Freelancing 101: Full Time Contracts

It’s no secret that I’ve done a lot of contracting over the years I’ve been a developer. I started out with a contract job and have done several since. Most of them were very good. I highly recommend both Vitamin T and PMC Recruitment for genuinely caring about their contractors. They have fantastic staff, and it was a joy to work with each of them, even when switching between people working there.

Some of you that are connected with me on Facebook have seen posts about my current contract. I have had many issues getting paid for this contract due to “cash flow problems” and other excuses. They are currently 2 months behind on pay. I keep getting told to be patient, if only my bank would accept that request.

Contract work is broken; speaking to contracting in high-tech fields: Programming/Development, Design, Project/Product Management, or anything connected to a tech product, web development firm, or Development/IT department. There are many companies that rely on these skills to keep afloat; but many – not all, but still too many – of these companies act like they couldn’t care less about these workers. Especially when you look at contract vendors, third-party contracts or subcontracting.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Here are a few tips that I wish I had taken before I started this nightmare:

  1. Check the payment terms. You want to see that they have put in concrete terms on when and how they will pay, and what the penalty is if they don’t. Even simple terms such as “net 15,” which means payment within 15 days or an agreed penalty will be applied, is better than “we will endeavour to pay you on time,” which is what is on my current contract. I have very little recourse due to the wording of those terms, and it absolves them of any penalty when they pay late.
  2. Check for a non-compete clause. These are somewhat protective, insomuch as if you wanted to switch contract vendors to work at the same place, you couldn’t. This is fine if you know that the company you’re working with is reputable, but for a first time contract with a company, I have heard many people refuse to sign a contract if it has a non-compete clause. Your results may vary.
  3. Check the cancellation clauses. Most contracts will say you need to give a certain amount of time notice if you wish to leave the contract. That is standard. However, when the other side wants to cancel the contract, many times it will say that they don’t require to give you any notice or pay in lieu of notice, for any reason. To be equitable, I would submit that if you must give 2 weeks notice, then they should as well; unless for reasons of unsatisfactory work (in that case, you’re on your own).

Full-time tech contracting seems to be a way to get skilled labour without the pesky pitfalls of adhering to labour laws. That’s where the contract comes in: protection for not only the company you are working for, but also for you. Make sure the contract does that; I’ve found that even the best companies to work for have very one-sided contracts; don’t hesitate to change wording for anything simple and straightforward, or contact a lawyer/paralegal to vet the contract and make suggestions.

Protect yourself, because they won’t.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, and I would highly recommend you have a lawyer or paralegal available to you should the need arise. Which is probably more often than you would think.