Ethically hiring and working with contractors

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Hiring people for:

  • Short term engagements
  • Lots of people for small tasks

Goal: don’t hurt people, screw them over, or hurt your own organization

This to talk about: Pay, Healthcare, Benefits, Logistics

People in the room

  • Cooperative digital agency with about 30 people. Hire for people that wills stay forever.
  • Digital agency that has been forced to hire freelancers and hate it; would like people to stay and become an owner. But worried that work will disappear. Previously was a freelancer.
  • Work at a corporate nonprofit. Mechanical Turk has been dismissed as horrible, but also having conversations about how to do things like Spanish Localization. Also does their own consulting and loves owning their own business.
  • Has a small nonprofit, and contractors provide a lot of flexibility. They hire some contractors that enjoy freedom of the work, but want that to be a choice.
  • Campaign organizer that now helps others organize their own campaigns and actions. Concerned about campaign staffing, where some specialized roles are paid and how to do that ethically.
  • Within journalism, there is a need to read through 20 PDFs and parse out the information. Involved with a project where people are paid to the notes during public meetings; they struggled with the mechanics of paying a lot of people and making it a fair deal.

How to ensure that freelancing is a “choice” for someone?

Create longer term relationships with people and clear advancement pathways. Having a panel/roster of people, and visible roles/stages so that people can see how they might get more responsibility/stablility-of-work.

Talk to freelancers about what their longer term engagements will look like. e.g. “6 hours a week for the next year”. Were very transparent with what resources they have available, to give someone agency about the choices. After a month people feel mixed: some think that they should offer them a full-time position and then find more work. They are paid as a contractor (1099) but are paid slightly more for taxes and wellness days and paid more for healthcare. It’s really hard to bring them into their group benefits system.

Within a campaign, they will have to hire a finance director. There may be volunteers that want to learn about finance, but they don’t feel confident about it, so they hire an expert and the expert is given a clear set up of steps/work that they’ll do.

The emotional side. There aren’t a lot of people you can talk to about the emotional discomfort with these employer-contractor relationships. Sometimes they will co-write a job description with the candidate which is about as vulnerable as possible; have a trial time period for a month or a single job.

When bringing in potential worker-owners, there is a 9 month track in which they have an evaluation every 3 months.

Had an intern, who became a temp, who they then wanted to hire full-time. They were paid a fraction of what someone else who was hired directly into the full-time role.

Having people on staff who were previously freelancers made them aware of these issues. People who haven’t freelanced aren’t aware of how much of a payment goes to paying self-employment taxes.

Effective gig-ification in this economy _could_ make groups of people who enjoy spending time together (friends, neighbors, families) to pool their resources and economic power into better collectives and family units.

When you have a short-term project with a very specific system for the job, if you have a freelancer you can’t expect them to step in without a learning curve.

Relationships: what the norms are, or for onboarding curves. If you know someone or already know of they work, it’s a lot easier to work with them. Imagining types of roles to hire for is a well-paying job with benefits where people don’t have to worry.

Career Ladders and Salary bands as ways to give more visibility and consistency to money.

Balancing feelings of paternalism and concern for others, while also wanting others to make decisions that are best for them. What if the collective wanted a freelancer too join, but the freelancer chooses not to. They still ask every 6 months.

What things help people accept imperfect situations?

Ideas of “consent” can be difficult when people who are the employer recognizes that something isn’t right (underpaid) but that the worker is ok with the situation and really want to do it. Consent goes both ways.

A part of career growth is increasing understanding the systems and structures of the organization. It seems like people should recognize the crappiness of their situation and not accept it.

Ask lots of questions. Ask how you are feeling about the relationship and how the other person feels about it. Consent is cooperation.