Dear David: The Deal Has Been Altered

Question:

I worked as an independent contractor for a medical transcribing company while also contracting for other companies. This transcribing company was bought out by a huge conglomerate company. They then decided to offer all contractors full-time jobs, but at the same amount of money we were making as contractors. The main problem is that I then couldn’t contract with other places, so my income took a huge hit. Are there laws to protect me from this? Shouldn’t they have had to at least hire us at the hourly rate we were being paid as contractors?

— Contracting, Tennessee

 

Answer:

In this economy, with both mergers, contract and temporary work fairly commonplace, it can be hard to keep track of who you even work for—and when the changes come at your expense, as seems to be the case here, it’s especially frustrating. I’ll assume, since you say here that you can’t contract with other places, that there is also some kind of “non-compete” clause in your employment contract which wouldn’t be at all unusual.

Working as an independent contractor can come with some real challenges—including no employer-provided unemployment insurance or worker’s comp, and there can be issues with fair pay and other workplace protections. For some, the trade-off is worth it for the flexibility and independence that it offers—like the opportunity to pick up additional contracts. However, it sounds like your employer wants ALL of the flexibility and control for itself.

Your rights in this situation are going to be determined by the terms of your contract. Absent a contract—individually or as part of a union—your employment is “at will,” and the employer can set whatever terms you’re willing to agree to (as long it complies with minimum wage and overtime laws and doesn’t illegally discriminate. If you had a contract with the former company for a certain term, then, depending on that contract’s terms, you and the new owner might have an obligation to continue abiding by the terms of your contract.

Once the contract expires, however, or if you or the new owner has any grounds for terminating the contract, you are left to whatever terms you are able to negotiate, or that you and your fellow employees are able to bargain for collectively.

Your employer has made a unilateral decision that benefits the company at your expense—an illustration of what is so skewed about the power dynamic between workers and employers in this country. It doesn’t have to be this way. Do you know any of your “new” coworkers? If not, this might be a good time to start talking to each other, gathering information and comparing notes. I’d bet many of them have some of the same questions.

Imagine what could happen if you all got together, decided on your top concerns together, and then built a plan to address them to your employer together. You don’t have to just wish for it—we can help you get there at FixMyJob.com.

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