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The Ethics of Quitting a Job as an Independent Contractor

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An independent contractor position is more of a professional, contractual working relationship than it is an everyday job. The process and ethics for terminating the work agreement, however, share many of the same procedures as resigning from a job. A professional approach can ensure a good reputation is maintained throughout the process.

Contractual Obligations

An independent contractor is typically retained with a contract that spells out the terms and conditions of the working relationship. In addition to specifying the rights and responsibilities of the contractor, the contract outlines termination terms. While an agreement is usually for a set period of time, most contracts contain a clause that either party -- the independent contractor or the client -- can end the contract with at least 30 days written notice. For a contractor to cease work without this professional courtesy is typically seen as an unethical move.

Project Completion

An ethical independent contractor will complete all outstanding projects in the works for a client before finalizing termination of the work agreement. If projects are ongoing, the contractor should indicate a work cessation date and provide a detailed overview of the status of projects at the time the contract ends. This gives the company time to retain another professional for the role or bring the projects in-house. Leaving a client “hanging” with no idea of the status of projects or delivery of services can have a detrimental impact on the business.


Terminating a contract for “cause” can be an ethical gray area. For example, if a company fails to pay the independent contractor as agreed, or if the contractor fails to provide services as agreed, the other party typically reserves the right to terminate the work relationship without notice. While an independent contractor is well within his rights to do this, taking an ethical approach and, at minimum, issuing a brief written status report as part of the contract termination is considered professional.


Ethically terminating a working relationship as an independent contractor -- regardless of the circumstances -- involves exiting in a professional manner. All materials, equipment and files should be returned and the contractor should no longer publicly hold himself out as a representative of the company. The contractor should further refrain from discussing proprietary or sensitive information about the client following his exit.


Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.

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