How to Deal
Ending a Contractor's Dream of Getting Hired
Thursday, October 8, 2009; 12:00 AM
My team has been working with a contractor who's been in the office full time. It's a four-month contract, and the possibility of hiring the contractor (something she's made clear she would like) has always been on the table.
While her work is okay, everyone on the team finds her annoying and tough to work with. Because of this, we've decided not to renew her contract or offer her a spot with us.
My question is, how can I let her know this? I'm planning on highlighting specific instances where her communication could have been better. Is that the right tack?
It might be helpful to view your four-month relationship with this contractor as a long and ultimately unsuccessful job interview. Just as you would deliver a rejection message to an unsuccessful job applicant, you could simply let your contractor know that, despite her many positive attributes, you have decided not to hire her onto the team. However, just because you can handle the situation this way does not mean that you should. Taking the time to think about how best to tell your contractor that you are parting ways is not only considerate, but wise.
If you were preparing to end a relationship with an employee, rather than a contractor, I would encourage you to assess whether you have already done your part to correct her performance problems, to what extent you have created an opportunity for failure by not addressing issues promptly or being clear about the rules. In the employment relationship, one assumes a certain degree of mutual commitment to sorting out issues and moving forward. An employee who is being asked to leave should never be surprised. The contractor relationship, by contrast, takes place at arm's length. The client organization does not make a significant investment in the recruitment, onboarding, and development of the individual, and the contractor presumably does not forego other opportunities to serve the client exclusively. A certain standard of performance on the part of the contractor is presumed even if it was never explicitly communicated.
Yet, even those members of your team who have found your contractor so difficult to work with will not make the sort of legalistic distinction that I am making here between employee and contractor relationships. They have likely come to accept your contractor as a quasi-employee and they will judge you by the way that you treat her on her way out.
In your approach to your departing contractor, you should therefore consider adopting many of the practices that help to create a dignified transition for employees who have been asked to leave. Arrange to meet in private so that your contractor is not humiliated by your conversation. Assuming that your contractor has a dedicated work area in your office, offer help with the gathering of her belongings. Be prepared to answer questions about when she should expect her final payment and whether you will be able to serve as a reference for future clients. Consider giving your contractor advance notice of your intention not to renew her contract or offer her a job. This will allow her an opportunity to say her goodbyes and shift her work to others in an organized way.
If you do not trust your contractor to remain professional during her final days, then you should conclude her engagement on the day that you give her notice. Review her agreement to see what you are obligated to do under what circumstances. You might legally be required to give her advance notice, but that does not necessarily mean that she is entitled to remain on premises with access to your employees and systems.
Because you have made up your mind that your contractor should go, I don't think that you should devote a great deal of time to discussing specific examples of how she has alienated the team. That type of dialogue should be reserved for performance discussions, the goal of which is to correct deficiencies so that a person can remain employed. It is enough for you to say that you don't think she will be a good long-term fit with the organization based upon her work and communication style. If your contractor has not previously received any constructive feedback about these problems, then you may want to further elaborate on your point. But I would encourage you to avoid getting ensnared in a lengthy discussion or debate.
In the event that your decision not to hire your contractor is ever challenged on grounds of discrimination, it will help you to have thoroughly memorialized the way in which her departure was handled. Ask another member of management to witness your meeting and carefully document all of the steps that you take.
Finally, make sure that your team is informed about the departure of your contractor and how the work that she was doing will be handled going forward. Although it seems like everyone is well aware of your contractor's performance problems, you should avoid making any disparaging statements about her. This is not only the professional and morally correct thing to do, but it will also will protect you from future claims of defamation and reassure your employees that, should they ever be asked to leave, you will treat them with respect.
Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.