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My wife is a music teacher with lots of experience, but she recently moved to NYC. She was introduced to a music school earlier, who finally got around to contacting her to teach. They were impressed with her performance and resume, and asked her a week ago to start this Monday. They waited until Friday to give her a contract with lots of terms they didn't mention before (probably because they didn't want to scare her off). These previously unmentioned terms include:

  • "responsible for submitting copy of Professional Liability Insurance"
  • "agrees to provide and/or authorize a completed criminal record check"

They also gave her a yes/no availability form that lists from 11:00 to 8:00 every weekday, 9 to 5 on Saturdays, 12 to 5 on Sundays, whereas they had implied to her that most students were in school and would start around 3:00 pm, and explicitly told her she wouldn't work on Sundays.

I'm mostly concerned with the fact that they didn't even mention these things up front, and she finds out about them the weekend prior to starting. I think she should refuse to pay for these things on principle. I also think if she chooses not to get insurance, she should ignore that clause of the contract.

Are their actions acceptable? Should she buy insurance for a very part-time gig paying $20 an hour that they seem to want to schedule her at any time of the week? Regarding scheduling, should she give them an availability schedule that has all the times she was expecting based on their verbal conversations?


Conclusion

She went in Monday, they quickly folded to her pushback verbally. However, she did sign it as it was, without striking through the disagreeable parts. They said they would not hold her to those parts, but they still might attempt to if they want to get rid of her. However, while we're principled, we don't have any desire to be litigious. If they want to get rid of her, she won't want to work with them regardless. Thanks for the answers, it certainly helped to get outside perspective.

  • Whether or not she pays for insurance, etc. is somewhat irrelevant to me. Clearly adequate time to consider the contract and negotiate terms was not provided. At the very least an additional 3 to 5 business days BEFORE work is to begin should be allotted for negotiations. – Scott Oct 6 '14 at 6:07
  • I hope everything works out. I would be very leery of someone who says they won't hold you to something, yet does not strike it out and asks you to sign it regardless. If she's going to work with them for any period of time I would ask for an amended contract to sign that will replace the original. Good luck! – Emily Oct 9 '14 at 0:41
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    I don't feel it's being "litigious" to protect your own rights. By signing the contract as is, regardless of what they say she is bound by all clauses. Written agreements take preciseness over any verbal agreements. Sounds like you're a contract holder's dream. – Scott Oct 9 '14 at 13:16
  • Wife isn't sophisticated regarding contracts, whereas I've had a few courses on the subject. I wasn't present, or I'd strike it through. Regardless, if they want to enforce anything in a court, they're going to screw themselves, waste a lot of money, and earn a lot of negative publicity. The main issue for me was would they walk away from her when she told them she had a problem with those lines. Apparently not, apparently they really want her. – Aaron Hall Oct 9 '14 at 13:50
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It's possible that the person who did the negotiating didn't prepare the contract and instead gave it to someone else to do without telling them the details of what was discussed. So it is possible that they aren't really trying to be deceitful as such.

Don't feel pressured into signing just because she is due to start work on Monday. You are under no obligation to agree to their terms and have every right to challenge them. If this negotiation takes longer, then the school must make a plan. They should have got the contract to you sooner.

I would recommend approaching them with changes to the contract which match the verbal agreement that was negotiated previously. Talking to them about the new contract terms allows them to also discuss why there is insurance in there and why the schedule is as it is.

You have every right to make changes to the contract and negotiate new terms with them. While this client's actions are not ideal, this kind of thing is common.

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    +1 for not assuming the worst. Chances are these are just stock terms which were unedited/incorrectly attached (especially on a Friday). Challenge them and they may well be changed on the spot. – Matthew Swain Oct 7 '14 at 20:20
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I would draw a line through any terms that are not agreeable and just say NO to the times that are not agreeable. If they need it signed by Monday they can accept the black lined copy. Otherwise, they can renegotiate and wait.

This is probably a standard contract that they try to get everyone to sign, though it may have been deliberately manipulative to spring it on her at the last second when they know she wanted the job.

My guess regarding the times is that's just a questionnaire they give all employees regardless of desired working times. It sounds bureaucratic.

I have been in this type of situation before and was very concerned that I'd come across as difficult, but I balked at the terms regardless and later learned that almost everyone balked at the same terms.

In my case, I had one company with a particularly ridiculous contract just give up and we didn't have a contract.* In another case the organization (a government entity) waived the insurance requirement and said they were used to waving it for independent contractors. In another case (also government) they could not waive it but they raised my hourly rate to defray the cost for me.

*regarding the company that I could not reach an agreement with - I had been doing business with them as a sub contractor for years and they suddenly decided they wanted an agreement, which I did too, but their agreement was ridiculously slanted in their favor. They would not relent so I started making requests in my favor that sounded reasonable but I knew they could not accommodate. They dropped the subject. Since we already had a working business relationship I felt reasonably safe continuing to work for them and it's worked out fine.

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You can send a letter detailing the conversation, date, time, persons, questions etc, where disputed clauses were said to be "not actionable" and that she signed 'under pressure of the explanation'. Send it by registered mail so you have receipt of delivery. Once on record they have two choices a) accept the letter or b) dismiss the lady. I would advise not working under a contract that had objectionable clauses. However it is your choice. In UK we have a freelancers association that will check contracts for you for a small sum, but that needs time to allow them to review. In the USA, it is too long since I worked there to know current answers.

  • +1 on the letter restating understanding. In the US, we consider this sort of thing a memo of understanding, it's not as good as a contract, but it's enough to make trouble if it goes to court. – Aaron Hall Oct 20 '14 at 23:46
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I understand, the could casue trouble in court bit for USA, however in my letter I state " This letter confirms my understanding and is the only basis on which I will proceed with work under our contract and this letter forms part of our agreed conditions and is incorporated into the contract." This is why they must accept or refuse contract.

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If I were her, I'd push the issue on creating an addendum to either void the clause about the professional liability insurance, or to bump up her $$$ rate if it is a requirement. There IS no in-between. Either they require it, or they don't.

As for availability -- as long as she's not BOUND to any times that she reports as tentatively available, there's nothing wrong with that AFAIC.

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