Contractors Can Be Unprotected Resources

Link to this article on HuffPost

Most employers have well-defined human resource policies and procedures to resolve employment issues.  In most cases, an adverse employee action will not occur unless an employer’s processes are followed to address any concern(s); although, this protection isn’t always available for or utilized by contract resources — especially, independent contractors.

Contract employees are sometimes overworked and/or mistreated because these resources can be apprehensive or afraid to complain about any mistreatment to maintain their job and income.  As a result, contractors sometimes deal with issues that wouldn’t be tolerated if the individual was an employee.  This process gap can lead to contractors being unprotected resources.

For example, contractors can be disciplined or terminated without a reason, documentation, or options for recourse.  Some might argue that these outcomes can happen to employees also; however, in many organizations employment actions will (usually) not occur without adherence to documented operating standards.

On one occasion, I witnessed a contractor be terminated because the individual openly but respectfully disagreed with a senior employee who had authority to terminate the contract.  This contractor was released without any details, documentation, or delay.  If this contractor was an employee, then the company’s human resource policies would – more likely than not – be followed prior to their termination.

Another example is a contractor who was bullied by an employee.  If the contractor was an employee, then there would be additional opportunities to respond to the attacks — with the full protection of the organization’s policies and procedures.

Unfortunately, contractors don’t normally have equal standing; furthermore, these resources must be careful to not create any workplace issues (minor or not) that could place their jobs in jeopardy.  Conversely, an employee who experiences workplace issues (generally) has greater protections and opportunities to rebut any inappropriate behavior by using their company’s human resource operating standards.

Organizations that hire contractors should:

  1. Develop and implement policies that govern contractor rights;
  2. Review contractor policies with all resources (generally) and any employee who manages them (specifically), along with having a documented process for contractors to report any workplace issues with impunity;
  3. Create a contractor relationship manager position to periodically meet with contract resources and the contractor’s company representatives to determine if any organizational or relationship challenges exist;
  4. Communicate to all employees that any mistreatment of contractors will not be tolerated.  This proactive action will demonstrate to employees that contractor abuse will not be condoned;
  5. Investigate any contractor concerns or issues immediately to demonstrate the importance of compliance to prevent inappropriate behavior — as swift action reinforces that contractor abuse will be taken seriously and not be tolerated;
  6. Follow-up on any concerns or issues as soon as possible to ensure that contractors who identify any mistreatment do not experience any retaliation for reporting a complaint. Otherwise, the behavior might continue and other contractors who experience any issue(s) may be apprehensive about reporting or worse don’t report it.

If employers do not have documented, communicated, and enforced operating standards to protect contractors, then these individuals can be at the mercy of an employee’s decency and professionalism without any realistic remedies to address workplace misconduct and sometimes abuse.

Ultimately, all resources – employee or otherwise – should be protected to prevent unnecessary mistreatment; otherwise, contractors can be (unnecessarily) unprotected resources.

Additional information on workplace bullying can be obtained in Mr. Young’s solution-oriented books “Bullies… They’re In Your Office, Too: Could you be one?” and “Management Spotlight: Workplace Bullying”.