What is going on employment-wise with me?
February 7, 2011 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving from being employed to being a contractor...but things are not going as planned, at least so far. What are my options in case things don't go according to plan?

So, about six months or so ago, I told my boss that I wanted out—I wanted to leave the city I'm living in and work remotely, as I can't freaking stand it here. Semi-surprisingly, he agreed. We made a verbal arrangement for me to shift from being a part-time employee to being a contractor around...now.

Now is here, and all of a sudden some stuff has gone down which has nothing to do with my relationship with my boss, but everything to do with his place within this organization. We are grant-funded within this organization, and we are going through a period of belt-tightening, and for some reason the administrative people above have targeted us—we are small and don't bring in a lot of money, although generally we cover our costs...anyways, long story short, they are calling into question our very existence now, picking apart our budget, and basically making doing anything long-term very hard. Including setting up new contracts. Which leads to my situation:

A few weeks ago, I was asked to go through all the formal motions in order to move to contracting, including filling out all these forms and writing up a statement of work and this and that and the other...including writing a formal resignation letter.

But at this point I don't even know if I'm going to get a contract. If I'd know how this shit was going to go down recently, I never would have given anyone a resignation letter, but now it is too late. I'm guessing that I'm screwed and I really have no recourse, and this is all basically my fault. And I'm actually not super worried about getting another job somewhere else if need be—I have a lot of experience in a field that generally needs people. But I could really use unemployment, and I want to figure out what my health-care options are, and etc. etc. I'm pissed that these assholes pulled the rug out from under us; I feel a bit like I was tricked.

All that aside, I know I fundamentally bear the responsibility for this situation (so please, no "you should have know better" moralizing—thanks!) but I'm just wondering what my options are—creative ideas welcome. Thank you!

(I am in Cambridge, MA, for the purposes of this question)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm guessing that I'm screwed and I really have no recourse, and this is all basically my fault.

I would not say it is your fault, but your boss' fault. My instinct tells me that you were probably due for a lay off and your boss knew about it and took the easy way out. This really sucks as you were operating in good faith. It may not be the case and he was caught off guard too, but there you go.

You might have a case involving estoppel, as this is one of the things our lawyers yell at us about when we move people into contracting. And I say might because from my understanding is that it is very difficult to prove.

If it were me, I'd cut my losses and start looking for another job. Don't do any work for them, don't do any clean up work or anything else until you have them under a contract. Especially if there's a bunch of things you'd normally do under a two week notice. If you're really needed, things will magically start moving.
posted by geoff. at 9:27 AM on February 7, 2011

1) Don't worry about what you should have done. You made the best decision you could have at the time and things have changes.

2) Go for whatever you can get that makes sense. Think short-term. Key is getting in and delivering. As a contractor you have the benefit of only delivering output. If you can keep some hand in the terms of IP or contacts or whatever, it makes you that much harder to get rid of, regardless of the contract length.

3) If you feel pride kicking up, curtail it. You are a contractor now and you essentially have a warm/hot lead. You just have to bring it in. Find out what the pain point is. If they're reviewing the business, find some way to integrate that (I don't know how as I don't know specifics, but don't take anything off the table).

4) If you fail to get traction, ask them for referrals and you'll see A) what they really think of your work, and B) it will force the decision one way or the other as they'll either feel threatened or relieved. Suggest exhausting step 3 first.

5) Immediately start chasing up other short-term opportunities. One stream/source of income can easily cloud your judgement and make you miss very obvious points of entry. Plus there's also the factor of time. If they give you the green light to start in 60 days but you only have 30 days of cash before things get scary, you're not going to make the best decisions.

6) When you are an employee, your reputation builds up over time and is based on a lot of factors. When you are a contractor (off-site), your reputation is built in much smaller, more intense bursts. Think about how you dress and how you act and remember that often in contracting, it's an ongoing interview. Adjust your interactions (and later your rates) accordingly.
posted by nickrussell at 9:39 AM on February 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Aiming for creative response, but I believe you can get this if you want it.

Actually, I think that you are in a really good position to go freelance/work independently, and you may get better deals starting out this way. It sounds like you have extensive experience, contacts in the field, etc.

So I would follow through with your goal (e.g. Get out of the city you are working in). Do as much as possible now, because projects can take between a few months to a year to start when you let pple know that you are available for this. Continue planning for contract with your company because it may still work out.

Here is what I would do (and actually did do):

1). Where are your colleagues who went to other companies? Send off an email/you are going contract/freelance/whatever. Do they know companies who could use your services

2) Go to linkedin. Update it with a title that makes it obvious you will take other projects (freelance/consultant/whatever they do in your industry). Fill in all the details on your cv, give descriptions of the project you have worked on (pple search me out on linkedin looking for experience in certain industrustries, assume it will work for you ,too). Do give a link to a webpage or something.

3) Decide on a rate. Figure out what you earn per hour right now and 2X to 3X it. You may want to put it on a webpage if you don’t want to bicker with pple, but that is up to you how you do it. Don’t want to travel or work in office? Charge a lot more to do those things.

4) Go find a list of other companies that do what you do. It may be the library, googling, linkedin…but I emailed many companies offering my services/only approached companies that did what I do/made it obvious in the title/and never contacted them again if there was no response. I got a lot of work this way, too.

You may be surprised re: current company. They will still need someone to do the work and may be desperate. If this happens, the reigns will go to your hands.

PS: If you do want a job, often times companies will respond and first ask will you work fulltime for us, and if not, then they will often times still do contract/freelance projects with you. So if that is what you want to do, you can get a job. In regards to linkedin, even if you state you are independent, recruiters/headhunters will come out of the woodwork -- so you once again have the option for a job if you want it.

You may not feel this way now, and YMMV, but I do think if you want to live where you want to live/etc, this will work better. You also may find that you get a wider variety of projects, etc.
posted by Wolfster at 9:48 AM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

That sucks, sorry. I try to make it a policy to assume I'm being lied to every single time a boss or job recruiter opens his mouth, and yet I still recently got suckered into a situation where I was pretty clearly misled. So, not your fault that others are jerks- don't beat yourself up.

Do you have anything in writing, or email, about this "move to contracting?" That could help a lot as far as getting unemployment. If they promised you work then went back on it, that to me (not a lawyer) is being laid off.

You can at least file and hope for the best. Not sure about MA, but in most states the burden to prove the employee DOESN'T deserve unemployment is on the employer. You will at least get a hearing, and there's a chance your employer won't even bother to contest it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:51 AM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd also talk to a lawyer. First, about the organization's "management" of your changeover from employee to contractor. Second, if you are going to work for other people on a contractual basis, you want a professional to create your agreement so that it protects you and ensures that the work you're doing is clearly described.

A good agreement will also spell out how the price will change if the other party adds or creates more work or features, etc.
posted by Hylas at 10:18 AM on February 7, 2011

Disclaimer: The following is just what I would do in this situation.

1. is there anything about the decision process on paper (or email!), particularly about the decision you and your boss made? You can use that as legal recourse, though from your text, I'm not sure if there's much money/work to be had from this company.

2. while you chose to contract, I guess you didn't consider yourself a freelance entrepreneur, you just wanted more flexibility with your current employer. If that is the case, I'd look for another job. If you do see yourself as an entrepreneur/freelancer (in training), something I'd only advise if you have savings and/or jobs lined up, then go look for doing that.

3. I wouldn't stay stuck in the past too long. If they cheated you and you get your way, the working relationship probably won't be great. If they're broke, there's nothing to get. Spend some time evaluating the situation, try to get to the truth, and then move into a positive direction.
posted by vincentv at 12:59 PM on February 7, 2011

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