It can be as simple as a little blip on the project radar or it can be as large as complete project shutdown and ultimate cancellation and failure. What I am talking about is the act of bringing on a contractor for your technical project, construction project, or other type of project work only to have the contractor bail on the work – sometimes at the worst possible time – leaving you to figure out how best to get the work done, keep the customer satisfied, and keep the project going. Sometimes it’s possible, sometimes it isn’t, and sometimes you may have to take legal action.
I had this come up personally on a construction project recently. Thankfully there is a contractors board to start with who will give a costly citation to the culprit…a second complaint can put the offending party in jail. Outside of that it is going to be up to me to take legal action. In terms of technical projects, however, your options are probably dictated by whatever contract you legally entered into, though everyone and anyone can certainly try to sue. The best thing to do is to document dates, dollars, and conversations. Having that information organized and at the ready is always your best possible situation to be in and can serve you well if legal action is the final recourse.
Aside from (or in order to try to mitigate and avoid) legal action, what can you do?
Offer them a chance to discuss and get back to work. The best – and least costly route is to give them a chance to realize what has happened, what they have done, and the potential consequences of their poor choice and just get them back to work – assuming that you want that. It is usually going to be your best route as they know the work, they know the customer and unless they burnt bridges badly, then they can probably get in quickly and finish the job.
You may even offer them a monetary incentive to do so – if it is in you and your project’s (and customer’s) best interests. Give them a date/deadline for them to get back on track before you take any further steps. This will work for most, but not for all. Most individuals are reasonable and aren’t willing to tarnish their reputation and options for future industry work. Usually a reasonable discussion will solve the issue and this is as far as it needs to go. I hope that happens for most of you if you find yourself in this situation with a contractor on a project. Note: Don’t let them go the extortion route for more money…there is always the possibility that this is what they were trying to do in the first place. Assess the situation carefully before handing them more money just to finish a job that you really no longer want them for.
Seek outside help or intervention. Go to a trusted individual for advice, counsel, and possibly to act as a liaison with the offending party. I did this in my construction contractor scenario after reasonably attempting to offer some additional funds and get the person back on the job. It didn’t work for me, but in most cases this can help resolve differences or bring a contractor or consultant who is refusing to communicate back to the table to discuss. Going through a third party will usually get the ball rolling in a more favorable direction.
In Part 2 of this discussion, we will wrap things up with a look at your final recourse and a call for feedback. Be thinking about whether this has happened to you or anyone you know and how you would react if it did. What if it had been someone you knew well – would that change things or change the actions you would take. Consider that against the dollars you are potentially losing.