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When can a contractor legally abandon a job?

On Behalf of | Dec 2, 2020 | Contract Disputes

As a contractor, you know that no job goes completely smoothly. You may have disputes with the company or individuals that hired you. That’s when having a well-crafted, detailed contract is extremely valuable.

What if things get so bad that you feel you need to have your workers pack up and leave? That’s the most radical solution but one that can legally be used in relatively rare instances that should be included in your contract. Let’s look at the most common.


If you haven’t been paid for invoices that have been approved and you’ve given sufficient notice, you can abandon the job, as specified in the terms of your contract. No one wants this to happen. That’s why it’s wise to check your client’s credit history and record of paying contractors before signing on to the project.

You also have the right under the standard AIA 201 contract to ask for proof that the client has made the necessary arrangements to fund the entire project before you begin. If you’re not using the AIA 201, make sure your contract gives you that right.

Surprise findings

Say that after you’ve begun work you find some kind of hazardous conditions you weren’t told about. Sometimes contractors find underground storage tanks that prevent them from doing the job. It’s not unheard of to find valuable artifacts or human remains that need to be recovered before work can continue.

When this happens, review your contract. You should be able to seek reimbursement for the cost of stopping and restarting the project. Your contract may require you to work around the discovery if you can safely do so.

Cardinal changes

This is a change so significant in the project that it essentially alters the entire contract. Of course, a contractor and their clients could disagree on whether a change is “cardinal” or not. Even if a cardinal change is made – such as adding an entirely new element to the project – a contractor may be required to finish the original project before leaving it.

If any of these issues occur, it’s wise to consult an experienced attorney who can thoroughly review your contract before you take any drastic steps like walking off the job. Sound legal guidance can help keep you out of court or help you prevail if the matter ends up there.