Can an agency change its work order (and the amount paid) after I've delivered?
Thread poster: Thomas Johansson

Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 16:37
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
+ ...
Feb 8, 2014

A question about work orders in the US:

About two weeks ago, I received a work order from a US translation agency, for a 25,000 word project, applying a flat rate (X) per word and a 2-week time frame to complete the project.
I did the job, dedicating the 2 full weeks to the project (not accepting any other projects from other clients meanwhile), and delivered on the indicated delivery date. One day after delivery, they tell me that there has been a mistake - they had forgotten (due to a supposed system error) to apply their Trados discounts on repetitions and matches in the initial work order. So, they send me a new, modified work order, where the total amount now is only approx. 25% of the value of the initial work order.

My question is:

Can they legally (ethically, professionally?) change the work order and the amount once I've delivered my work in accordance with the initial work order?

Some context (which is perhaps not relevant but anyway...):
- It was not the first project I had received from this agency. A few month ago, they sent me a similar project, also paying a flat rate per word (X). (They now claim that this amount also was a mistake.)
- Even before that, I had done 1-2 more projects for them; at that time, they did indeed apply Trados discounts to calculate the compensation.
- The project contained a large number of repetitions, matches and fuzzies. This is the reason the amount of the modified work order is only about 25% of the initial work order (at 10% for repetitions and 0% for 100% matches).
- When I received the initial work order, of course I noticed the large number of repetitions/matches etc. as well as the flat word rate applied to generate the total amount of compensation. My interpretation of this was that they wanted me to do a careful, high-quality, responsible processing of the entire document.
- The amount of the initial invoice is not at all unreasonable for a 2-week project, even considering the large amount of repetitions and matches. There are several quality-minded agencies out there applying flat word rates, even for large projects.
- I dedicated the 2 full weeks to the project, to make sure that the work I put into the project would be in fair agreement with the amount offered according to the initial work order. (This work included careful revision of large portions of the repetitions and matches, terminology research etc.)
- In order to handle the project in a professionally responsible way, I rejected other requests coming in from other clients (thus losing those income opportunities). I did this in the belief that the client expected me to spend 2 full weeks to complete the project (considering the 25,000 word count, the high amount of compensation offered in the initial invoice and the 2-week time frame offered).
- The amount of the new, modified work wouldn't justify 2 weeks of full-time work, but more something like 3-4 days of work. Also, the project would only be possible to complete in such a time frame by essentially ignoring all repetitions and 100% matches and putting much less time into terminological research, style, revision etc. than I've done.
- The consequence of the new work order, if successfully imposed on me, would be that I essentially fail to achieve my income needs/goals for this period. (This is what bothers me most, especially since I rejected other job opportunities in order to do justice to the compensation offered in the initial work order. If I had known they were only going to pay for 3-4 days of work, I would have accepted other projects and been able to meet my income needs/goals).
- The agency apparently has made a mistake somewhere. They state that they apply Trados discounts when quoting clients and that they therefore also apply the same Trados rates to translators.

Well, I guess these are the main aspects.

Thomas

[Edited at 2014-02-08 02:15 GMT]


 

Triston Goodwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:37
Spanish to English
+ ...
That work order... Feb 8, 2014

If you have a work order (or PO) stating the original amount to be paid, and then they come back with a different amount, than that is not acceptable and they should pay the full amount. I wouldn't accept anything less than what was originally agreed on, especially since you have it in writing.

 

Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 06:37
Japanese to English
+ ...
Nope Feb 8, 2014

They screwed up, they take the hit. You did everything you were supposed to do. Demand the amount on the original P.O., and if they refuse to pay threaten to initiate legal action.

 

Vanda Nissen  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 07:37
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
This was not a mistake. Feb 8, 2014

I can say one thing for sure, it was definitely not a mistake. We are all humans, and things happen. It is possible that PM made a mistake issuing PO without Trados discounts but s/he had plenty of time, 2 weeks, to approach you with this problem and negotiate rates prior final delivery. But they waited until they received the file, checked the quality and then reissued PO. It is really unacceptable.

 

Kuochoe Nikoi  Identity Verified
Ghana
Local time: 21:37
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
Fraudsters Feb 8, 2014

But they waited until they received the file, checked the quality and then reissued PO. It is really unacceptable.

This is really the issue here. If they had spotted the mistake even after a day or two and approached you about it, then maybe we could call it a genuine mistake. But waiting until the project is finished and submitted to unilaterally change the terms is completely unacceptable. Stick to your original PO and demand full payment. You're 100% in the right here, so don't be afraid to initiate legal action.


 

Tim Friese  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:37
Member (2013)
Arabic to English
+ ...
I am not a lawyer Feb 8, 2014

I am not a lawyer, but I suspect you would have a very easy time in court. They put one number in writing first, and you even have a precedent of other POs under the same terms.

Tell them that you expect all your money; let them know that Blueboard feedback and a trip to court will follow non-payment.


 

Daryo
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:37
Serbian to English
+ ...
legally not, practically ... it's another matter Feb 9, 2014

The fact they changed the PO just after receiving the finished translation is not going to look good in any court.

You could theoretically take them to court, but them being in another country it's not so simple, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were banking on that from the beginning.

Did they ever send you a proper contract, or their general terms and conditions? Any reference in the PO as to which courts are competent in case of dispute?

Reminds me strangely of an "international agency" that lost any interest when I told them in no uncertain terms that I would only work after receiving a PO from their London based branch (I live in London) specifying explicitly that the UK branch has the obligation to pay me and that only UK laws and courts would be relevant. Chasing a bad payer from your own town is bad enough, chasing a bad faith payer from another continent can be quite hard work.


 

Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 16:37
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Yes, there is a written Agreement Feb 9, 2014

Daryo wrote:

The fact they changed the PO just after receiving the finished translation is not going to look good in any court.

You could theoretically take them to court, but them being in another country it's not so simple, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were banking on that from the beginning.

Did they ever send you a proper contract, or their general terms and conditions? Any reference in the PO as to which courts are competent in case of dispute?

Reminds me strangely of an "international agency" that lost any interest when I told them in no uncertain terms that I would only work after receiving a PO from their London based branch (I live in London) specifying explicitly that the UK branch has the obligation to pay me and that only UK laws and courts would be relevant. Chasing a bad payer from your own town is bad enough, chasing a bad faith payer from another continent can be quite hard work.


Hello Daryo,

Thank you for your feedback. Yes, we have a written International Contractor Agreement set up as of October 1, 2013. It states the following towards the end:

"This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance w¡th the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, United States of Amer¡ca."

It also states, under the section "Compensation, fees, and expenses", the following:

"Compensation for the work is specified ¡n the Work Order(s), and will be pa¡d by [the translation agency] 30 days after rece¡pt of the ¡nvoice from Contractor for work completed under the Work order."

Also, the Work Order itself contains the following line:

"The prices stated in this Work Order represent the full amount of compensation agreed to between the parties."

Thomas


 

Steve Kerry  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:37
German to English
Discounts Feb 9, 2014

Any discounts are to be negotiated at the time of ordering, not at the time of invoicing! You are completely in the right and they are completely in the wrong. Insist on the full amount and not a penny less.

Steve K.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:37
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
They probably didn't look at the PO during the intervening period Feb 10, 2014

Vanda Nissen wrote:
It is possible that PM made a mistake issuing PO without Trados discounts but s/he had plenty of time, 2 weeks, to approach you with this problem and negotiate rates prior final delivery. But they waited until they received the file, checked the quality and then reissued PO. It is really unacceptable.

I'm pretty sure it was a genuine mistake on the part of some poor PM, who is probably in the dungeons now, being flogged. Why would they review the PO between issuing it and receiving the work? They had no reason to suspect that it was wrong. But s/he who makes a mistake, pays for that mistake. There's no question of offloading the problem onto anyone else.

But I have to say that it could be seen as less than 100% professional that this error wasn't highlighted by the translator at the outset. Had it been a new client, then it would have been perfectly reasonable to simply accept it; but this client had previously applied Trados-style discounts. I think it would have been only fair to have queried the rate as soon as it became clear just how many repetitions/100% matches there were. So while I don't believe they have the right to demand anything in terms of a reduction, and I'd simply refuse their revised PO, maybe it would be advisable for the translator to make a business offer of some sort. Maybe a percentage discount off the total job (but nowhere near the reduction they're demanding)?

Legally, I think you're 100% in the right on this, Thomas; ethically, IMHO, you maybe ought to be a little understanding.


 

Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 16:37
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
good points, Sheila Feb 10, 2014

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Vanda Nissen wrote:
It is possible that PM made a mistake issuing PO without Trados discounts but s/he had plenty of time, 2 weeks, to approach you with this problem and negotiate rates prior final delivery. But they waited until they received the file, checked the quality and then reissued PO. It is really unacceptable.

I'm pretty sure it was a genuine mistake on the part of some poor PM, who is probably in the dungeons now, being flogged. Why would they review the PO between issuing it and receiving the work? They had no reason to suspect that it was wrong. But s/he who makes a mistake, pays for that mistake. There's no question of offloading the problem onto anyone else.


Thank you, Sheila. I think you are correct on all counts. It's very unlikely this is a fraudulent company - it wouldn't fit well with the general reputation and nature of the company. (Although there are a few details that are a source of concern in this respect.) Also, I forgot to mention that they informed me of the supposed mistake after I had sent them the invoice. So, it was perhaps not until reviewing my invoice that the PM discovered the supposed mistake.

Also, as I was just now preparing my general, integral multifaceted strategy for the upcoming battle..., I stumbled upon the PMs LinkedIn profile and discovered she is just a very young person. She only graduated from university about 6 months ago and then joined the company. This changes a lot. Mistakes can easily happen and I have no intention to damage the carreer of a young person, and I will therefore keep a somewhat softer approach than I thought until a couple of hours ago.

In any event, it is a source of frustration and disappointment that the company, so far, hasn't showed any inclination to accept responsibility for the mistake or any willingness to compensate me for my would-be lost work.

But I have to say that it could be seen as less than 100% professional that this error wasn't highlighted by the translator at the outset. Had it been a new client, then it would have been perfectly reasonable to simply accept it; but this client had previously applied Trados-style discounts. I think it would have been only fair to have queried the rate as soon as it became clear just how many repetitions/100% matches there were.


Well, sort of. If I had suspected there might be an error, of course I should have (and would have) let them know. There's nothing to gain in having dissatisfied clients.

But at the time, it really didn't cross my mind there might be an error. (I mean, the PM should have had the details in front of her before sending off the PO, and the last PO - for a project I did back in November - used the same pricing method, i.e. a flat rate per word. Also, they sent the project, of 25,000 words, 2 weeks before the deadline, which I took as an indication that it was supposed to be a 2-week job.)

Instead, I thought something more like this:
"Great! The agency and their end client (a big, reputable company) appreciate my work. The end client is about to launch new high-quality products in the Swedish market and want to back it up with high-quality user manuals. And they want to pay a fair price to get this done well and thoroughly without being stingy about a few cents here or there."

Now, afterwards, of course I realize that I was naïve. Next time something like this happens, I will be wiser.

So while I don't believe they have the right to demand anything in terms of a reduction, and I'd simply refuse their revised PO, maybe it would be advisable for the translator to make a business offer of some sort. Maybe a percentage discount off the total job (but nowhere near the reduction they're demanding)?

Legally, I think you're 100% in the right on this, Thomas; ethically, IMHO, you maybe ought to be a little understanding.


[Edited at 2014-02-11 01:49 GMT]


 

Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 16:37
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Solved! Feb 11, 2014

The world is good. (Or at least this agency.) Now, who would have believed this? This morning they informed me that they acknowledge that the error was due to internal issues and confirmed that they would pay the full and original work order amount. And only a few moments ago, their accounting department has informed me that the full amount has just now been paid. Almost 4 weeks early. Completely above my expectations. Completely.

Thank you for your comments and feedback, everyone.


 

Yolanda Broad  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:37
Member (2000)
French to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
Glad it worked out Feb 12, 2014

Now, please tell the Blue Board, so others can know that this agency plays fair. icon_smile.gif

 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 23:37
English to Polish
+ ...
Wow Feb 13, 2014

I'm glad to hear they took the loss. It was classy of them to bear the costs of an internal mistake.

I'd like to add that some jobs aren't worth taking with a CAT grid (any at all or a specific one), and CAT grids should definitely NOT be sent in after agreeing on the base rate and confirming it. One may naturally see partial repetitions, similarities and 'what constitutes a word' as fairness issues, but the sum total also is.


 


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