Years ago, it was almost more uncommon not to bestow clients with trips, golf excursions and extravagant dinners when pursuing a spot on a that preferred supplier list. Now, many companies prohibit employees in any role from accepting a gift from a supplier or potential supplier.

Although the ability to sway a client to partner with your organization has changed, the desire to do whatever possible to get on a client’s list has not. And when a supplier finally gets approved to be on the supplier list, they are willing to do almost anything to stay there.

But what happens when a client asks a supplier to do something that is not ethical, or worse yet, not legal?

I recently had the opportunity to speak with more than 100 suppliers at an industry event and was surprised by the number of questions I received around the topic of, “How do you tell your client they are wrong without risking the chance of being removed from the program?”

Was this even an issue? Would a buyer really do that? Knowing how desperate a supplier is to agree to pretty much anything you ask, why would you not take heed when they say “no?” Obviously, there are exceptions to this, like when a bill rate is being negotiated, but when a supplier is willing to take a stance and possibly jeopardize its partnership with you, that should give you pause.

When a supplier states it is not able to support a request, it is in your best interest to listen and understand exactly why — especially if the supplier has engaged legal counsel in making the decision. Suppliers often look not only to protect themselves and their organization, but also the buyer, the buyers’ organization and the contingent worker.

What types of requests have the suppliers I spoke with received that they could not support? Several were around similar topics: proper classification for exempt and non-exempt workers; being told by the buyer that contingent workers can only put 40 hours a week in the time system, even if they worked more hours; and asking suppliers to provide diversity information on candidates for reasons other than due to affirmative action plans or the Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs.

In today’s compliance world, being risk adverse is critical, and if an organization is not, the loss can not only impact its brand within the marketplace but can have a huge financial impact as well.  Understand that the liability does not always just extend to the company and can also extend to the employees involved. Is not listening worth taking that risk?

For the most part, you as the buyer have the final word when it comes to your staffing providers and your program. But before you decide just exactly what that “final word” is, ensure there is a complete understanding of any potential risk that is not being considered. Further determine if that risk is worth not admitting “I was wrong.”