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Agency failure to pay (USA)
Thread poster: sonjaswenson (X)

sonjaswenson (X)  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:07
Spanish to English
+ ...
Feb 7, 2011

I am having a bit of a problem with an agency (in the US) owing money and am not quite sure how to go about getting them to pay me for my work.

I began working for them in October, and just did a small translation, about $80. They told me they paid two months after the job was done, which was a longer waiting period than most agencies, but I felt that as long as they managed to pay on time, it was acceptable.

In November I also did a few translation and interpreting assignments, which added up to about $500 of work.

In late December, I asked about payment for the job from October, and was given several evasive responses. The people who make the scheduling and answer the phone said they had no role in payment, which was the responsibility of the agency owner (whom I have never spoken to).

By late December, I had done more work for this agency. I continued to accept assignments (perhaps stupidly) because they kept telling me that the check was on its way. A few weeks ago, they informed me, with no prompting, that a check had been sent out for October and November's assignments. It has now been two weeks, and I have twice called to verify the address they mailed it to, both times it was the right address. Nothing has come in the mail.

They probably also owe me about $500 for December and January.

To make things even more ridiculous, they recently asked me to translate a rather large document for a company that refuses, for confidentiality, to email documents. Therefore, they sent the only hard copy they have through regular mail, and it arrived within two days. I have not yet begun working on it, as they are now extremely late with payments.

I would like to inform them that I have the hard copy for that translation, but will not do anything on it or send it back until I receive all back payments. But I am not sure if the agency would be able to then turn around and take legal action for my "holding it hostage". Short of refusing to accept any more employment with them and cutting my losses, what can I do to ensure that I am paid for what they owe me?

Prior to working with this agency, another agency owner warned me about this, but since he was a direct comeptitor of theirs, I took it with a grain of salt. Now several colleagues have informed me of similar situations, and having to threaten legal action in order to get paid. Others say they will work for the agency in question only if they are paid up front, immediately, and some say they have simply gone in person to the office to demand payment (this is sucessful, I guess).

Does anyone have any ideas as to how I should go about ensuring I am paid for my work without having to get really nasty or make a reputation for myself as a diva or someone very diffcult?


 

Jean Lachaud  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:07
English to French
+ ...
Small claims court Feb 7, 2011

Depending on the state where you live, you may sue the agency in Small Claims COurt (or whatever it is called in your state).
And don't accept any work until you have received payment, of course.
This being said, mail has been late these past few weeks in the Northeast, most likely because of the weather.


 

Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:07
German to English
Return the document, demand payment Feb 7, 2011

Sonja Swenson wrote:

I am having a bit of a problem with an agency (in the US) owing money and am not quite sure how to go about getting them to pay me for my work.

I began working for them in October, and just did a small translation, about $80. They told me they paid two months after the job was done, which was a longer waiting period than most agencies, but I felt that as long as they managed to pay on time, it was acceptable.

In November I also did a few translation and interpreting assignments, which added up to about $500 of work.

In late December, I asked about payment for the job from October, and was given several evasive responses. The people who make the scheduling and answer the phone said they had no role in payment, which was the responsibility of the agency owner (whom I have never spoken to).
[snip]

they recently asked me to translate a rather large document

[snip]

Does anyone have any ideas as to how I should go about ensuring I am paid for my work without having to get really nasty or make a reputation for myself as a diva or someone very diffcult?


Unfortunately you let the situation get out of control. By December (or earlier) it was obvious that you had a deadbeat client. Unless it is an established client, there's no reason to continue to take work from a non-payer (I have a client that delayed payment a few years back due to a natural catastrophe that flooded almost their entire city. Even their off-site backups were destroyed. They rewarded my patience with steady work after that, but this is an exceptional case, I think).

You have a moral obligation to return the hardcopy document to the agency. Blackmail doesn't work. You have every right to be paid for the work you have performed. If they are listed on the Blueboard, describe your experience with them.

Some lessons are learned the hard way, I think.


 

Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:07
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
This agency is playing games with you...so think about playing the player.... Feb 7, 2011

Say and do nothing now, complete the translation of the hard document that has been mailed to you and, once you have completed it, demand the following before you deliver the translation to them.:

1.
Immediate receipt of all past-due payments.

2.
A notarized statement from the agency reaffirming that you will be paid within 30 days (or 45 days, or whatever the contractual term originally was) for the work that you will turn in upon receipt of payment for the previous work.

You might also want to wait until the check is cleared before turning in the latest project.

Be prepared for whining, indignation, and even threats, but stand your ground. You should also not count on working for this agency again. Good riddance. And consider it a lesson learned. You ought to have put your foot down about this a long time ago.

[Edited at 2011-02-07 19:54 GMT]


 

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 04:07
English to Portuguese
+ ...
A translator is not a financial institution Feb 7, 2011

Robert Forstag wrote:
Say and do nothing now, complete the translation of the hard document that has been mailed to you and, once you have completed it, demand the following before you deliver the translation to them.:

1.
Immediate receipt of all past-due payments.


Perfect! Wouldn't your utility company suspend your services if you had outstanding bills for so long?

Robert Forstag wrote:
2.
A notarized statement from the agency reaffirming that you will be paid within 30 days (or 45 days, or whatever the contractual term originally was) for the work that you will turn in upon receipt of payment for the previous work.


Now I wonder if you should expect that much to be paid. Any doctor, dentist, plumber, mechanic, electrician or whatever personal service provider gets paid COD. Why are translators different?

The moment you tell any client - direct or agency - that they can pay you later, you are de facto lending them money at zero interest rate. Regardless of interest, you are granting them credit. If this agency has given you enough evidence so far that they are not worthy of any credit whatsoever, IMHO you should demand to be paid COD. Yet don't rely on PayPal, as transactions there may be reversed within 60 days. After you have cashed a check from them, or received via Western Union or Moneygram, you will promptly send them your translation. If the end-client is as picky not to e-mail documents, they'll probably be demanding with the services they get.

We - translators - need time to do the job. Likewise, some agencies also may need time to check the work, let their end-client check it too, get paid, and make payment. However two weeks is more than enough time for the translator to get full payment for their work. Anything beyond that is tantamount to lending money at zero interest.


 

Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:07
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
@Jose Feb 8, 2011

I don't have a problem with what you suggest. That would just be taking things a step further than I personally would be comfortable with. But it would be defensible, given the poor record of the agency that Sonja is dealing with.

 

Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:07
Member
French to English
+ ...
Turn the tables Feb 8, 2011

When they ask for the latest document to be returned, tell them matter-of-factly that you have a secretary who deals with postage/correspondence for you, so you have no role in that. And make sure (s)he is permanently unavailable to speak to them on the phone. Or you could say you've returned it, and then when they complain that it hasn't arrived, you could tell them it must have disappeared into the same postal black hole that swallowed up your cheque...

But seriously, though... isn't it interesting that the work they posted to you arrived promptly, but the cheque didn't? In any case, I wouldn't worry about being seen as nasty or a diva; if forced to choose, I'd rather be a rich diva than a poor doormat! Besides, there's nothing nasty about insisting on receiving what is rightly yours, is there? The merest suggestion of legal action can sometimes work wonders with payment-shy clients.

One final point: sometimes, just sometimes, evasive-sounding replies can actually be genuine. A few weeks ago, I contacted an agency for which I had done a very small job almost three months previously (it was my first job for them) to remind them that payment was well overdue. First I received a reply saying that they would ask the finance department to deal with it, and then when I sent a second reminder a week later, I was told that the lady who dealt with payments was now off sick. Yeah, right, I thought... but three days later, the money was in my bank account! In your case, though, it seems the latest job they sent you must have overtaken the elusive cheque in the post, so personally I wouldn't "bank" on receiving the latter now.


 

Germaine  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 02:07
English to French
+ ...
Since you have the hard copy... Feb 8, 2011

you should have the client's name. This time, put both names on your invoice: agency and client. And tell the Agency that since you're not Household Finance, you will send the invoice to the client if payment has not been received by (that date). Since you're at it, ask for these overdues as well (after all, this might very well be your last and only payment!).

 

Theo Bernards (X)  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:07
English to Dutch
+ ...
I have seen many sound hints and tips, Feb 8, 2011

But isn't the obvious way to go here to approach a debt collector? Find one that works on a "no cure no pay" basis, give them all the ammunition they need (Purchase orders, emails, invoices and reminders) and leave it in their trusted hands.

I read about a trick (on Proz, actually) that will effectively cost you the revenue, but could land the agency in a ton of trouble: formally write off the payment and advise the agency of such. Subsequently inform the IRS that the agency has not paid you, that you have written off that payment and that the agency has therefore earned revenue that is most likely not booked as revenue. If I understand the IRS correctly, this could trigger an investigation into the agency and an audit of the books may very well be the result. I have never heard of a company that has nothing to hide, so they would be pretty much in the proverbial. After all, the books don't lie, even if the tax return is economical with the truth.

Mind you, if you take this road you can kiss the agency good-bye, even if they survive such an audit, because they will never approach you again


 

ozan karakış
Turkey
Local time: 09:07
English to Turkish
+ ...
IRS Feb 8, 2011

Some time ago a fellow translator suggested and to a very similar company I wrote "....I will contact your local revenue agency unless you pay.........".

 

Arve-Olav Solumsmo  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 08:07
Member (2008)
English to Norwegian
+ ...
Intellectual property (general opinion) Feb 9, 2011

The translations are your intellectual property, and that gives you some rights. I have seen this discussion many times in many ways, and I think we need to stand together in one common stance: You cannot NOT pay and STILL USE the translation.
I think that holds for all contexts - whether the non-payment is for poor translation or the agency is fraudulent - you can not use something you have not paid for. Partial payment, fine, but NO PAYMENT - NO USE should be our slogan.
To your particular problem: Threaten the agency that you will approach THEIR CUSTOMERS if you are not paid - they are using a text which is your intellectual property and which has not been paid for. As for getting a reputation - you will receive a cold shoulder from an agency that does not pay you for your work. What's the downside in that?


 

Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:07
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Re Theo's suggestion Feb 9, 2011

Theo Bernards wrote:

Mind you, if you take this road you can kiss the agency good-bye, even if they survive such an audit, because they will never approach you again

****

Not only would actually doing this terminate any future relationship with the agency, but so would even suggesting that you might do it.

Still, not a bad tactic if less aggressive approaches have been attempted without success, and in order to avoid the hassle and expense of a collection agency.

[Edited at 2011-02-09 20:23 GMT]


 

Kuochoe Nikoi  Identity Verified
Ghana
Local time: 06:07
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
Good riddance Feb 9, 2011

Any agency that will cheat you over $500 is not an agency worth keeping. I vote for less aggressive methods to begin with, but do what you have to do to get your money. If it makes them think twice before cheating the next translator, then you've done us all a huge favour.

 

sonjaswenson (X)  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:07
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
IRS Feb 9, 2011

Wow, thank you everyone for the help!

I called the agency again today (actually they only answered my numerous messages today) and explained that I needed to be paid ASAP and would not be doing the translation as a result of their poor credit and poor track record. I told them that as a professional I will not accept evasive answers and that I wanted to speak to the person in charge of payroll immediately. I was met with a belligerent and screaming response from the woman who mans the phone, who claimed it was not her fault and that she had no control over anything
I demanded to speak to the owner and she insisted he can only be reached through email or voicemail and that none of this is her problem as she is merely the messenger.

I told her to pass on the message that I would be contacting the IRS next week if I did not receive a phone call from the mysterious owner himself by tomorrow morning, and a check by Tuesday in my mailbox.

So does anyone happen to know who to contact in the state of Illinois?


 

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 04:07
English to Portuguese
+ ...
IRS Feb 9, 2011

Sonja Swenson wrote:
I told her to pass on the message that I would be contacting the IRS next week if I did not receive a phone call from the mysterious owner himself by tomorrow morning, and a check by Tuesday in my mailbox.

So does anyone happen to know who to contact in the state of Illinois?


It doesn't work that way.

Read http://www.stevensricci.com/irs_advantage.html to understand how it works, however don't actually use it! Then, tell those people that since you have reached the conclusion that you won't get paid, you are willing to kiss your dollars goodbye, however not without leaving a wide trail of damages behind.

Convince them that if you convert what they owe you into their profit, and for sure they haven't paid income tax on it as such, IRS will pay them a visit to collect that and audit ALL their books and check how much tax-free 'profit' of this kind they've made so far.

Give them 48 hours to get you paid, or they'll be inviting IRS auditors to check their tax accounting. Even if they are in the clear (no longer, after you've given your cash to them for their profit), it should be a naughty hassle.

I've used this twice, and both paid me on the next day.


 
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Agency failure to pay (USA)

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