It began with an engagement manager questioning why an independent contractor on his team did not attend a meeting. The IC clarified that his contract neither specifies hours nor includes daily meetings and stated he would not comply with a demand that he attend going forward. He was willing to walk away or be fired.

This IC’s experience with a client that demanded he deliver beyond the scope of his contract went viral recently on Twitter. But as an editor at SIA, my thoughts turned to the costs to the client and to the contingent workforce managers who often administer the IC program at enterprise organizations. Situations like the one detailed by Twitter user @BirdRespecter could prove to be major headaches — if not costly — for the enterprise organization.

What happened here was the client ultimately lost the worker — who was a week away from completing a “site installation.” While the client did not in fact have the authority to terminate the contract, subsequent exchanges led to the worker walking away from the relationship.

Beyond the immediate and obvious costs to the client in terms of a project thrown into turmoil, there is the danger of managers like this one pushing engagements into the realm of IC misclassification (exerting control over a worker is a significant factor in such determinations). Then, there’s employer branding.

Control. There are a number of tests that may apply to the relationship between a business and a contingent workforce. The applicable test varies based on government agency, relevant statute and jurisdiction, but a primary factor in nearly every test is the company’s right to control the worker’s conduct, according to Eric H. Rumbaugh, a partner with Michael Best and Friedrich LLP. However, he points out that this particular scenario is unlikely to lead to misclassification concerns. “Requiring a worker to attend a meeting, by itself, would unlikely have any weight in converting a contractor to an employee – independent contractors and employees both have meetings and both have necessary meetings.”

Branding. While the contractor did not name the client nor the agency through which he worked, he easily could have, and other similarly situated independent contractors could turn down future work with the client given the demands made. Having your company blasted on social media can do lasting damage to its reputation and remove it from consideration as an employer of choice for top candidates.

Companies are accustomed to paying attention to social media from a consumer experience aspect, but in terms of the employer brand, it’s still not being addressed well, says Dawn McCartney, SIA’s VP, Contingent Workforce Strategies Council. Employment is becoming far-flung as the pandemic pushed employers to accept remote work. “Where you might have known people working for an employer in your city, now, if you’re considering an employer across the country or globe, you’re going to look to social media to learn about the employee experience.” With the current talent crisis, especially, companies simply can’t afford not to address complaints that emerge.

Educate. While the company involved in the viral Twitter thread presumably avoided the long-term damage it could have suffered, it still was left scrambling to get its installation project completed. And this could have been avoided easily, had the engagement manager been educated on what they could and could not require of the worker. As the IC said in one response to the manager: “You guys really ought to read the contracts you make us sign sometime. Pretty wild stuff in there.”

As the talent crisis deepens, the power lies with the worker. SIA knows from its annual Workforce Solutions Buyer Survey that enterprise organizations plan to expand on their use of independent contractors over the next few years. Further, many are developing their own direct-sourcing programs, which puts more of the responsibility for relationship management on the program. Increased use of ICs means more engagement managers interacting with them, and perhaps setting expectations they’ve no right to set.

When engaging ICs, learn what the do’s and don’ts are and make sure your engagement knows them as well. Then, of course, there’s business 101: Read your hiring contracts.

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