What to do if your working practices change

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Contracting is certainly a fluid business, making it an ideal profession for those searching for that all important work/life balance.

While it’s common to move from contract to contract, each with their own specific terms and working practices, you might find that on some occasions that they change while you’re in the middle of an assignment. An example of this is being allowed to work from home, only to be told later on that you have to be present in the office.

But what should you do if this happens? Here are a few points to consider.

Find out why  
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Although it might seem tempting at first to kick up a fuss at this sudden change in events, doing so could cause relations to go south pretty quickly. You might end up off the assignment and lose any chance of working with the agent or client again.

The first thing to do is double-check your contract to make sure exactly what the terms and conditions say. If they suggest you’re in the right, then you should have the upper hand when it comes to negotiations.

Find out the reason behind the change and put forward any concerns you might have. You may be able to come to an arrangement that’s beneficial to both parties and avoid any need for a confrontation.

Let’s say that in the home versus office working example, there has been a change in personnel at the client’s company and they are now insisting that the contractor comes and in to the office to work. This could be for a number of different reasons, such as wanting to get a feel for a new team and assess how everyone is working.

A possible solution for this could be for the contractor to come into the office for the first few weeks and then revert back to home working once it’s been proven that they can be trusted. Of course, that might not work so everyone, so you’ll need to come to an arrangement that best suits you – if there is one.

If there’s no resolution to be found, then you might just have to call it a day. Be sure that you follow the correct termination procedure as outlined in your contract and try to limit any relationship damage to a minimum.

Don’t forget IR35

Now this is an extremely important point to think about. Remember that an assignment is judged to be inside or outside of IR35 based on its working practices and whether they follow what’s laid out in the contract – among other things.

If your working practices change, consider the effect this would have on your IR35 status (assuming you’re outside the legislation to begin with) and raise any concerns to the client or agency.

Using the working from home example again, if the client simply wants to understand the dynamics of the team and ensure things are on schedule, it could be argued that this wouldn’t affect your IR35 status. On the other hand, they could want to be more hands-on and start exerting some sort of control over how you work.

In this situation, your IR35 status could be at serious risk and you’ll need to resolve the matter urgently. If no workaround or agreement can be found, you may have no choice to but to go through the termination process if you’re unwilling to be caught by the legislation.

On the other hand, you could accept that the assignment is under IR35 and continue with the project. If this happens, you might want to check with your accountant so you can pay yourself in the appropriate manner.

Keep all documentation

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This is another really important point. If you have to negotiate with the client or agent, make sure that you maintain a record of all conversations made.

If the discussions start off verbally, get them on email as soon as possible so that you have evidence of everything that’s said – you never know when you might need it. Returning to the subject of IR35, it’s important to remember that your status will be judged on whether you’ve demonstrated a business approach throughout the assignment.

By keeping a detailed record of events, you can show that you acted in a businesslike manner and entered into real negotiations – something that will stand you in good stead if HMRC should come calling.

Over to you

Are you a contractor? Have your working practices ever changed mid-assignment? What did you do about it? Let us know on Twitter, or by leaving a comment below.

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