What To Do When Someone Moves the Goalposts in Performing Arts

This blog was written for Jozara member Peter Pearson. If you’re a member and would like guidance on something in particular, or if you’d like to request a blog, please get in touch. Non-members can join and request here

When goalkeeper Kim Christensen was caught on camera moving his goalposts before a match in 2009, it caused a Swedish football scandal so great and unique it was reported around Europe. So blatant and bare-faced was the foul that the Swedish FA, didn’t have rules to guide decision-makers. Christensen ultimately got away with a slap on his leather-gloved wrist from the powers that be.

The same is sadly true in life and performing arts. Moving the goalposts or changing the terms of a job after you take someone on to do it is clearly wrong, yet people often get away with it.

Legally, contracts are voided by such actions and employers can be taken to court. In reality though, this rarely happens, especially where freelancing and the gig economy is concerned.  Directors, managers and bosses are often free to change terms and make things harder with impunity, so we decided to write you a guide to spotting it and putting a stop to it.

Before we start – just a quick note to read and use this guide with care and consideration for circumstances. While there are all too many wide boys and girls out there who might try to take you for a ride in this way, there are also plenty of passionate people who might turn to their fellows honestly for help in times of need, only to repay them fairly later. It’s important to consider these situations on their own merit, so out advice is general guidance only.

Spotting how goalposts are moved – Inch-by-inch

When our friend Christensen moved his posts, it was only by a few inches. He didn’t try to shrink his net down to hockey-goal size, because that would have been obvious. Likewise, few but the most brazen bosses and directors will change the terms completely in one fell swoop. Often the process is much more gradual and thus more damaging.

It’s important to spot these small maneuvers and put a stop to them early because all those creeping little extras can soon add up to a totally different job to what you signed up for.

The first step is knowing what you are looking for, so here’s a hits parade of the goalpost movers’ favourite strategies

  • The added half hour – Staying for an extra hour to clear up, count up and shut up, often as a ‘one-off’. Hint – It almost always ends up lasting longer than half an hour and it’s almost never a one off.
  • The extra commitment – An extra little job thrown in after hiring. Particularly insidious are the undesirable jobs tacked onto highly desirable roles as a kind of quid pro quo you feel forced to accept.
  • Taking the fall for their bad scheduling – “Oh, did I say two eight-hour shifts? I meant four four-hour shifts. I assume that’s okay?” Not really, when petrol and travel time is counted. Also popular is the wrongly scheduled appointment that you must adjust to.
  • Changing venues – One of the more common adjustments in our industry. Altered venues are a fact of life, but if your costs and travel time are increased significantly, that’s a fact your employer has to account and possibly pay for.
  • The (not so) temporary pay cut / credit – Asking to cut employees’ take-home pay when the going gets tough is a poor business practice that’s all too common in our industry. We would advise saying no to this 99 times out of 100 and walking away (easier said than done).  More on this below.
  • Peer pressure – One that’s definitely not exclusive to our industry. While it’s worth listening to what those around you say, always feel free and empowered to make your own decision on what’s best for you in any circumstance.
  • Vague objectives – These are popular across all industries, and signify a weak manager. Push to get specific goals and ideas you can deliver on.

Find some great general advice on this last point here.

Avoid pay cuts

Be very, very wary about any proposed alterations to your pay and remember there’s no situation where you’re forced to accept them. Even as we emerge from a difficult time where everyone has had to be flexible, we’ll still say 99.9% of the time you should expect to get what you were promised up front. There are a very small number of exceptions to this. Only accept a pay cut if:

  • You trust those responsible implicitly
  • They have laid out a very good reason why it’s essential.
  • It’s clearly defined and legally limited in time and scope in a written agreement.
  • You can defer payment of the missing money to a later date, rather than lose it altogether.

How to keep the goalposts in place with clear terms and straight talk

Goalpost moving is only really an issue when it goes against us. Fortunately, there are ways to pre-empt and prevent this from happening in advance when taking on a job.

Clarity and straight talk are your friends here, as well as the good ol’ paper trail. Be clear about what you’re willing to do and what you’re not. If you’re happy to take on a bit extra in an everyone-pitch-in type production, say so. If, on the other hand, you want to draw a professional line between your role and unacceptable extras, let them know as part of a signed agreement.

In fact, get anything you state, request or agree to written into some kind of agreement and signed. Also, read and consider any agreement you put your name to in full and if there isn’t a written agreement, ask for one. Such things are the best way to limit the amount of term changing and goalpost moving that can be done later on.

It’s worth remembering that you as a performance practitioner can put forward your own terms, either general or specific, for inclusion (and signing). Having such a document can actually be a very empowering and freeing move, and a red flag to any dodgy employers who might otherwise take advantage. It’s also very cool to have your own rider.

Need more advice on whether a job is right for you? Try this article.

Reacting to shock changes with time, confidence and clarity

When the goalposts are moved, you need to be clear and confident in yourself about whether you accept the changes or not, and the reasons why. If it’s a big change with many implications, give yourself time to think your reasoning through. Don’t be afraid to ask for this time. It’s a perfectly reasonable request that should be granted by a good employer.

When you’re clear and confident in your response and reasons, let the employer and other parties know what they are and keep that confidence whether it’s good news for them or not. Be calm, be sure, lay out your reasons and be open to reasonable discussion and negotiation while not allowing unreasonable pressure and argumentation sway you. Most of all, remember the value of your skill and your time. They’re searching for you, just as you’re searching for their job.

What’s reasonable when goalposts move

Legally, you can back out of any agreement if the terms are changed without your consent after it was made.

On top of this, if an employer signs a contract or ongoing agreement to pay you for a certain job, they can’t then change the terms of that job beyond what’s reasonable, unless you accept those changes.

If you do run into a legally challenging situation, Jozara has a roster of specialist lawyers we can refer members to on a preferential basis.

We can talk about guidelines and legal terms until we’re blue in the face. Ultimately though, every situation is different and only you can truly consider what’s reasonable.

Sometimes, you’re going to be completely within reason to do an A-list diva walkout over a seemingly minor tweak to the deal. On other occasions, the most outrageous goalpost alterations can be justified by friendship, trust and the situation. Make sure you trust the people in question before bending in their favour though.

We all need to be a bit flexible. It’s important to have clear boundaries to what people can ask you to do though, and to always be confident in what you decide.