How to Deal

Seeking Redemption for Botched Contract Work

By Lily Garcia
Special to
Thursday, March 6, 2008; 12:00 AM

I work full-time and accepted a "moonlighting" assignment to earn some extra money, but also because it was a good opportunity. Unfortunately, I did not complete the assignment in a satisfactory way. I waived my compensation and offered to do more (volunteer) work on the assignment as a way to redeem myself.

The organization, however, decided not to accept my offer. This company is well-respected in my industry and I'm concerned that I have burned a major bridge.

Is there anything I can do to repair my reputation with this company?

Your experience illustrates a critical difference between contractors and employees. Employees, even if they make grave errors, are usually given a chance to redeem themselves. Employers tend to go to extraordinary lengths not to fire a struggling worker. They will invest considerable time and effort in performance coaching and training; the reason being the implicit employer-employee bond. Although the "at will" employment doctrine (you can be fired or quit at any time for any legal reason) usually governs in the United States, there remains a reluctance in our culture to dismiss workers for anything other than the very worst offenses.

Such an implicit compact does not exist between clients and contractors, and you are essentially in the position of a contractor dealing with an unhappy client. Waiving your fee was a wise move. Offering additional work for free was commendable. You have done everything that you could to preserve your reputation as a person of integrity. Your reputation as a competent professional is a different matter.

It is unclear to me from what you wrote exactly how badly the assignment was botched. But the client was at least disappointed enough that they did not want you working on it any longer, even at no additional cost. Under such circumstances, there is frankly not much that you can do to change their minds about your abilities.

Nevertheless, you should stay in touch with your contacts at the company, continue to establish new ones and make periodic overtures seeking additional work. Over time, their memory of the project will soften and at some point someone might decide to give you a second chance. But I would caution you not to set your expectations very high.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, March 11 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered. The information contained in this column is not intended to be legal advice.

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