Freelancers' Questions: What if the client threatens to ignore my notice period?
Freelancer’s Question: I know that they’re less common among freelancers, but I managed to secure a notice period of 4 weeks before I began the 3-month contract I’m currently on.
The work went well in the first two months but in this final month of the contract the client’s surprised me by moving to terminate me, not renewing which I expected.
The problem is that the client’s HR officer is claiming I’ve fouled up with my work (even though my client representative says I haven’t) and has informally threatened that the client could just get rid of me, immediately with no notice. They’ve offered me one week’s severance pay and I was so shocked that I hinted I might take it. Where do I stand, legally?
Expert’s Answer: If a contract provides a notice period then it is primarily enforceable. The only circumstances where it may be terminated without notice are where any other contract terms for early termination apply, or a party has committed a repudiatory breach entitling the other party to treat the contract as at an end.
A repudiatory breach must be a serious breach of the contract. From what you say it will be difficult for the other side to establish a serious breach by you, and they would have to identify that breach in detail in writing and state that they are relying on it as a repudiatory breach terminating the contract with immediate effect.
The problem for you is practical. If you take court action against them they will likely counterclaim alleging a breach by you of the contract. Here they do not have to claim a serious breach. Any breach can do, and they can offset their claim against yours. So with small clams it would probably not be worth pursuing.
In the circumstances, it would be worth sending a strong letter claiming they are in breach of contract, and denying that you have committed any breach, let alone a serious breach which would entitle then to terminate without notice.
The expert was solicitor Nigel Musgrove, on behalf of legal advisory Cousins Business Law.
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25th January 2015