Is it time to fire my contractor?
January 4, 2022 8:37 AM   Subscribe

I've been working with an independent contractor for approx. 1 year, and think it may be time to cut the cord, due to his various personal issues.

Over this past year I've used this guy on 2 different projects. The first one was mostly successful, but not without it's hurdles. This contractor is one of the most experienced in town, does excellent work, but many of the hurdles are due to his personal struggles, his life choices etc. which affects his work (he has more than he can handle, but can't self manage that well, for instance).

I won't go into details about all of his problems, he surely talks at length about them over and over any chance he gets. We're on good terms and I don't mind lending my ear every now and then, but after listening to him complain for a while and seeing how his issues are affecting his work output, I'm at a crossroads.

I like the guy and I'd say we've become friends. But with the current project he's working on for me, there have been more problems and he's been dragging his feet to the point where I feel I need to give him the come-to-Jesus talk. He's left some of his tools on my property that I'd want him to retrieve, because I don't know how he'll react to the possibility of being fired. We're very close to finishing a major stage of the project, which would be a good opportunity to change gears.

Should I just give his cage one last, very firm rattle / ultimatum? I would have liked the project finished before the holidays, but I'm just tired of the excuses and lack of professionalism.

(P.S. We don't have a written agreement. He just charges me an hourly rate, which I keep track of 100%, so the financial part isn't an issue)
posted by kilohertz to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You've only mentioned one problem, that he seems to be taking longer than you'd like. You're free to fire the guy, but I assure you finding someone to pick up where someone left off is pretty difficult in the Before Time. Now, all bets are off.

You say you have nothing written down. I would make a punch list of items that you'd like completed to where you think you're at a mutually agreeable stopping point. Figure out the schedule for those items with the contractor. At the end, pay, shake hands, smile, and start shopping for a new one.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 8:42 AM on January 4, 2022 [7 favorites]

Yeah the question you need to ask is not "is this contractor meeting my standards". The question is really "is it a good idea to let this contractor go and try to find a new one." Don't give him an ultimatum to improve and finish the project if you plan on firing him anyway, that would be unfair to him and would probably make you look bad. If he has a reputation for being a good contractor, he probably talks with the other contractors in the area and how you interact with him could affect future relationships.

I would definitely try to keep this professional, and ending the relationship at a natural transition point is definitely a good idea. But keep in mind that you may not be able to find a better replacement any time soon so may need to scale back your own ambitions.
posted by JZig at 9:03 AM on January 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Do you have someone in mind to replace your current contractor? Someone who is more reliable and also actually available? If I were you, I would want to know I have a solid replacement available before I stopped working with a flaky but experienced contractor who does excellent work. If I were your contractor who thought of you as a friend, then I would definitely want a final warning/ultimatum before I got fired. Even if I didn't think we were buddies, I would want clear, explicit instructions about what I needed to do in order to continue working for you.

This guy is used to you cutting him slack. If you stop abruptly, it will come as a shock. I once fired someone after giving them plenty of notice that they really, truly, no kidding had to do X just as every other employee there had to do X. That person failed to do X and was shown the door. Again, give this guy notice while acknowledging the good work (if any) he has done and warn him that if X, Y, and/or Z changes (concrete things, not vague shit) do not happen, then y'all will part ways when y'all are finished with this major stage.
posted by Bella Donna at 9:30 AM on January 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

It’s impossible to find any type of tradesperson right now, for any money, where I live. Getting someone to take over a half finished project would be harder. Before you get rid of this guy I would have someone else lined up in writing to take over.
Also, I lot of this sounds like 90% of tradespeople I’ve worked with- good craftsmen are not often good project managers. It the quality of his work is good I would keep him around.
posted by genmonster at 9:41 AM on January 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

Concur with the consensus. A contractor who does good work is a valuable asset indeed even if they're flakey and slow to finish, right now. Fix this situation carefully or accept his limitations. Or find his replacement first.

Alternatively offer (as in ask if he's willing) a significant financial incentive to prioritize your job.
posted by spitbull at 10:33 AM on January 4, 2022

I think it would help you to articulate exactly what is the problem that you wish to correct. That will tell you what action you need to take.

- Are you tired of listening to his stories and rants about his personal life? (If so, you can stop listening to him instead of firing him. Say you're busy and walk away, for example, or if you need to hang around, learn to redirect the chatter by saying, "Phew, what a tough situation. So, listen, about the repairs for today --")

- Are you impacted by the delays in the work? (If so, you can have a conversation with him about your timeline and make expectations clear, put it in writing, offer financial incentives, etc. rather than fire him.)

- Are you frustrated by his bad decisions and starting to feel like you don't want to associate with someone who makes poor choices? (If so, you can remind yourself that your relationship with him is professional and his personal life is none of your business, rather than fire him.)

- Are you annoyed that the interactions between you both are too informal/too personal, and you would prefer to maintain a professional distance from whoever is your contractor? (If so, you can seek advice on how to carefully and cordially step back from professional relationships which have become uncomfortably personal rather than fire him.)

- Has there been egregiously bad conduct (such as making you feel unsafe, for instance) or spectacular failure in
work (for instance, he failed to show up for several days without explanation)? (If so, then go ahead and fire him.)

- Has his work repeatedly failed to meet explicitly agreed-upon standards - preferably standards that have been explicated in writing - AND ALSO you have already given him at least one direct, explicit warning along with a reminder of the mutually agreed standards for the work - again, preferably in writing, but now he has repeated the infraction? (If so, then go ahead and fire him.)

Firing people for lesser reasons is certainly your prerogative, but it's a lot like shooting yourself in the face to get rid of a pimple on your nose. It will work, but isn't it better for you to try a more reasonable solution first?
posted by MiraK at 11:48 AM on January 4, 2022 [6 favorites]

Like most people involved in construction these days, he's probably taken on more than he can handle and is juggling jobs based on how much grief he gets from each client over delays. Making it clear and putting in writing what the agreed expectations are for completion will likely move you from being someone he can make a low priority to someone he needs to put ahead of others.

Finding anyone decent to take over a half-finished project will be a nightmare and add significant costs as well as delays. At least finish the current project and then think about whether you want to find someone else for future work.
posted by dg at 1:40 PM on January 4, 2022

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