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Use Your Skills to Be Your Own Boss

Lindsey Novak on

Q: I signed on with a tutoring agency that sends tutors to children's schools or homes, often with the government picking up the tab. I'm happy with the tutoring fee amount, but the owner/manager is the most unprofessional business owner ever.

I was told to come in for a one-hour training session (I am already a teacher and need no training), which took two hours of my time because the owner's assistant repeatedly interrupted her. Afterwards, I was told training hours are unpaid. Then she explained the tutoring procedure: She would email me information on a child to tutor, and I had to clear my schedule and accept it. Having no choice was ridiculous, but I went along with it. Then, without explanation, she would cancel the assignment on me and send another tutor. Next, she assigned me to a child at home for three one-hour math sessions. I went, only to discover the kid only needed one session because he had no problem at all. She had apparently told his wealthy mother her son needed extended help in math. After that session, his mother asked me if I could coach her son on a school project. We agreed on a fee, and all I was asked to do was edit his projects and take him to museums.

A week later, the company owner called me to ask if I had been tutoring the woman's son without reporting it to her. I said no for several reasons: What I do on my time is none of her business; the tutoring contract mentioned nothing about such a situation; and I was not tutoring him at home. She threatened me, saying if I took her clients, she would dismiss me and sue me for the money. I assured her I would never be so disloyal as to deprive them of their opportunity.

What I can't believe is how she has the nerve to say that to me. She is never on time, runs the agency in an unprofessional way by demanding a tutor be ready and then canceling the assignment and routinely gets into scheduling conflicts. Yet she is awarded government contracts to tutor children who are from the city's wealthiest families and attend top private schools. What makes the owner think she can tell me what jobs to take when I barely receive assignments from her? Can they take any legal action against me for accepting work from one of their clients considering I have no contract stating that?

A: This trite expression says it all: You are caught between a rock and a hard place. Anyone can file a lawsuit, though that doesn't mean the person or company will win. Owning a politically connected business doesn't mean the owner is a professional or an experienced business owner. But it does sound like this business owner has extremely strong ties to local politicians, the board of education and the wealthiest, most influential families in your area, so with or without a contract, it sounds like she is not someone you want to challenge.

 

You connected to the woman and her son through the owner's company. She may have discovered that you work for her in a conversation with the mother, and she feels betrayed. The wisest action is to withdraw from her agency. I assume she wrote her own contract or used an ineffective, inexperienced lawyer. It sounds like you signed on without having a lawyer read the contract to approve it before you accepted it. No contract can force you to accept an assignment or stop you from working in your field, but it should specify situations that would not be allowed, along with remedies for those situations.

Contracts should protect all parties that sign it, and one-sided contracts usually will not hold up in a court of law. If you want to remain on this woman's good side, or at least part peacefully, offer to pay a referral for making the connection. Math tutors are always in demand, so this might be a good time to create your own tutoring service. Create your business cards and flyers to post in local coffee shops and other willing stores. You may be so successful you will wonder why you didn't do it years ago.

Email career and life coach Lindsey@LindseyNovak.com with your workplace problems and issues. Ms. Novak responds to all emails. For more information, visit www.lindseynovak.com and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.

 

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