How To Protect Yourself From Being Bullied With Workforce Contracts

This article was written by 121eCommerce CEO Ben Chafetz

I have been hiring for the past 20 years. Having started my professional career in recruitment to now being CEO of a company, hiring has been the most consistent aspect of each stage.

Recently, we were working on hiring someone who told us they were still locked into a contract. When he presented it to me, I can honestly say I was pained. It truly hurt to see that someone was bullied by their employer in that way. It got me thinking; how many people need jobs and are signing contracts they didn’t read carefully and end up locking themselves into a situation they are unhappy with?

I felt it was important to raise awareness about employer contract bullying, what to look out for and tips to avoid it. I even went so far as to hold a company meeting for my own employees about the topic, should they ever find themselves looking for a new career or if they have any friends that are.

The Contract

The contract begins by stating that either party can terminate, and lists the normal causes such as insubordination and performance issues. So far everything is fine, although it states that without good cause employees need to give 90 days notice; the industry standard is 30. While two extra months of work may not seem like a huge deal, it really is; it’s nearly impossible to find a new job that will wait 90 days for you. A 90-day wait puts you in a very vulnerable position because you can’t quit without a job waiting for you – and you can’t get a job before quitting.

The first thing that really jumped out was the warranty.


It states that the contractor warrants that all work done will remain functional for one year after going live. If there are any issues within the year, the contractor has to fix without any additional remuneration.

A one year warranty on development is unheard of! With year old code it is nearly impossible to determine why it may not be working. The idea of holding someone accountable to fix something at no cost for a year is simply a bully tactic.

The worst is yet to come, I was shocked when I saw the next part.

Missed deadlines: If you are contractor of development and work on a  fixed bid project (a project where one provides a fixed and final cost for a pre-determined task and does not share the hourly estimate with the customer) you are responsible for doing all work over the estimate for free and PAY THE AGENCY for extra costs such as project management. If you are a project manager you have to pay for all work being done by other contractors (developers, designers, QA etc.)

This is clearly not a fair business agreement as there are many factors which can cause tasks to go over estimates, many of which would be out of the control of the project manager. To unilaterally penalize a developer or project manager for overages or missed deadlines is unheard of. It is wrong for so many reasons I just don’t know where to begin:

  • It destroys trust within your team and creates an environment of finger pointing
  • It inhibits developers from trying new solutions and from growing
  • It creates an environment with high turnover which is bad for any existing clientele
  • It ignores the larger picture of how to improve as a company by looking at all aspects of a project delivery and seeing where growth can be achieved
  • Finally, it is just wrong to treat people like resources to maximize your profit. Focus on building a team of great employees and creating a healthy culture and your team will focus on making sure the company does well.

The final aspect of the contract that was a bullying tactic is the post termination protocol.

Your agreement with the company is that after you leave, you are responsible for reporting all of your clients to the company so they can determine whether the client falls within the non compete clause. FIVE YEARS. That is in place to make it nearly impossible to be able to take on any clients for five years after leaving, essentially locking people into their jobs as they can no longer take new clients. This contract is manipulative to the employees even after they leave.


What is the goal of a contract?

The goal of a contract is to define both parties’ responsibilities and assure that they are both on the same page. It is not there to lock someone into something they would otherwise wouldn’t have done. Contracts that bully are not business agreements are no different from any other workforce bullying and should be viewed the same way. Unfortunately, people view something written on paper as less threatening than verbal bullying when in fact the written word can cause far more long lasting damage.

How Can You Avoid Contract Bullying?

Here are a few tips to help avoid contract bullying:

  • Never sign something that will force you into doing something you wouldn’t have done otherwise
  • Make sure the contract helps you more than it hurts you
  • Read the fine print
  • Speak to someone more experienced before signing anything
  • If the contract is not in your first language have someone you trust read through it with you
  • Don’t try to change a contract that is bullying. If they are willing to bully you, you don’t want to work with them
  • Spread the word, let your friends know that contract bullying exist
  • If you are locked into a contract, speak to a lawyer – don’t assume you are stuck (many times these clauses are illegal and not binding)
  • Contract bullying extends beyond the work force (rent agreement, phone service. . .) so be aware!
  • If you have doubts post it to LinkedIn and get feedback from your network.