Problem with a translator working for me
Thread poster: Cerise Meladone

Cerise Meladone
Local time: 04:37
Member (2017)
Spanish to French
+ ...
Mar 31, 2018

Hi, All

I would like to get some piece of advice from the community, please.

I recently hired a translator to get an english to french job I couldn't take care of myself.
The job started on March 23 and was to be delivered by March 27. I asked the guy to deliver partial files for me to track the progress. He did at first, and then, vanished in the air.

Two days after the agreed delivery day, i informed him I would contact my lawyer. Funny thing, I instantly get news!
I got a message from his "wife", informing they had to quit France to reach Equador, because someone of their family died.
I couldn't get any proposal more than "working for you for free for the amount due on a next project"
Of course, I won't give him any job more, and I had lost a client here !
I have a appointment with my lawyer on April 6.
What do you think of it?
Do you think I will be able to ask for some compensation ?

Thank you, all.



Jean Dimitriadis  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:37
English to French
+ ...
wow... Mar 31, 2018

Hello Cerise,

Wow, what an unprofessional behavior, to vanish in thin air and not inform you about the fact they weren't be able to deliver the rest of the project on time. I hope you can somehow repair the relation with your client.

Was there any kind of written agreement or exchange that could help establish the exact terms of your collaboration?

I guess your lawyer will be able to assess the best course of action with you.

All the best,



Cerise Meladone
Local time: 04:37
Member (2017)
Spanish to French
+ ...
Agreement Mar 31, 2018

Yes, Jean, we had set up an agreement by E-mail.


United States
Local time: 21:37
English to Russian
+ ...
Let it go Mar 31, 2018

Hi Cerise,

We don't know all the details but

Sorry but you are talking about a job doable in 3 days. Does not seem like much. How big was the client? Even if you made a partial payment upfront, apparently your lawyer's initial fee must be close to the amount paid. No lawyer will take this case on a pay-when-you-win basis. Not much to win, really.

If you are looking for a moral or loss of profit type compensation, then, provided that you have time and/or money to physically hunt down the person to be sued, check of your due diligence before hiring a stranger and placing your reputation in the hands of that stranger with the due dates being so tight and crucial that the breach led to loss of a client, will not work in your favor anyway. The Ecuador excuse puts the whole thing in a very murky water. And additional money, money, money...

Unless you can prove at least 10-20 thousand in lost profit (say, a contract with the now lost client for such amount, which has been officially terminated on the basis of the incident in question, NOT just a usual contract of the "we'll call you when and if we need you" nature), or you can prove a serious income from that client over the last few years, and the potential defendant is physically available and has the means to pay, cancelling a lawyer's appointment would be a very wise and economical thing to do. Incidentally, private defendants have a tendency to appeal (you'll have to pay again), claim no means or pay 2 dollars a month over 50 years at best.

Just cut your losses. One of those sad lessons about hiring a stranger for an important and urgent job. I wish I could be the bearer of better news.

[Edited at 2018-03-31 17:24 GMT]

[Edited at 2018-03-31 17:43 GMT]

[Edited at 2018-03-31 17:54 GMT]


Daniel Frisano
Local time: 04:37
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
All-time #1 excuse Mar 31, 2018

In all the jobs I had in the past, health problems in the family were the #1 excuse when someone wanted to chicken out of something. Usually it's surgery, sometimes death. Then again, 1 time out of 100 it might be true, who knows.

It's the adult version of "the dog ate my homework".


Christel Zipfel  Identity Verified
Member (2004)
Italian to German
+ ...
If this is true Mar 31, 2018

it is clearly a case of forcemajeure. Or would you finish your translation rather than assist your family in such a dramatical circumstance?
It would never come to my mind to involve a lawyer before having investigated further. Maybe you have never been in such a situation and I hope you never will.
But of course, he should have informed you, if ever possible.


Teresa Borges
Local time: 03:37
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Ditto! Apr 1, 2018

Christel Zipfel wrote:

it is clearly a case of forcemajeure. Or would you finish your translation rather than assist your family in such a dramatical circumstance?
It would never come to my mind to involve a lawyer before having investigated further. Maybe you have never been in such a situation and I hope you never will.
But of course, he should have informed you, if ever possible.

Two questions come to my mind:
1. Did your client know that you outsourced the work to another translator? Did he agree to that?
2. How much work did your subcontractor do? 3/4? 1/2? 1/4?

[Edited at 2018-04-01 11:49 GMT]


Rossana Triaca  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:37
English to Spanish
I agree with IrinaN... Apr 1, 2018

Lawyering up for a 5-day job (assuming BOD and EOD for the 23rd and the 27th) seems to put you out of pocket in all likely scenarios. What monetary damages can you prove? (losing a single client means little, unless you had a verifiable income agreement signed with them for the future). The onus is also on you to prove that the client dropped you solely for this botched job.

You should also take into account that, with no actual contract and just an email agreement, this is work for hire and the translator can still invoice you for the files he did deliver, even if there was a partial breach of contract afterwards (and if he does invoice you, you'd better pay him, since any small claims court in France is likely to agree with the worker).

So, in short, you're SOL and still on the hook for what he did deliver.

On to the other aspect of his breach of contract... Force majeure does happen, but when it does responsible professionals notify you immediately, send you everything they have done up to that point and propose any means of remediation available to them at the time (e.g. arrange for a colleague that can take over, or at least pass on useful contacts so you can ask around). He did neither of these, so on this basis alone, his excuse certainly sounds made up. Unfortunately, this makes no difference regarding what damages you can seek; he probably just bit more than he could chew, which in turn makes me wonder how many words we were talking about in the first place.

Finally, about outsourcing... I know in this moment of distress this may rub you in the wrong way, but if you see yourself outsourcing in the future there are undoubtedly a couple of lessons to be learnt here:

1) Never outsource without a contract. Just a simple one page agreement will do, that's a better investment of your lawyer's consultation fee. Make sure to include a liability clause for at least the value of the project, clear termination and remediation clauses (for shoddy work) and to specify what constitutes a breach of contract (to avoid having to do "partial" payments for an unfinished job). In France, I would also make it crystal clear that it's a "work for hire" situation, to avoid copyright issues and even the smallest hint of an employee-employer relationship. Bear in mind that, if the contract is too outlandish in your requirements, no decent freelancer will ever sign it, so it has to be reasonable while guaranteeing you some protection. Hope for the better, plan for the worst.

2) Only engage tested and true translators for time-sensitive projects. The time-sensitive part is given not only in dates, but in the amount of actual work to be done... How many words were there? Which subject areas? Any format issues to be dealt with? These all weight heavily on the feasibility of any deadline.

There are *very* good reasons why most individual translators don't subcontract, even when you don't run into any issues (which are, unfortunately, bound to happen at some point): it's always your name and professional reputation on the line.

[Edited at 2018-04-01 11:39 GMT]


Tina Vonhof
Local time: 20:37
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Outsourcing vs. referring Apr 1, 2018

Cerise, I'm sorry to hear this happened to you. Anyone can have a family emergency but then it is up to the translator to notify you. No matter how rushed you are to get away, you need to cancel appointments or commitments you have made. It was irresponsible and unprofessional not to do so. But I have to agree with Irina that it would be costly, time consuming, and stressful to pursue this legally. Chalk it up to experience and let it go, for your own peace of mind.

I also agree with what Rossana says at the end: there is a lot involved in outsourcing because the job remains your responsibility. In the worst case scenario the translator may be late delivering or not deliver at all, as in your case; the translation may be of poor quality, so that you have to spend extra time editing and proofreading; or there may be a hassle about payment afterwards.

A far better solution is to make a mutual agreement with one or more colleagues you can trust to refer to each other when you're not available. That way you don't have any responsibility for the eventual outcome and it shows that you care about the client. I have had such an arrangement for quite a while now and several times clients have contacted me later to thank me for the referral. There may be a slight risk that the client prefers the other translator but so far I have not lost any client that way.


Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:37
French to English
Following on from Tina's post Apr 1, 2018

I agree with most of what has been posted by colleagues. Everything needs to be clear from the start, including what happens if only part of the job is delivered and/or not at all. You need to allow enough time for the worst-case scenario : failure to deliver at all. That means allowing enough time to do the job yourself, or to find someone else to do it. This means that subcontracting a job, or part of a job, should only be done when you have a back-up plan and/or the possibility to do the job yourself. It seems that this had not been allowed for in this case. Also, theoretically, if the translator has actually provided you with part of the job, then it is possible that he/she be entitled to payment pro rata the volume of the whole job. If he has gone into hiding, the chances are he will not dare ask for payment.

Any legal action would require you to have respected your side of the contract. What did the contract say if only part of the job was submitted? If you have paid the translator for the work he did actually provide, then that is a quantifiable loss. The loss of business and loss of client and/or damaged reputation may be quantifiable, but it may simply not be economically wise to pursue for that.

As Tina points out, what has unfortunately happened here, is one of the main reasons most sole translators do not subcontract work out. If things go wrong, your reputation is on the line. I prefer to refer the client to a colleague who I know does quality work and I can in fact recommend them. Otherwise, I simply refuse the job.

These experiences are something that generally happens to us once, not twice.


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:37
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Cerise Apr 2, 2018

Cerise Meladone wrote:
I got a message from his wife, informing they had to quit France to reach Equador, because someone of their family died.

Well, it's entirely possible that that had actually happened, but I would think that even in that situation, it should have been possible for him to e-mail all currently open jobs' clients (i.e. you) to inform them of the situation. He should also at least have set an out-of-office reply on his e-mail (if his e-mail provider supports this). But perhaps he is so devastated by the loss that he is unable to act professionally.

Or, perhaps he thought that he could still complete the job (e.g. on the airplane) and misjudged whether that would be possible, and then had trouble getting an internet connection after he landed (I know from exprience that such snags can present themselves entirely unexpectedly).

I couldn't get any proposal more than "working for you for free for the amount due on a next project". ... Do you think I will be able to ask for some compensation ?

Well, he is offering to compensate you for an amount equal to the value of the current job, isn't he?

IANAL, but AFAIK, unless there is some deadline penalty written in the contract, then you (the client) only have the right to cancel the agreement/job (and by the way: you must actually give notice that you're cancelling it and not just assume that it's cancelled). If you want to claim for damages/loss, then the onus is on you to prove that you have actually suffered loss due to the missed deadline.

You say that you've lost a client, but legally speaking the end-client isn't "yours", and he is not required to make use of your services every time he has a translation job, so it'll be very difficult for you to prove that you've "lost" that client.


Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:37
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
@Cerise Apr 3, 2018

I agree with the mostly sound advice previously given by colleagues.

Even assuming there was a death in the translator's family, he ought to have notified you immediately (or at least within a day of having been informed of the death). It was irresponsible of him not to do so (again, assuming that the "death in the family" was not pure invention).

I definitely agree that not enough money is at stake here to involve lawyers and initiate a legal process. Dumb idea. (Sorry, but that is the truth. And not just because of cost, but because of the time and energy involved.)

As far as I can see, your own biggest mistake here was not taking steps to reassign the remainder of the project (or take care of it yourself) as soon as the translator stopped sending partial deliveries and did not respond to your attempts to contact him). This should have been a red flag! It sounds like there would have been time to salvage the project if you had taken action after not hearing from him for one day (or at most two days). Perhaps you could have arranged for an extended deadline with the end client, cleared your schedule to take care of all or part of the project yourself, found another collaborator, whatever). Instead, it sounds like you essentially sat on your hands and hoped that the translator would get back to you and finish the job. That did not exactly work out.

I personally would not think of paying the translator for the work completed, given the fact that his unprofessional behavior created a massive problem for you (including probably losing the client in question for good). The offer of a "credit for future work" is a sick joke - akin to a restaurant where you suffered near-fatal food poisoning giving you coupons for your next visit there!

The subcontractor is the person primarily at fault. At the same time, I think that you should learn from your own mistakes here in order to prevent such disasters in the future. In this regard, spelling out delivery arrangements and communication expectations (at least when, as here, you are working with someone whom you do not know!) would be a good idea. You could even make a collaborator sign an agreement that if he or she does not respond to an e-mail within 24 hours, you will consider this "project abandonment" and grounds for withholding payment and/or reassigning the project (of course you can and should be flexible with this if it seems that there has been a real emergency).

So learn from the experience - and move on.

[Edited at 2018-04-04 23:10 GMT]


Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:37
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Ecuador? Family problems? Why should you believe all that? Apr 4, 2018

Take any problem. Any one you can think of.

Go to a lawyer for help and advice.

When you come out of the lawyer's office, I guarantee that the problem:

- will be about 100 times more complicated than you thought
- will take much, much longer to resolve than you thought
- will cost you an unspecified, but very large amount of money
- will keep you awake at night for months, or possibly years, to come.


Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 04:37
German to Serbian
+ ...
I somehow doubt it. Apr 4, 2018

Cerise Meladone wrote:
Do you think I will be able to ask for some compensation ?

Depending on the due amount, your legal procedure costs may be higher than the amount. What do you know about this "person" that's a solid evidence of their identity?


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