Talent Development Centre

If You Absolutely Must Leave a Contract — Here’s How

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

As a professional contractor, it’s good practice to complete a contract and avoid leaving your client high and dry, at all costs. If you do find yourself in this situation, it’s Important to remember that what you do and, just as importantly, how you do it, builds your reputation for good or for ill.

Signing a ContractFirst and foremost, carefully consider the reasons for leaving a contract.  Not getting the rate increase you wanted or finding another opportunity for a few dollars an hour more may have negative consequences down the road.  Again, what you do impacts your market reputation.   The contractor market is really very small and a bad rep can seriously impair future opportunities.  It is also important to remember if you are an incorporated contractor, your relationship is a business-to-business relationship with your client/agency and your company is contractually obligated to fulfill the terms of the contract. If you are terminating a contract early for purely selfish reasons, there may be legal implications to your doing so.

Even for the most ethical contractors, though, leaving a contract is sometimes unavoidable and can be for any number of reasons — fit, insurmountable challenges, other opportunities, etc.  The key points to remember are Professionalism and Transparency, and these go hand-in-hand. Here are a few tips that will help you maintain your integrity and work toward building a positive reputation, while enhancing others perception of you as a professional:

  • Let your employer/agency know early.  Especially if there are fit or challenge issues, there may be accommodations that can be made that would turn things around for you on this assignment.
  • Consider giving more notice than is contractually required  if:
    • You have been on contract for a year or more
    • Your project is in a sensitive phase
    • The company that you are working for has lost other key people in your area/project
    • There will be a fair bit of knowledge transfer needed to ensure continuity
  • Notice should be face-to-face whenever possible, phone if absolutely necessary, but never email or text.
  • Communicate often throughout the process, asking for feedback and pro-actively managing the hand off of responsibilities.
  • If you have to terminate a contract because of an emergency or for health reasons, you may not be able to provide additional notice.  If it is truly something of this nature, people will understand and empathize with you.  Still, you must:
    • Communicate quickly with your client/agency
    • Explain the situation in as much detail as you are comfortable with. This is important as the reason will be key for your client/agency to understand  why a short/abrupt contract termination is necessary.
    • Be pro-active, making suggestions of what you can do or your client will need to do to cover off your role when you leave
    • Apologize.  Even if it is something that is completely out of your control and people will (or should) understand, you must realize that this is causing some level of hardship for your client and that this will be an inconvenience at best for them.
    • Work with your agency partner to identify potential people who might be candidates to backfill your position.  The agency will do all the leg work to ensure your recommendations are contacted, informed, vetted and are interested – leave this leg work to your agency and spend your time helping with the transition or on personal matters if they are critical.
    • If possible, make yourself available, should there be any follow up questions that come to light after you leave.  Rarely is this leveraged, but it does demonstrate your concern and commitment.

Having to end a contract early is not ideal.  But if you have been contracting long enough, there will likely be a time when you will have to do so.  By following the advice above, you will increase your chances of doing so professionally and maintaining your good reputation.  Have you ever had to leave a contract early?  How did it turn out?  Please share your experiences below.

2 thoughts on “If You Absolutely Must Leave a Contract — Here’s How

  1. Thanks for the information. Unfortunately I agreed to help a business owner during my spare time and she drew up a contract that was pretty one-sided. As new independent contractor, I quickly saw red flags… communication was horrible with the MD who owned the practice, but I thought it would not impede in my work. Unfortunately it did. As I noticed I was not getting paid as stated in the contract I began to ask for clarification but the MD nor the Business Manager were responding.

    After two months I decided to call them on their lack of response to be told that I would not be paid if the practice is not paid. That is when things got ugly. I informed them that I could not absorb such a financial hit and would need to resign. That’s when the contract was brought up. I was informed I could not call out.. I could put in any schedule changes for the last 60 days.

    When I went to speak with the MD she was very dismissive. She Informed her staff that they were not to take any instructions from me. Ironically with working two jobs, I discovered my malpractice insurance lapsed. I notified the MD who really did not care. The day I came in. The entire office was different, the MD and staff dismissive so I asked for the contract which was still in her possession to sign and asked when i could expect compensation. In the end things became worse when I asked the secretary to cancel my last two appointments and she refused stating she only takes orders from The MD. I decided it was best to leave. I do not wish to return but also can not afford to go through litigating something that will be over in 50+ days. She cut me a check for 200 bucks and states I needed to wait until the other payments came in before I would receive any additional funds. Wow. I know now to never go into business trying to help someone else. Lesson Learned

  2. Yikes! Sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience. As you suggest, it is really important to read the contract terms carefully and ask a lot of questions before you sign an agreement. That said if you’ve documented things properly, be sure to keep it all on file and available. The one silver lining in this is that, should you ever be audited by the CRA to determine your status as an incorporated contractor, you should be able to use this as evidence of a loss associated to a business risk. It would give your business additional legitimacy… businesses carry these risks/losses whereas employees do not. Thanks for sharing your (painful) experience with our readership… perhaps others might learn from your experience.

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