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3 tactics for avoiding contention when engaging contingent workers

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By Matthew Franceschini, CEO of Entity Solutions. Engaging contingent workers can be a cost effective way to tap into on-demand expertise, but this form of engagement is not without its risks. Here’s how to achieve a transparent relationship, free of disputes, when engaging a contingent workforce.

The original push for temporary and contingent workers was driven by the need to keep business operating normally when employees were absent. Today, contingent workers (referred to as Independent Professionals/IPros) still plug gaps in the workforce but they also play a far more important role in adding value through their cost effective, on-demand expertise. Despite the flexibility and cost containment organisations can achieve when using IPros, if not handled tactfully the engagement also bears risk.

When recruiting for a permanent role, organisations are typically very careful in ensuring the candidate is screened, researched and employed via a sound employment contract. The same consideration is not always paid to those engaged temporarily; not through lack of trying, but because the legislation that governs contingent workers differs greatly to that of permanent members of the team.

The unique nature of engaging an IPro requires a unique set of considerations both before they are taken on and during the remainder of their engagement.  Before engaging an IPro be sure to use the following tactics in order to protect your organisation from disputes, delays and liabilities.

How to certify that they have the specific credentials for the job

Just because you’re only engaging an IPro for a short period of time, doesn’t mean you don’t have to perform the usual background checks as you would for a permanent employee. Once you’ve completed the obligatory LinkedIn checks and narrowed it down to a few candidates, it pays to delve deeper to ensure you’ve found the right fit for your project.

When reviewing your candidate pool, it can be easy to be swayed by reputable roles or organisations the individual has encountered in the past. It’s important to remember that as impressive as candidates past experience may be on paper, it is largely irrelevant if that experience does not relate directly to your project or business requirements.

One of the most important considerations is to find an IPro whose skills and project experience are most closely aligned with the role you are recruiting for. The best way to determine this is by asking for references specific to the role you are filling, as well as concrete examples of how they have tackled similar projects. Any IPro worth their salt will have a backlog of references and recommendations from past employers, and, depending on their industry, examples of past work.

Digging a little deeper will help separate those who just talk about solving your problems from those who have the skills to take actionable steps to overcome them. Asking specific questions about how the IPro plans to get the job done will also help certify that they are capable of bringing a new perspective to the project, rather than simply rehashing old ideas.

How to craft an airtight contract

Whether you’re engaging one IPro or an entire contingent workforce, drawing up the contract itself is arguably the most important step of the equation. A common law case in recent years highlighted the dangers of not developing a proper contract before commencing a contingent engagement. While it’s unlikely that you would allow the IPro to commence work without some semblance of a contract, it’s important to remember that not all contracts are created equal. An excellent contract ensures both you and the IPro you are engaging are protected legally and financially, while at the same time making sure that all parties are at an understanding of what is to be expected from the engagement.

A strong contract is defined by its breadth of coverage. Aside from the obvious areas of remuneration, work required and deadlines, the contract should also cover the minutiae of the project. Will the IPro be paid for work completed or by the hour? How will expenses be handled? What will happen in the event of the contract being extended or reduced? Does it cover modifications or revisions to the work?

In addition to the final deadline for completion, a contract can help to set smaller milestones to give IPros a clear understanding of expectations and set check points to determine how the project is progressing. Most importantly, ensure the contract stipulates that the written agreement is the whole agreement to avoid any misunderstandings over verbal conversations.

Contract law is a complex area and if not handled by an expert may result in legal or financial threat. We advise that you have every contract reviewed by an expert legal professional to guarantee that individual circumstances have been considered, and to keep you on the right side of the legal framework.

How to protect your intellectual property

Besides land, buildings and equipment, the intellectual property (IP) within your organisation is one of your greatest assets. Even though bringing in an IPro to help further your project will invariably add to this knowledge bank, it’s also important to ensure that you are protecting it from any potential exposure down the track.

While it’s unusual that any respectable IPro would maliciously reappropriate your data, there are both indirect and direct ways it may be left open to exploitation. We’ve spoken before about the importance of a BYOD policy, but an oft ignored avenue for loss of IP begins before anyone even signs a contract.

Typically ownership of the project resides with the client organisation, however there tends to be grey areas surrounding ownership of more specific details of the job if not adequately stipulated beforehand. If, for example, you don’t want the code, design or style of a website you have commissioned to be replicated elsewhere, ensure this is clearly spelled out in the contract. Similarly, if you want the IPro you are engaging to avoid working with a client or competitor too close to the completion of your project, consider how this could be addressed within the written contract. Ultimately a contract that exhaustively covers all potential scenarios will help prevent any future hiccups down the track.

There’s value in managing risk

Engaging the services of an IPro is a fantastic way to access top tier talent when you need it the most. Provided you are responsible in how you research, engage and manage your contingent workforce, there is no reason you should fall into the traps of an unpleasant engagement.
July 14, 2014
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