who (if anyone) is being unreasonable here?
April 22, 2009 9:51 PM   Subscribe

I recently took a job on contract that's turning out to be not what we agreed in the interview. I've been there two weeks, and already they say that they don't accept the old contract and are drafting a new one. I don't feel good about this, and wonder if it's reasonable to walk away.

I recently gave up a steady job to be the region's lead in my environmental field for a huge multinational. The recruitment process was painful, and I actually told them to get lost at one point as they were calling me several times a day asking unreasonable requests. Their office is far from where I live, and I was not looking forward to the commute. What made me come back for a final interview was their incredible plans, and their offer to let me work from home.

I was initially going to be an employee, but they asked if I could contract, as the company division doesn't have a legal entity here. I somewhat reluctantly agreed, and got a contract which curiously didn't mention working from home. I signed it, but on starting I was told that the contract had errors, so they wanted to revise it before they would countersign. This immediately made me anxious.

Understanding that I'd need some intial face-time with my colleagues to build a team, I got a little concerned when I started to get things like office phones and nameplates installed. It turns out my manager wants me working all week in the office, and has conveniently forgotten about the home working clause. Grudgingly, he's considering letting me work a maximum number of days a week from home, far fewer than I'd be willing to take.

There's a language and cultural barrier. My colleagues mostly don't speak English confidently, and I spend much of my time summarizing meetings and phone calls by e-mail so that they're better understood. I'm pretty sure I could communicate and work just as well from home, and save the 2+ hours on the highway and long hours spent in the office just to be seen in the office.

The company does have audacious plans, and has the financial resources to make them work. I don't doubt the job could get very interesting, but right now pretty much everything doesn't feel right. I have reserves for a couple of months, and could probably pull in some other consulting work.

I know I should probably give it more time, but it's just not passing the smell test for me. From my side of the story, am I being rash and unreasonable?

(Anonymous because I work in a small industry, and my user name is one click away from where I work. Questions/comments to fonstrous.muckup@gmail.com. I'm in Canada, if it helps.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further.

I'd trust your gut. But maybe I'd look for a clause in the contract that requires severance of some kind, just to handle my own pain and suffering as it were.
posted by dhartung at 9:56 PM on April 22, 2009

Mention in an email that you took the contract because of the ability to work at home. Tell this this is what you are going to do and you want the contract drafted to reflect that. It's a deal breaker, if they don't play - walk.

I'm guessing you have other options?
posted by mattoxic at 9:57 PM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

The other option is that you find a translation assistant who you can train as your institutional liaison. I am guessing your "regional" position is actually quite a large territory and you are working on an issue that is brand new for this company. From that point of view, I can see their reasoning why you should be spending more time in the office. You probably have other offers and you could take them. Certainly, this company is a challenge but if you think you can rally them to give you a staff and run the directorship from field points you will probably prevail on them.
posted by parmanparman at 10:16 PM on April 22, 2009

It seems to me that you've already decided that the job is generally a poor fit for you, and the company is just making it worse. I'd cut my losses and take this opportunity to walk away.
posted by wsp at 10:23 PM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow. For me, this sounds like a dealbreaker off the bat.

I was initially going to be an employee, but they asked if I could contract, as the company division doesn't have a legal entity here. I somewhat reluctantly agreed, and got a contract which curiously didn't mention working from home. I signed it, but on starting I was told that the contract had errors, so they wanted to revise it before they would countersign. This immediately made me anxious.

Go with gut. Find new employer/contractor. And, what Mattoxic said.
posted by liquado at 10:34 PM on April 22, 2009

From the question, it's clear that you are steeling yourself for the possibility that you have to walk. That is the strongest negotiating position you can be in - they've selected their candidate, the other shortlist candidates have likely taken other jobs by now, so the company won't want to go to the time and expense of starting the hiring process all over again, the manager will probably look bad to the his bosses too, so basically you've got them where you want them.

So be amiable and constructive, but make it clear that you expect changes to be made in your favour to offset any changes (not in your favour) that they wish to make. Negotiate for more vacation, a company car for the unexpected commute, whatever things matter to you.
A higher salary probably won't fly - and you want to work with them here to make it work rather than be adversarial, so be creative - there must be some few icing-on-the-cake things that are palatable to them and might make all the difference to you. Just get them in writing.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:25 PM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Audacious plans and poor management are a terribly frustrating mix. I'd start looking for another job.
posted by fshgrl at 11:58 PM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Agreed that if you are able to walk away, which seems implicit from what you've related (and an enviable thing these days... or any days), that is at heart a powerful position.

On the broadest level, everything's tendencies, but I have heard and heard and heard that if they start messing around during or shortly after the hiring process, it's a really bad sign. In theory, all concerned work to get things off to a good start. It's smart business for the employer.

I lose track of the numbers, but a big number of people who relate significant frustrations in the early days end up leaving. It seems a very hard problem to fix. Makes sense; negotiate deal or start job and employer swiftly makes it clear that they have credibility problems. Employer-credibility problems = another huge reason why people leave.

I have more first-hand experience with that than I would prefer. Operationally and otherwise, it sucks. Not a surprise that the first couple questionable things were not the last.

One prospect that might reflect things being less ugly: Any chance that there are communication issues 'tween the hiring mgr. and HR that led to issues with working from home, etc.? It sorta reads like like your mgr. took a bait-and-switch approach with working from home.

A good point that someone walking away shortly after being hired does not reflect well on the hiring manager, though plenty of 'em don't seem to know or care. As a friend once commented, management's bad everywhere; why do you think Dilbert is so popular?

Broader issues aside, maybe the position/field is unusual, but I could believe other people they talked remain interested or need work, all the more because on the surface, the gig has some really appealing aspects.

Seems like a Big Talk is in the near future; at the nuts-and-bolts level, at the risk of stating the obvious, I've learned to have notes, essentially bullet points/an outline of things to address, your must-haves and trade-offs you're willing to make, and thoughts about how to fix things--the old line, "Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions."

I know too well of the challenges of working with people who use English as a second language, many of whom have a limited grasp of it. In the broader scheme, that may be a bullet to bite and something not hopeless. There seems a natural, fairly quick development of a second speech pattern of stripped down verbiage, more gestures. Unfortunately, that goes dramatically better in person. Maybe it'd be okay via a Web cam?

When it's all said and done, the basic question: Would you be unreasonable to leave, not sign a new contract? No.

The width and breadth of the changes they've made/seem to be making to the deal are more than significant.

There would be nothing lost in having a go at severance, but I'd be shocked if they fessed up some money.
posted by ambient2 at 12:14 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing that it sounds like you're in a pretty good negotiating position. I don't think anyone could legitimately fault you for walking now, but why be in a hurry about it? Unless you're about to lose an alternate opportunity, it seems as if you could try to make this work without risking much. Don't let anxiety push you around.

If you've been getting conflicting messages from various parties you've been talking to, then you'll have to go higher in the company food chain to find someone who's able to cut through the crap in any meaningful way. If you figure out who that person is, arrange a meeting, and approach it in a spirit of I-want-to-make-this-work-for-both-of-us, you might get somewhere. If you're blocked from even talking with someone who can deal with you straightforwardly, or if you still feel dicked around even after that meeting, then you can walk away without worrying that you abandoned a genuine opportunity.
posted by jon1270 at 3:30 AM on April 23, 2009

This is a little of topic, but in the US, the company, and you, could be in for some trouble if tax-wise you're reported as a "contractor" but you're clearly and employee. When you go back in to renegotiate you might want to bring up that point as well (if, of course, it holds true in Canada as well).
posted by miss tea at 4:10 AM on April 23, 2009

This exact thing happened to me a few years ago. In that case, though, I was working as a 1099 contractor (I'm assuming you are in the US, but if you aren't please just skip this response). That was the key in getting it right.

You probably know this, but the word "contractor" is used in 2 different ways to describe a working relationship. Some people are "contractors" but they are W2s. That is, they are an employee of an agency. The agency withholds their taxes for them, and pays 1/2 of their FICA. Those people, in my opinion, get the worst ends of the deal -- they don't have the insurance and whatnot of the client/company, and they don't get the freedoms of a "true" contractor.

The other type of contractor is an I099 contractor. This person withholds their own taxes and pays taxes quarterly, submits invoices for payment, and pays all of their FICA.

Now, why do I tell you this? Because one key is if you are an I099 contractor. If you are, you have a strong reason to work as your own business, from your own office (which can be located in your home). The IRS considers this one of the necessary markers of a contractor.

So, when this happened to me, I quickly talked with them about the IRS checklist, and how this could result in terrible audits all around, and gee so sorry. This got us back on track with no hard feelings, because it was the IRS's "fault".

Here are some links to help understand this:
- From the IRS: Who is considered self-employed?
- From the IRS: Independent contractor or employee?
- There used to be a checklist from the IRS, but I can't find it. Here from a different source (opens a Word document): IRS 20-point contractor checklist
posted by Houstonian at 5:00 AM on April 23, 2009

(ARGH! I just saw your last sentence -- you are in Canada. None of what I typed above makes a difference for you, as it is all US-only. Please disregard.)
posted by Houstonian at 5:02 AM on April 23, 2009

None of what I typed above makes a difference for you, as it is all US-only

But worth bearing in mind none-the-less. If you a self-employed contractor you have a lot more say in how, when and where you work. I'm sure your own tax body has guidelines published somewhere on how to determine your employment status.
posted by missmagenta at 5:15 AM on April 23, 2009

...and here it is and a more in dept pdf

IANAL/Tax advisor but my understanding of it is that if they want to control the how, when and where of your work then you are an employee. If they want you to contract then you have all the freedoms that go with being self-employed, including working from home.
posted by missmagenta at 5:22 AM on April 23, 2009

I signed it, but on starting I was told that the contract had errors, so they wanted to revise it before they would countersign.

The technical term for this is "fucking you over bigtime." Run, don't walk.

Next time, don't sign a contract that doesn't actually say what you agreed upon, and don't start a job until they've countersigned the contract (or if you do have to start, don't be a pushover and let them start rewriting the deal on you.)
posted by ook at 11:21 AM on April 23, 2009

Audacious plans and poor management are a terribly frustrating mix.

This. I once took a job that I thought would be great, with a leader in my field that had "audacious plans." It became clear within minutes of starting the job that the place was insane. I stuck with it, even when my position was significantly altered, because I was so excited about the plans. Several months later, the firm got itself into serious legal and PR hot water, which jeopardized my career and basically made their audacious plans moot. I jumped ship shortly thereafter, but it's still a black mark on my resume and I really wish I'd listened to my gut when I first got there and realized how poorly-run the place was.
posted by lunasol at 12:23 AM on April 24, 2009

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