You Don't Fire Me, I Contract!
January 17, 2013 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Have you convinced your corporate overlords to let you transition from a full-time employee to an independent contractor? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, TELL ME HOW YOU DID IT.

Backstory: I've been with the same company (a law firm) for a decade. I was promoted several years ago. While I'm not a superstar, I'm good at what I do (IT applications packaging/upper-tier software support), and I'm fairly well-liked and well-respected. During my time at the firm, I've seen several coworkers transition from full-time employees to independent contractors. I would now like to do this (in order to go back to school). However, everyone who HAD done this has since moved on, and I have no idea what magical incantation they recited to The Powers That Be in order to make it happen.

From what I can tell, I should present my boss with a plan outlining how the JulThumbscrew-As-Contractor Paradigm will be totally awesome for the firm. However, I cannot think of ANY advantages this plan will have for the firm other than the following:

- They won't have to provide me with benefits.
- They'll wind up spending less for me in general, as I'll be working fewer hours.
- By making me a contractor, they'll enable me to effectively train a new member of the department and inbue them with my decade's worth of law firm wisdom ("Don't piss off the fee earners. The Keurig is over here").

Those three sentences are NOT a very compelling argument. But what WOULD be?

Note: I am fully aware of all of the pitfalls which can befall contractors - that's why it's taken me close to a decade to decide to pursue this. I'll be able to get insurance, I'll be putting 40% of my pay away for taxes, etc. So no need for horror stories of that type. That said, thanks for your help, HiveMind!
posted by julthumbscrew to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you can't convince them of this, would you leave anyway?

Do you think your specific duties (building app packages, for example) aren't enough to warrant another FTE?

Because I think that the best way to go about it would be something like "I'm going back to school, and rather than replace me, I can do X hours a week on contract, which would free up some money to hire a more general helpdesk/sysadmin/network support person"
posted by Oktober at 12:26 PM on January 17, 2013

The benefits portion is a lot more significant than you make it out to be. They'd be saving a lot of money there
posted by MangyCarface at 12:26 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I can't convince them, yes, I will leave anyway - it would just be somewhat more preferable to keep a part-time IT gig (ideally, THIS gig). They DO need a full-time person in my particular role (I'm not that overworked OR special, but as the junior person on the totem pole for my group, I keep two other, more-crucial employees from being hellaciously busy - I'm basically like the head of a NASCAR pit crew in that respect).
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:29 PM on January 17, 2013

Those three sentences sound like a compelling argument to me. You've done this for a while, you are both experienced and are making yourself cheaper than finding someone new, and you're motivated to continue rather than quitting. Go with it. "Firm person, I am planning to go back to school for [___], but I don't want to leave the firm. I would like to continue as an independent contractor [on an hourly basis, for about __ hours a week]. Would you consider this?" At which point they will likely say, "Let me think about it," and then they'll come back to you with a proposal.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:29 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

From an employer side, I can tell you that there has been a huge crackdown in the last few years to ensure that contractors are truly contractors. It's a a hot button issue. There is a very careful test that has to be passed in order to meet the criteria. This isn't to say that you can't do this- just so you understand that it's not quite as simple as convincing them it's a great idea. It's possible it would be wiser to discuss the possibility of being part time as an employee.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 12:36 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I think your reasons are fine ones, and that you should schedule a meeting with whoever will make this decision in which you present it as a question for the both of you to answer together: "How, if at all, can we make this change in a way that is mutually beneficial or satisfactory?"
posted by gauche at 12:37 PM on January 17, 2013

Nimmie Amee raises a good point. If this were to happen at my firm, part of the answer would turn on whether it was even feasible for you to be considered an IC. If you are doing the exact same work as before, that sounds on the face of it like you're an employee, not an IC. It might behoove you to consult an employment attorney who can provide vital clarification on this point.

(As a starting point to think about this, hallmarks of being an IC are that you provide your own equipment, are responsible for your own expenses, aren't given much instruction about how to do your work, have flexibility to decide when you do the work, and aren't dependent upon one business for all of your work. The more your arrangement looks like that, the more it looks like you're an IC and not an employee).

Is it impossible for you to reach out to these people who have moved on? Do you know anyone who still knows them?

But the bottom line is that you're planning to quit anyway, so when you know that you're ready to quit, identify the person who makes decisions about this and tell them that although you're going to school you think there's a way that you can still help the firm get its needs met in a way that will save them money and still work out for you. You'll also need to ensure that the firm believes that you can make the firm's business a priority when you have a competing interest like school. I cannot even imagine our firm being okay with having our IT manager not being fully committed to working here--making sure that all of our systems are working smoothly is vital to us being able to serve our clients. So be prepared to make your bosses feel secure about this, too.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:04 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

> From what I can tell, I should present my boss with a plan outlining how the JulThumbscrew-As-Contractor Paradigm will be totally awesome for the firm.

Depends on your relationship with your boss, I guess. I would lean more toward a "I'm going back to school and will have to transition out of full time work with you guys. I know Jack, Jill, and Jamie were able to continue on as part time contractors, I'm interested in doing this, would you guys be interested also?"

I think leaning on the idea that this has worked well in the past might be stronger than trying to sell them on benefits they're likely aware of already. A bit of how-do-we-make-this-happen as opposed to please-can-we-make-this-happen.

The *compelling* benefit for them is they do not have to scramble to find someone to replace you, or not right away at least. The more they think they need you the more likely this is to work.

You're moving on anyway, so it's OK if they say no. I suspect the perfection of your sales pitch is not likely to be the deciding factor here. As long as you don't vomit on your boss's desk during the discussion that's probably good enough. Just put the idea out there and see what happens.
posted by mattu at 1:42 PM on January 17, 2013

You don't need to sell a tax structure, you just need to sell them on keeping you part-time -- contractor or employee is a detail to be worked out. Seconding mattu.

I told my boss I wanted more time to work on other things and couldn't work full time any more. We came up with a part-time agreement.
posted by flimflam at 2:58 PM on January 17, 2013

I told them I was quitting, they decided I was "invaluable" (no one else wanted to do what I was doing). I moved across the country to someplace they didn't have official tax dealings and they offered me my same position on a contract basis, part time. After much grumbling I accepted, because hey, I needed a job.

I think I already had a long history of trustworthiness, independence, and dedication, so they (or my boss) felt comfortable in suggesting it.
posted by loriginedumonde at 5:17 PM on January 17, 2013

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