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Contract Employees -- What are the Expectations?

Posted by Elaine Varelas  September 21, 2011 10:00 AM

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Q. I was hired by a company last November for an 8 to 10 month temporary project. I was told there was a very good chance for a permanent position at the end of the project. My manager informed me that "phase one" of the project will end September 30 and “phase two” will begin October 1st if it is approved for the next fiscal year. If approved it will be another 10 months with no vacation, sick time or holidays. I have no interest in signing up for “phase 2”. Will I be able to collect unemployment benefits if I refuse “phase 2”? And, how long can a company keep a temporary employee and offer no benefits?

A. I am sorry to hear your temporary position has not morphed into the full time role you thought it would. "End of the project" didn't seem to mean the same time frame for you as it did for your manager. Also, there is no promise that at the end of “phase 2” the permanent role will be there for you.

One of the problems that can occur in contract roles is that minimal conversation occurs between the manager and the contract employee about "the future". Having conversations once a quarter to review the role, your performance, and the status of the position is not unrealistic. Your expectation for an offer of full time employment was not met, and with regular conversation, expectations can be reset so that no one is surprised, or disappointed.

You have gained almost a year’s worth of experience, knowledge about the culture of the organization and how to make things happen. All this makes you more valuable to the company, to the manager and to the efforts of getting the work done. Before you quit, consider having a discussion about what you bring to the position, how much you enjoy the work, the company and working for you manager, and why you'd like to make it permanent. Make sure you have more reasons than receiving benefits, sick time, and other types of paid time off.

It is not too late for a conversation of this kind. Review all you offer, and ask your manager if he or she has put in a budget request for your position, and what the anticipated outcome will be. If that doesn't happen, you can ask about changing the contract to provide a week paid time off or a few sick days. A contract position offers an opportunity to negotiate after a reasonable period of time, and you have hit that mark in terms of months on the job.
Companies who are not sure they will have long term opportunities use contract employees to minimize their commitment. These relationships can be long term and though they are regulated, criteria for contract employees, consultants, and temps, are often not consistently implemented. Whether you can collect or not depends on the terms of your contract, and only unemployment can make those determinations. Review the Division of Career Services and Unemployment FAQ's on www.ma.gov which will offer insight into your situation.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

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Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.

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