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10/07/2005: "what to rub: salt or salve?"

I haven't said anything about it until now, but the final details in the wake of having my contract terminated have yet to be nailed down. I got a legal opinion, and it certainly wasn't what I had hoped it would be. It did give me an option, but it was definitely a burn-the-bridge kind of option. Thus far, that course of action is underway.

Tonight, however, I realized that there is another course of action I could take that would not only NOT burn bridges, but mend the proverbial fence that's been pretty much wrecked with this whole nasty affair. I'm not sure exactly what to do, so I'm going to write about it, and see what falls out. Read on and share your opinion.

First, the legal opinion was. Essentially, it's "you're screwed", thanks to the overly broad termination clause in the contract I signed. Have you ever signed a contract and not bothered to have a lawyer look at it? Yeah, me too. Last time that happens, I assure you. Learn from my mistake - pay the bloody lawyer or pay for it later. So, regardless of the reason for my dismissal, I can't go after them for anything.

However, I was given ano alternative. Despite the fact that I signed a consultant's contract and was a contractor, due to the restrictions put on me during the course of my work with them (along with some other factors I won't bother going into here) there is legal precedent saying that I could actually be considered an employee of the company, despite what my contract says. This would not only mean that my time working for them would qualify towards EI benefits (just in case), but I would be entitled to pay-in-lieu-of-notice (severance pay), and they'd owe a crapload of taxes and fees for not having taken any deductions off my paycheques. Essentially, it would be a big, messy quagmire for them.

So at this point I've taken the advice from the Ontario Ministry of Labour and given them until the middle of the month to respond to my request for my Record of Employment, and remit one week's pay-in-lieu-of-notice for my dismissal. Assuming that doesn't happen, which doesn't seem likely based on the initial response I've had from them, I'd file a claim for same with the Ministry.

Yeah, it's not exactly a low-key, subtle thing to do. The Ministry of Labour is a big stick to whack them with. But neither is canning someone for refusing to do something potentially illegal, which could cause me to be stripped of my professional designation. I don't care who you are, I'm not taking that risk - especially for a crummy contract position.

Tonight, however, I thought of another option. I know exactly what this company makes, am fairly familiar with its component parts, and know for a fact that they are actively seeking to source more components from China for cost savings. As it so happens, my new business associates are already involved in sourcing parts from China, at a significant savings over the normal channels that most companies go through. ("Normal channels" meaning "many middlemen".)

So, here's my alternate plan of action. Instead of having the government attack dogs extract my pound of flesh, I call a truce with the company and say bygones are bygones, and that I'd like to repair the damage this incident has caused. I ask to quote on sourcing some of their main components through my sources, and become a component supplier to them instead. Assuming my sources can get the parts at a better price, I get to sell them components. They save on component cost, I get commission, and instead of letting a bad business relationship fester for all time for the sake of one week's pay, I make a lot more money and make them happy clients.

My wife doesn't like this idea at all. She doesn't see why I would voluntarily go back and do business with a company that I don't like and don't think is totally above the board. I can see her point, but I think there's value in not making an enemy, especially a wealthy one that lives in the same community that I do. There's also monetary value here. Should I really burn a bridge for a measly one week's pay? Or should I skip the one week's pay and instead go for the much larger potential commission that I could earn selling components to them for the next five years or more? Even if I made only a nickel on every unit they make... what's three hundred thousand times a nickel? Per year? Yeah - that's some real cheddar.

There is a middle road, which would be to drop the whole claim for pay-in-lieu and just let the whole thing die, and never go back. For some reason, I just really don't want to do that. I genuinely feel that I was wronged by being dismissed. I guess one way or another I want to come out ahead for this whole experience. My choices seem to be (potentially) coming out ahead for a small sum and making an enemy, or (potentially) coming out much farther ahead and turning a dissatisfied engineering services client into a very happy component supply client. I've been told my claim is good, but it's not guaranteed. Neither is my ability to sell them parts, but at least there would be some goodwill and mutual benefit in that making it much more possible.

The president e-mailed me today asking what reasons I have to be able to claim that I was an employee, and listed his reasons why I couldn't. I want to respond, but need to figure out which path I'm going to go down first. (I'm certainly not giving him the points in my claim, but it was very nice of him to outline his defence.) I'm going to ask both of my business associates on this one, and ask my dad as well. Other opinions are welcome, of course.

I'm leaning towards trying to mend fences and make money. I was kind of enjoying burning a bridge, but at best it's a guilty indulgence, and serves nothing. Why not make everyone happy?

To be continued, I'm sure.

Replies: 4 Comments

on Saturday, October 8th, Bob said

Exciting life you lead.

I have to agree with your wife on this one. But I think it totally depends on the kind of person you are. Personally, I find it difficult to separate my personal and business persona (if that's the right word). I can't leave work at work, mentally. If I have a crappy day at the office, I can't shed it as soon as I walk out the door. Some people can - come quitting time, their work troubles evaporate until the next morning. Anyhow, I don't think you should voluntarily deal with people that you find morally reprehensible, in any context (employee, supplier, etc). Sure, you may make money at it, and may become a business associate with a wealthy crook. But by doing this, are you not saying that you can be bought?

Regarding the claim, now that you've started, you might as well go through with it. But I suggest that you make sure there's no malice in the claim. This should be a matter of strictly following the rules, and not revenge.

Good Luck.

on Saturday, October 8th, Boose said

Yep, I'm also with your wife. You *know* that you don't trust them, that you don't like them, that their products are knockoffs done with the lowest possible price for labour - how can doing further business with them be good? Sure, you'll have extra money in your pocket, but if the money is coming from the normal everyday schmuck that passes you in the street, who you know is getting screwed, does that really make you feel good?

As Bob said, your claim is to have the rules followed, nothing more, nothing less. Good luck.

on Saturday, October 8th, Robert Hahn said

I have two thoughts about this:

If you drop the claim, you're effectively sending your ex-contractors the message that it's ok to do this to other people. So if you feel that you're being heavy-handed on your behalf, then re-frame your perspective: you're filing the claim to ensure that they at least think twice before pulling this stunt again. As Boose & Bob said, you can do this without showing any malice, and you'll be the professional by choosing that route. You are not responsible for their behaviour or actions, and if they choose to view you as an enemy, that is *their* choice, and they are the ones that brought this to pass.

The other thought I had was that this felt a lot like the situation where a dissatisfied employee goes out applying for a job, gets an offer, and goes back to his current employer to see if they want to counter-offer. You know that the answer to that situation is: don't do it, and don't accept any counteroffer they happen to make. You might wonder how this could possibly be same, but the underlying principle is the same: you can be bought.

I believe this is the second time we're siding with your wife. Start paying attention to what she says. She's one smart cookie! ;)

on Saturday, October 8th, mr.ska said

Thanks for the comments! Some good, quality feedback here. Now go read my reply!

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