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Agency refusing to pay....
Thread poster: AnnGallagher
AnnGallagher
United Kingdom
French to English
+ ...
Mar 20

Good evening! I am dealing with an unfortunate situation with an agency I have been working consistently with for 3 years, and with whom I have had a good relationship. At the start of January, I was assigned the translation of a website into English of a private bilingual (English-Spanish) school. No links, glossaries or instructions were provided. The document itself was full of tags (as it was already set up to be uploaded), which made it a bit trickier in terms of sentence restructuring to sound natural (as the tags represented fonts, etc) but I got around it. About a week following delivery, the agency rang to say that they were not happy with some of the translation. I rang the manager straight away, asked for further information, and when he sent me some of the provisional changes, they were the standard "Spanglish" corrections often made by an end client. I wrote up my reasons for why they were not suitable in the nicest manner possible and the agency told me that he believed the issue was resolved.

However, about 3 weeks later, the end clients said that they did not like the style, sending some samples of their preferred translation of several paragraphs. I looked them over, wrote up another explanation of how both versions were valid (their version actually had some errors, which I also corrected).

The end client was still grumbling and so the manager of the agency finally had one of his in-house native English speakers look over my translation (it was at this stage that I realised that they had not had anyone from the agency look at it, either before delivery to the client or after they received the first "complaint"). The two of them met with the end client (about 6 weeks ago). I assumed the issue was put to bed and they continued to send me work as usual. I was paid for the job about 5 weeks ago.

Today, out of the blue, I received a mail from the manager, saying that the end client was not happy with the style and that the agency had lost them as a customer and was therefore not going to pay me for my work. He was actually not even sure if I had been paid yet, so I assume that he expects me to refund him for the job paid. I do not really have anything more to say that I have not said already, but I obviously have to respond. The forwarded summary from the end client was "we found no errors, the translation could be written better and it could benefit from a review". My translation as it was appeared online for a few weeks unchanged, now it is changed around somewhat but is not hugely different.

So, basically, I am pretty sure that they cannot refuse to pay at all, especially as it has been 3 months since delivery, I have already been paid and they have not really handled the situation well. The email today from the end client says verbatime that my translation does not contain errors, but instead, is not written in the style they would like (it was an English teacher from the school who reviewed it). As I would like to be as fair as possible, I would be willing to offer a discount. Would I be right in insisting on that, and should I talk to a lawyer first before I approach the agency in case they challenge me? The agency said that they would keep giving me work, so to some degree, I want to approach this gently, but on the other hand, the way that it has been handled has not been very impressive and at the end of the day, I may have to lose them to keep my money (they owe me a similar amount for last month so they may retain that). In the worst case scenario, they would have to be flexible and allow me to "pay it back" in installments, would they not?

My apologies for this rambling message, and non-existent profile, I am working on it!

Ann


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Bernhard Sulzer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:12
English to German
+ ...
Don't give in Mar 20

AnnGallagher wrote:

.... an agency I have been working consistently with for 3 years,
.... the standard "Spanglish" corrections often made by an end client. I wrote up my reasons for why they were not ... about 3 weeks later, the end clients said that they did not like the style, ....

... I realised that they had not had anyone from the agency look at it, either before delivery to the client or after they received the first "complaint").
... I assumed the issue was put to bed and they continued to send me work as usual. I was paid for the job about 5 weeks ago.

... Today, out of the blue, I received a mail from the manager, saying that the end client was not happy with the style and that the agency had lost them as a customer and was therefore not going to pay me for my work.

...My translation as it was appeared online for a few weeks unchanged, now it is changed around somewhat but is not hugely different.

So, basically, I am pretty sure that they cannot refuse to pay at all.


You're right, they should not.
1. No complaints for a week
2. Spanglish corrections of your work are supposed to be better!?
3. 3 weeks later they don't like your style!?
4. 5 or more weeks later they don't want to pay because of something that isn't your fault (agency losing the end client)!?

I would state my reasons for not accepting their decision not to pay you or expect a refund from you (possibly by docking your future pay from different projects); remind them of your excellent work over the years. If they still insist, I wouldn't move another finger for them. My take.


[Edited at 2017-03-20 22:40 GMT]


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David GAY  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
English to French
+ ...
Style is a subjective matter Mar 20

They can't refuse to pay you on these grounds.
The school most probably found a cheaper translator. (the teacher)


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Andrea Halbritter  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:12
French to German
+ ...
The money is yours Mar 20

I'd tell them that I am not willing to refund the money and remind them your good relation ship.

If they still insist that they want their money back, I'd never work with them again (if ever they propose you another project...). The money is yours though, there is no reason you should not keep it.


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Lianne van de Ven  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:12
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Ask questions and improve until the end-client is happy (or exhausted) Mar 21

It sounds quite clear to me that your client got burned and they try to pass the problem on to you. I am familiar with the situation where a client doesn't tell me that there is no editor/reviewer and I find out later, like you did. They then typically try to blame me for "not delivering top/final quality work" or accuse me of leaving it up to an editor to fix my errors!

However, this is not the standard workflow and does not meet ISO standard for the translation process:
http://www.iso17100.net/fileadmin/user/bilder/downloads-produkte-und-leistungen/ISO_17100_web.pdf
When I get the impression that a client is not using a reviewer, I bring this up, because I do not accept full responsibility for a perfect text unless I get paid for a full TEP. It just can't be done in one round with one pair of eyes in regular translation time.

The manager who called you might not be aware that you have been paid, due to internal mis-communication. You could let him know that you were paid already, and that you are sorry for the apparent trouble they are having with their end-client, but that you do not see, considering the feedback, how you are responsible for the particular problem that they are having. Ask him why specifically he is saying that, and what you should have done differently according to him.

It's hard to say if you should offer a discount because I don't know how much you got paid in the first place, but you might consider doing that as a gesture if you think that's reasonable and beneficial for the relationship. I certainly would not pay it all back, unless I knew I made irresponsible mistakes. B.t.w., I think it is not reasonable for their end client not to pay. They might want to insist on better quality before they pay, but, as you realize, that requires hard and specific facts and arguments. You could even point this out to your end client. It's a reasonable thing to do in this case.

It is hard to know why this is happening after working with them for 3 years. Sometimes agencies change their policies, work with different PM's, they may have other problems going on, who knows. Unless I have a real good working relationship with someone (typically a colleague), in which case I would be willing to share the burden, I would just say that business is business, and this is on them, since you had no influence over their process or decisions.

Good luck, I hope some of this might help.



[Edited at 2017-03-21 02:42 GMT]


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xxxIlan Rubin  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 06:12
Russian to English
Look at it like a business Mar 21

Having end clients with weak English changing your native English and hence being unsatisfied is quite common, especially in my pair.


You should design a standard framework to approach this. E.g.: judge whether you need the agency. If you do, don't argue too much as you will just become too much of an effort for them to handle. Compromise and move on. It's better than losing an important client. It doesn't matter that you are right. And don't take it personally.

What you can do though is offer a Skype call with the end client (or the teacher) to go through their comments. If the call is held it normally works - start by introducing yourself in detail so they can understand your experience and knowledge.

If you don't need the agency then fine, stand your ground, the law should be on your side.

[Edited at 2017-03-21 04:44 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:12
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Drop them Mar 21

My suggestion would be:

Drop them now, keep the money that is rightfully yours (all of it) and never work with them again. You have been very reasonable.

[Edited at 2017-03-21 08:28 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:12
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Their problem now Mar 21

Andrea Halbritter wrote:

I'd tell them that I am not willing to refund the money and remind them your good relation ship.

If they still insist that they want their money back, I'd never work with them again (if ever they propose you another project...). The money is yours though, there is no reason you should not keep it.

They've clearly handled this in a totally amateurish way. They should have stipulated to their clients that all complaints have to be notified within a certain time. And once a complaint is received they should act quickly and decisively, involving another professional. They shouldn't just allow themselves to be bossed about and even bullied by their clients who pretend to know more about the job than they do. And nor should you.

You did your job; presented your invoice; got paid. The fact that the end client is now voicing concerns, which appear unfounded anyway, is not your problem. if anything, the agency should hire a reviser to go through the text, bearing in mind the end client's style preferences. And the agency should pay for that.


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Tony Keily  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:12
Italian to English
+ ...
You don't work for their client Mar 21

The agency is your client, full stop. It is up to them to perform QC on your job before accepting it. Once they accept the job, they must pay you. How they handle their relationship with their own customer should not be your business. From the beginning they have blurred these lines (they wouldn't be alone there, but that's no excuse) in an unacceptable manner. Why are they charging for acting as TSPs if they perform no intermediate function?

I've worked for more than 30 years as translator and I never accept these "The client says..." arguments. Stick to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EN_15038


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AnnGallagher
United Kingdom
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Many thanks everyone! Mar 21

The fact that the agency probably provides me with 30% of my income in an average month, along with the significant sum of the project (close to 1000 euros), has made me want to be as careful as possible in how I respond to them. However, the issue has gone on for way too long (it was first brought up by the agency about 2.5 months ago), and they have told me on two occasions that it was resolved.

They also had their own in-house translator look at my translation (but not until 5 weeks after the initial emergency of the issue with the end client, which seems crazy- it should have been the first thing they did!), with no negative reports from her. My translation was also published on the end client's website (exactly as I had translated it) for at least 5 weeks, before they introduced their changes.

Now, after 6 weeks of hearing nothing from the agency in relation to the issue (who had, for the second time, indicated that the issue was resolved), and having been paid for the job several weeks ago, the fact that they want me to return the money, while stating that my translation does not even contain errors, seems ridiculous and inadmissable.

Would it be worth talking to a lawyer in case the agency challenges me in terms of my disagreement with their proposal to return the money?

Many, many thanks for your very helpful contributions!

Ann

[Edited at 2017-03-21 10:22 GMT]


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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 22:12
Member (2008)
French to English
Some thoughts Mar 21

AnnGallagher wrote:

The fact that the agency probably provides me with 30% of my income in an average month,


Red flag. If any one client gets to be more than 20% of your income, it's time to find more clients. This is an indicator that you are losing control, because if for any reason you lose the client you will suffer.

My translation was also published on the end client's website (exactly as I had translated it) for at least 5 weeks, before they introduced their changes.


They have taken full possession and use of the translation and it's now theirs. What they do with the translation after publicly using it unchanged for 5 weeks is not your concern.

[Edited at 2017-03-21 12:29 GMT]


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:12
French to English
You say it yourself Mar 21

You say it yourself; all that is to be said by you already has been said. I think you have acted professionally throughout. They agency has not. I don't think the agency had any bad intentions. They appear to have been a bit sloppy in not having proofread the document. Even if they had, the problem is not yours. We all know that it is not unusual for end-clients to change the texts we provide.

It is not unusual for a client or an end-client via an agency, to ask questions about the work provided. I am not bothered about that. It usually means the client cares. However, criticisms sometimes come from a non-native speaker who may have an excellent command of the language, but who is not a translator. Any queries about a piece of work ought to be raised fairly quickly after the work has been received. That was actually done, but it cannot carry on ad infinitum.

From a practical point of view, there is no privity of contract between you and the end-client. Your client is the agent.
The end-client's contract is with the agency. One way or the other, the agency has to bear reponsibility for their work, or lack of it, and, when push comes to shove, for your work too of course... whether you have produced the best piece of work in the world or the worst piece of work ever submitted!

The agency has paid you for the work done. (In fact, even if they are not happy with it, legally, in most jurisdictions, they still have to pay you for it). The fact is, we all know that when someone is not happy, the first thing they do is try and avoid paying. In this case, the agent is trying to wriggle out of his responsibility, to you and to the end-client in fact. At this stage, the agent has to deal with this, not you. You did, and have done, all you can and should. Don't lose sight of the fact that the agent takes a percentage and that percentage is not just for acting as a job-shop and post-box. They are a filter. Sounds like they are being bullied by a niggly client, their client. it is their job to deal with their niggly client, one of the other advantages, in theory, of going through an agent.

What should you do?
Certainly not reimburse them for the job in question. It has been supplied, it has been paid for.
Are they able to withold further sums due on other contracts in order to recover what they consider they are due for the other job? No, it is a separate contract, different client, different job. Unless there is some wierd contractual clause making this possible in your contract with the agency, then that would be a no-no. There is perhaps no guarantee they might not try though. Keep an eye on your payments from them. If they try it, don't let them get away with it.

You may have lost this agent as a client. It is hard when a source of work is lost, but sometimes it is the only solution.

As for seeking the advice of a lwayer? That would be good money after bad. Refuse to reimburse all or any of the sum paid. (If the agent ends up deciding to do so, that's their problem and might teach them to be more careful in the future?!). I suspect that over time, you will hear no more about it. It's already been dragging on for way too long.




[Edited at 2017-03-21 11:58 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:12
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
You have absolutely everything on your side Mar 21

AnnGallagher wrote:
Would it be worth talking to a lawyer in case the agency challenges me in terms of my disagreement with their proposal to return the money?

Believe me, should this ever go to court they're going to get laughed at. It's a ridiculous claim. The same would happen if they try to recoup their losses by failing to pay for other jobs. They have to prove that you've done a really awful job that isn't fit for purpose. And if it's been used by the end client then it's clearly been accepted.

I advise you to call their bluff right now - this has gone on long enough. Write a short, formal email, briefly listing exactly those things you itemised in your post above, and saying that you now regard this matter as closed. There's absolutely no reason for you to pay a lawyer, although you could always ask for a free consultation - it wouldn't take long as you could leave as soon as they start laughing .

If there are invoices that haven't been settled yet, I advise you to be very strict with them, starting reminders and escalating from the very first day after the due date. Don't let them think they can get their money that way, as I suspect they will if you let things drag on. If necessary, and if your client is in the EU, prepare a European Payment Order online. It doesn't cost anything to prepare it and save it as a PDF. You could then send it to them to show you really mean business.

And do start actively looking for other clients. You were depending too much on this one. Through no fault of your own, you've probably lost them, and will suffer financially until you can fill the gap. But clients do come and go, for umpteen reasons, so keep yourself safe by limiting your need for each of them.

Edit: It seems that Nikki and I are very much on the same wavelength here. I didn't refresh before posting so I hadn't seen her comments.

[Edited at 2017-03-21 12:15 GMT]


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:12
Member (2004)
English to Italian
Exactly... Mar 21

John Fossey wrote:

They have taken full possession and use of the translation and it's now theirs. What they do with the translation after publicly using it unchanged for 5 weeks is not your concern.


If they want their money back, ask the agency to tell their client to remove the unchanged parts from their website... if they don't pay you, they have no right to use them...

[Edited at 2017-03-21 12:42 GMT]


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Texte Style
Local time: 04:12
French to English
imho Mar 21

imho the client just doesn't want to pay. This is typical with complaints that only emerge when the bill is due. Either that or the teacher is disgruntled because they were hoping to do the translation. I would tell the agency manager that this is what experience has taught you to (on the phone, not in writing), while also reminding him that the agency's in-house proofreader found nothing wrong with your work, to explain that it's not actually your fault in any way.

(what kind of agency doesn't bother to check translations before delivery or at the very least the minute there's a complaint?)


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