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  • Writer's pictureViva Sarah Press

Contracts I wouldn’t, couldn’t and didn’t sign

As both a freelancer and contracted employee, I have signed numerous contracts in my career.

Long-term contracts. Short-term contracts. One-time gig contracts.

I believe that contracts are important for both the employer and the employee. When they’re done right, that is.

Non-Disclosure Agreements aren’t a problem.

Non-compete, on the other hand, are often questionable.

There is sometimes legalese to hurdle through. Although for the most part, I deal with plain-language contracts.

I have held senior positions throughout my career and with them came signing contracts of all sorts. I have been an arts & entertainment editor at an international newspaper, a senior news editor at a television station, an associate editor of a news website, a foreign correspondent and a guidebook contributor. Today, I am a freelance journalist, a content writer/editor, a ghostwriter, an editor and a speaker.

Usually, the contracts I sign are one to four pages in length. I also regularly sign short, email contracts with a paragraph or two outlining what my responsibilities are.

But there are also the hellish contracts. The contracts that, in retrospect, could lock you in a box and make your working life miserable. The contracts that you look back on and say, thank goodness I wouldn’t and didn’t sign.

I was once given an 18-page contract, densely packed with legal jargon and suspicious phrasing for a weekly two-hour freelance gig. After handing it to a lawyer friend, she said: Do not sign that.

First, I thought I could make it work and requested some alterations to the contract. In the end, I gave up the gig.

You can tell a lot about the person you’re about to work with based on a contract.

The contracts I didn’t sign can be categorized according to levels of jealousy and distrust.

There was the time, after weeks of meeting a possible partner for a project and after we jotted down responsibilities for each of us and how we plan to take the idea forward, I was handed a contract by my soon-to-be partner that if I wanted to continue working on the project with this person, I would need to sign a contract.

The contract began with the legalese statement: This agreement hereby supersedes and replaces all prior agreements both written and oral.

Legalese? Maybe.

But the contents of the contract left no question as to the ring of mistrust I was about to enter.

I wouldn’t, couldn’t and didn’t sign.

Another time, I was given a contract that said that while I would be paid, the employer had the right to decide when that would be and would not commit to a certain date or timeframe.

I wouldn’t, couldn’t and didn’t sign.

And then there was a time when I was told to do something I was not trained to do. Trying new things is one thing. Learning on the job is fine, too. But in this case, another person’s emotional health was on the line and I felt I was not qualified or trained to take part.

I was strongly encouraged to just do it.

The “encouragement” served as a warning for me that if this corner would be cut, so may others. I went with my gut.

And though the bad cases make for the best stories, most of the contracts I sign are boring, legitimate, and effective.

If you have a near-miss story about a contract you didn’t sign, please share it:

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