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When you leave a job as an employee, quitting is often as simple as giving your human resources department sufficient notice of your plan to leave. Because you're not an employee when you have a contract job, the protocol for quitting may not be clear. In some situations, there may be legal ramifications to leaving too early or on bad terms. Protect yourself by reviewing your situation carefully before giving notice.
Check Your Contract
Before you begin planning your exit, review your contract -- if you have one. Your contract may establish specific requirements you must meet before quitting, and it almost certainly details the obligations you must meet to get paid. If you don't fulfill your end of the contract, you won't be entitled to pay. When you break a contract early, you could be sued. Verbal contracts are still considered contracts, as are emails and similar understandings -- but these informal contracts are challenging to enforce in court. Nevertheless, follow the dictates of any contract -- verbal or otherwise -- to reduce your risk of becoming embroiled in a lawsuit.
Talk to the Right Person
The person with whom you deal with on a daily basis may not be the person you need to notify of your decision to quit. Your contract should provide specific guidance about who the supervisory party is and what requirements you must fulfill to quit. For example, a writer contracting at a magazine might work with a contract editor. It's unlikely that the editor is the person the writer needs to notify of a decision to quit, though. More likely it's the managing editor or an officer of the magazine.
Renegotiate Your Contract
If your contract doesn't allow you to leave immediately or lists a host of duties that you can't fulfill, propose to renegotiate the contract instead of quitting outright. Agree to give your client time to find a new contractor or refer the company to someone in the field. You might, for example, tell your client about a contractor you know, then offer to finish a month's worth of work at a slightly discounted price if you're permitted to break the contract. After you renegotiate your agreement, draft a new one; otherwise, the old contract may still apply if you are sued.
Protect Your Reputation
Even when you have compelling reasons to leave a contract, an angry client can destroy your reputation by saying ugly things about you online and to other potential clients. Do everything you can to leave on good terms, even if it means making some accommodations that seem unfair. If your client does try to destroy your reputation with untrue statements, this is defamation. A lawyer can help you sue to recover damages and even get the untrue statements removed from the Internet.
Practice Good Ethics
To maximize your chances of maintaining a good relationship with a former client, return all job-related materials to the client before leaving. If you have a non-disclosure agreement or non-compete agreement, you'll still be bound by it after you leave, so be sure to review these documents. Continue to protect the client's confidentiality and relationship even after the job is complete.