Contractors' Questions: Should I fight ex-client's 'no parking' policy?

Contractor’s Question: I was offered some freelance IT work for a prestigious firm. I signed the contracts but upon travelling to their site on the first day (130 miles away from my home), was told that contractors were not allowed to park their cars on-site.

The client's site was very remote and so there was no safe and secure alternative to park. I was later told that, once working, I should either car-share or catch the company bus, neither of which was practical for me. My contract was ended early (after less than 2 weeks) without an official reason, seemingly due to the conflict the parking issue caused.

My contract says the client does not need to give a reason to terminate me but then it also says nothing about access restrictions, which I think I should have been made aware of before signing. I feel it was deliberately concealed. Can you advise me on my legal rights and any comeback? I resigned from a permanent position for this contract and now I have nothing.

Expert’s Answer: First and foremost our advice would be to re-check your contractual agreement. Having done this, is it important to note that parking is not something that would usually be contained in the contractual agreement unless you expressly requested that it was to form part of the contract. Generally-speaking, parking or access is something that would be negotiated at the initial stage, before signing the contract. It is of course important to negotiate standard terms such as pay, but it is also equally important to place importance upon the negotiation of practical issues or facilities such as parking.

If you raised a formal grievance in relation to the parking issues that you experienced, then it may be useful for you to check the company policies/grievance procedure. In particular, you should check whether the complaint was handled appropriately and in accordance with the grievance procedure. In the event a formal complaint was made and not dealt with appropriately/adequately, there may be scope to challenge this.

The general position with regards termination of a client/contractor relationship is that there are no legal minimum notice periods that parties need to adhere to; as such if a client terminates a contract, a contractor unfortunately has little recourse. Having said this, it is important that you check the terms of the contract itself, as this may include additional termination clauses. These termination provisions describe under what conditions the agreement can be terminated either by client or contractor. 

The contract should set out clearly the way in which an agreement can be terminated.  Examples of provisions that you should be looking for are the ‘right to allow parties to terminate’ the agreement immediately or with notice (i.e. 30 days) whether a breach of contract has occurred or not.

You should check carefully to determine whether your agreement includes any written termination and notice clauses. If there are such clauses you need to check what they cover. Common clauses that allow a client to terminate the contract include misconduct on your part; you not being able to fulfil the work required; a breach of any terms of the contract; if the client is not satisfied with your work or is unhappy with it; a failure to meet deadlines/milestones and the like. Additionally there may be a ‘for any reason’ clause, this allows both parties to end the agreement for any reason at any time, and this can be with or without notice.

You should also check whether the agreement contains a provision for financial compensation in the event that an agreement is terminated early by the client. If there is such clause it would apply in situations where you are not at fault but the contract has to end for other reasons. The financial compensation may be calculated as a percentage of the total fee that would have been due over the total contracted period.

If you find that the contract has not been ended in the correct way i.e. correct amount of notice has not been given, then this may give rise to a breach of contract claim.

As a contractor there are no employment rights that apply, provided that you are self-employed, so therefore these will not be discussed here.

Realistically, the client has clearly seen something in your work that they liked, and so you were offered this prestigious contract. Furthermore, the reality is that they will still need a contractor to carry out the project in question to its completion, and whoever is taken on, will in all likelihood face the same parking issues that you have encountered, given as you say the offices are located in a remote area, with no parking for contractors. Therefore from a practical point of view, it may be advantageous to hold off on legal action and to perhaps consider informal mediation.

Moreover, going in too heavy-handed at this stage carries a professional risk. As you are no doubt aware, bad news travels fast in the contractor industry so you are likely going to want to ensure that, for your prospects, this incident has little or no detrimental effects on your ability in the future to secure other work.

The expert was Fozia Cheychi of legal advisory Lawdit Solicitors.

Thursday 24th March 2016