job in Switzerland, they would probably be required to pay double what they were paying me. They do not provide me an office space, any food, any insurance or taxes etc, so having a remote employee is a win for them, and it is a win for me because I get to work from home and get paid well considering my countries situation, as long as there is work to do(?)

So do I bill the slow days or not?

  • 2
    What about expanding the testing--automate if it isn't already, add more 'edge' test cases, review the bugs to see if there's a pattern, etc.
    – mkennedy
    Jan 22, 2015 at 17:45
  • 5
    You see, this is one of the reasons contracts fit excellent into this kind of activity: it makes it clear what to do in these situations.
    – Radu Murzea
    Jan 22, 2015 at 18:00
  • 1
    Sounds like you need to check your contract, and see if there is a retainer clause - A monthly fee that is paid for you to just be available at certain times, whether you have work or not.
    – Canadian Luke
    Jan 22, 2015 at 18:43
  • 16
    "We do not have any kind of official contract" <= big red flag.
    – anorton
    Jan 23, 2015 at 3:21
  • You can have a contract without anyone actually using the word contract. It will vary from country to country but at least in England if you make an agreement which has benefits for both parties and you both intend for it to be legally binding I think that's a contract, whether you call it that or not. I expect you do have a contract that entitles you to be paid for the work you do, whether or not it also entitles you to be paid when there isn't anything to do probably depends on exactly what was said or written.
    – bdsl
    Jan 23, 2015 at 12:17

8 Answers 8


We do not have any kind of official contract

That's a problem because this type of question is typically answered within the contract that the two parties agreed upon. We can't possibly answer your question with any certainty as we don't know what the agreement is between you and your client.

You and your client need to talk and agree as to whether or not they want to pay for you to be available for all hours, or just pay you for the time it takes to complete assigned tasks.

The former is likely in the best interest of both parties. They get dedicated time from you, and you get a dedicated pay check. If the latter is the case, though, then you need to point out to them that you won't be available for 40 hours a week as you will be taking on other external projects to fill up your time on those slow days.

  • 13
    I'm honestly surprised you're the only one mentioning the lack of contract at all. Not having a contract is a MASSIVE danger. I would strongly suggest to ask for an official contract.
    – Kjeld Schmidt
    Jan 22, 2015 at 23:30
  • On the other hand: Your don't have any official contract, which is quite easy for them (no taxes, can terminate you anytime...) - So just bill them for the whole time! They cannot sue you without a contract, you have no legal obligation to only bill them work hours, because there is no contract. - A big firm with such edgy probably illegal activities should pay for your free hours, if they cheat the system
    – Falco
    Jan 23, 2015 at 11:02
  • @Falco If that's what's going on, I think the advice would be to find a reputable company.
    – jpmc26
    Jan 23, 2015 at 11:54
  • @Falco They can certainly just not pay you, no lawsuit necessary on their part.
    – Joe
    Jan 23, 2015 at 15:19
  • 1
    @Joe but they can do that anyway whenever they want to. Then you just stop working for them and hopefully have leverage in form of some inside knowledge which a new employee will need to learn before being able to do your job - so they can't just let you down and replace you without some major downtime ;-)
    – Falco
    Jan 23, 2015 at 15:37

We can't answer this as the details of contract positions vary quite a bit from one person/company to another.

What you need to do is contact the manager at the company and clear up whether they are they only paying for actual time worked or if they are also paying for time spent waiting for work.

If they are only paying for actual time worked then you need to decide if the small number of hours is worth continuing or not. If not, then you should let them know that you can no longer work like that and if they would like to pay a straight 40 hours that you would be willing to continue. Let them decide if keeping you on staff even if they have to pay for you to be sitting is worth it.


Generally speaking you wouldn't expect to be paid to do nothing, and they wouldn't expect to pay you to do nothing. The reason you're paid hourly instead of salaried monthly is precisely so that they save money when there's less than a full month's work to do in the month.

However, if they genuinely need you to be sitting there ready to deal with issues at a moment's notice, then you're not doing nothing. You're not doing much, but it's their Euro, so if that's what they want then they get it. Bill them the hours. While you're billing them, do the most useful thing for them that you can find, even if it's not very useful.

Because this is unusual, though, you must make sure they know what's happening and that it's really what they want. For one day they might not care, but likely they'd prefer to release you for the rest of the day once it's clear there's nothing more to do. It means your hours aren't reliable, and as a freelancer it's up to you to try to juggle multiple sources of income, to earn what you need.

Also, ask them if there are any so-called "background tasks" that you could get on with while waiting for something higher-priority to come along. This brings you close to having reliable hours. You could combine this with the idea of "minimum hours", for example perhaps they'd agree that if there's nothing else to do then you'll work half the day on background tasks (so you have some guaranteed income and they have you available every morning) and then clock off for the afternoon. This doesn't help with scheduling appointments since you don't know in advance when you'll be free, but you're no worse off in that respect than if you were full time. Just agree with them how much notice you should give that you'll be away for appointments.

Unfortunately it's also possible that they expect you to be "on-call" all day for free, and get paid only if work arises. Professions like programming normally don't agree to this -- if you're on call you should be paid something even if not your full hourly rate, to compensate you for the fact that you can't get on with living your life in that time. So if they suggest it you should be prepared to just say that it isn't what you want. If they still demand it anyway then you have to decide whether you're willing to tolerate it. This might depend whether you can find other freelance work that's flexible enough for you to do it in the gaps.

Also, you can agree what "on-call" means. If it means you check email at the start of the day, and if nothing needs doing then you'll let someone know and then remain contactable by phone, and get back to work within an agreed time (one hour?) if called, then it's not so bad as having to sit at your computer all day. You can go out to do your chores, but you won't leave them without support.

It's not a bad idea at all to get some of this down in a contract, especially if there are certain hours that they expect you to be available regardless of whether you're working. Otherwise you end up asking the internet what you can and can't do, instead of checking the terms of your agreement with them. They don't want that any more than you do ;-)


Just to add a bit to @ChrisLively answer, this is why most consultants in your position include minimum serviceable hours in their contracts. If Chris' answer does not work for you then maybe you should consider negotiating something like this with your employer.

The idea would be to say to your employer that you will be on call but they would be required to pay for X hours a week or month even if they had no work for you over that period. Note though that X is usually much less than the normal time you hope to work. Something like 4 hours a week or 16 hours a month.

  • If you're lucky, responding to email and running all the tests once a day adds up to the minimum hours anyway, so the client gets their money's worth.
    – Steve Jessop
    Jan 22, 2015 at 18:56
  • @SteveJessop Possibly true. The minimum time is definitely one of those "The asker knows best" points.
    – KHeaney
    Jan 22, 2015 at 19:04

When you work as a contractor, the idea is that you are responsible for all your taxes, health insurance and so on, that you don't have a safe job and usually don't have twelve months of work in a year, and that you don't get paid for holiday. On the other hand, this is compensated for by a much higher payment per day worked or per hour worked, so that you usually should get more than compensated for your work. After working a year, paying all your taxes and other costs, you should be left with more money than if you had a full time job.

If you don't get enough money, then you should be first looking for other contracting jobs. If you find something that works out better for you then you switch - after all, you have no contract, so you can switch to another job at any time without any bad conscience.

You should also try to negotiate an agreement where you are guaranteed a certain payment per week, say 20 hours per week. (From their point of view, if they have to pay for it, I'm sure they are going to find work for you).


I'll keep it short and simple: Sitting in front of them computer being available for them sounds like billable work to me. Your time is tied up and dedicated to them, and they likewise expect you to be there if something comes up.

They probably know that you have slow days, and that on those days you are basically waiting for things to break. Do let them know though, just in case.

As others have mentioned, a better contract arrangement may be possible, but it could be undesirable for your employer if they are looking to cut costs. Do some research on how much a Swedish programmer would cost them to verify that theory; perhaps when you find out how much they save, you won't feel as bad about charging them for time spent sipping tea and waiting.


There are two feasible options:

  1. Find work. Do some research and find where you can be useful to the company. If you are lucky, you will find yourself some real work, and the company would want to keep you, even potentially let you come over and take you full time. At minimum, you will get valuable experience, that should help you find another opportunity, if required. My preferred choice.

  2. Do nothing. If the company did not bother with the contract, it's not your problem. What can happen is if they find you not efficient enough, you will lose your job. Be prepared for this, if you choose to go with this option.

I did not list an option to ask for more work, because in most cases nagging your employer will get you fired even faster. In many companies having no work is a normal condition and both full time and contractors are often paid in this case. You may be evaluated "average" on your performance review, if you are okay with this, but there is definitely nothing "wrong" with it.

If nothing else works, try to be fair. If you are being paid 250$/hr, you probably should mention if you have no work and not bill them for 8 hours a day, if you only worked one. In most cases for wages like this you would have a contract anyway, clearly stating your obligations, so this won't be a problem.

On the other hand, 10$/hr is not a lot, so it may be okay to accept pay for working 1 out of 8 hours on certain days. Think about it this way, would you pay yourself 80$ for the stuff you did? Maybe. 2000$? Probably not.


Kuray, you seem to be a very honest person. Unfortunately, in this world the truth is often irrelevant. You may achieve better end result by acting in your own best interest and ignoring the minor details. Furthermore, the other party may actually expect you to behave this way, and would be annoyed if you don't and start asking inconvenient questions.

I would bill the slow days. Since they insist that you be "available" and prevent you from doing other work, you are working for them, whether you actually do something or not.

What you write in the bill is another story. I would come up with something vague like "testing". Most likely they would be much happier to pay you than to deal with the head-ache of creating a contract and answering difficult questions.

If, and only if they express dissatisfaction with such billing practice, I would require clarification and possibly a contract. If they become really nasty about it, I would start looking for another job.

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