Is it ethical?
Thread poster: Erwin S. Fernandez

Erwin S. Fernandez
Philippines
Local time: 01:14
Member (2014)
English to Pangasinan
+ ...
Aug 2, 2014

I recently accepted a translation job. The post said that there will be two documents to be translated. This agency took me in and sent the first document. When I inquired about the second, it said that they were waiting for it. I translated the document and submitted it and I still persisted on asking for the second one until I realized that there was nothing that was forthcoming since this second document is the same in content as the first document I translated. (The documents are diplomas.) My hunch is that instead of sending the second document, it decided to not submit it to me for translation because they will only rely on the translation I made.

My questions deal with ethics in business:

Is it proper for translation agencies to post jobs with inaccurate description so as to deceive?

Is it within the bounds of business decency for the agency to withhold from the translator the other document for the sake of increasing their profit?

If my allegation is correct that the second document had the same form and content as the first one with the differences only on particular details (i.e. name, name of institution), are translation agencies allowed to lie to the translator or withhold the second document to maximize income?

Or are translators not entitled for payment for the second document since the agency benefited from the knowledge of the translator from the first translated document?

What do you think?


 

Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 02:14
Japanese to English
+ ...
... Aug 2, 2014

The only thing that you are entitled to--and the only thing that an agency is required to do--is whatever was agreed to in the purchase order, or in email correspondence if there was no purchase order.

If the agency agreed to pay you for two documents, but then later decided unilaterally to only send you one (and thus only pay you for one), this is unacceptable and more than likely illegal.

If however there was no agreement in writing about concrete details such as total payment or number of words for the job, then there isn't much you can do about it now.

So it basically all depends on what you have in writing at this point.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:14
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
How many words (or how much text, if word count unspecified) did you agree to translate? Aug 2, 2014

Unless they have a specific contract, freelancers are only contracted to do the work actually delivered to them. If the client sends 1000 words and authorise you to do the work in full knowledge of your T&C, then they have to pay for 1000 words, even if they later realise that the first 500 are repeated (I personally would offer them a discount, but that's optional). Conversely, if they tell you to expect 1000 but only 500 materialise, then you are only guaranteed payment for 500.

So, whatever the agency said about a second, future document was no more than their intention, certainly not a contractual job offer. This is why freelance translators should NEVER agree to volume discounts from the first word of the first text received. Personally, I don't think volume discounts make the slightest sense in any situation, but if you agree to them then at least reserve the discount for the LAST file, or give a post-job refund, or let it kick in from the n,000th word translated.

If the truth behind this is exactly as you suspect then they certainly acted rather unethically by lying to you about the quantity available. But I can't see how you could ever prove it, and anyway you might well be mistaken. Perhaps their own client promised them two deliveries and then only delivered one, because the second proved unnecessary (whether because the end client did as you are suggesting or for some totally different reason).

In short, unless you can prove something then I think it would be best not to allege anything. Accept the fact that a job only becomes a job once it has landed on your desk or in your inbox.


 

DLyons  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 18:14
Spanish to English
+ ...
Agree. Aug 2, 2014

Orrin Cummins wrote:

So it basically all depends on what you have in writing at this point.


And it's not even clear that the agency did anything much wrong. They may have expected two documents, and their client realized that one would be enough, so only sent one. Or received two documents and discovered that one translation would suffice. You don't know what happened, so you seem to have weak grounds for suggesting unethicality.

Even if they had agreed to send you two, they would normally expect to re-negotiate with you and attempting that would be perfectly ethical and good business. After all, you would be doing only one piece of work.

But as Orrin says, it comes down to what's in writing.

And even if you can prove something, it's best not to allege anything, you'll get almost no return for endless effort. Just don't work for them again.

[Edited at 2014-08-02 14:19 GMT]


 

Manuela Ribecai  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 19:14
English to French
+ ...
I totally agree with Sheila Aug 2, 2014

Nothing to add.

Manuela


 

Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 02:14
Japanese to English
+ ...
... Aug 2, 2014

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Unless they have a specific contract, freelancers are only contracted to do the work actually delivered to them. If the client sends 1000 words and authorise you to do the work in full knowledge of your T&C, then they have to pay for 1000 words, even if they later realise that the first 500 are repeated (I personally would offer them a discount, but that's optional). Conversely, if they tell you to expect 1000 but only 500 materialise, then you are only guaranteed payment for 500.



In general, I agree with you. But what is to be said about the lost time that you had allotted to perform the other half of the work?

Let's say that you entered into an agreement (stated by a PO) to translate 50,000 words by a specific date for a certain sum of money. Before accepting the job, you obviously have to set aside future time to complete this amount of work. You may have to turn down other jobs just to make sure that you have enough time to complete these 50,000 words. So if the client cancels halfway through, you are not just out the money for those untranslated 25,000 words, but also the money that you could have made from other jobs that you refused due to the workload of this job.

If it was a client with which you've had a long, profitable relationship, renegotiating makes sense. Sometimes you have to take a loss to make a future profit in business. But for an agency to expect you to do so as some kind of God-given right is totally wrong in my opinion. The agency should have checked things on their end before entering into any kind of agreement, however loosely bound. To ask the translator to bear the inconvenience wrought by the client's ineptitude does not seem like an ethical business practice to me.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:14
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Simple - in theory only, of course ;) Aug 2, 2014

Orrin Cummins wrote:
what is to be said about the lost time that you had allotted to perform the other half of the work?

Let's say that you entered into an agreement (stated by a PO) to translate 50,000 words by a specific date for a certain sum of money. Before accepting the job, you obviously have to set aside future time to complete this amount of work. You may have to turn down other jobs just to make sure that you have enough time to complete these 50,000 words. So if the client cancels halfway through, you are not just out the money for those untranslated 25,000 words, but also the money that you could have made from other jobs that you refused due to the workload of this job.

If it was a client with which you've had a long, profitable relationship, renegotiating makes sense. Sometimes you have to take a loss to make a future profit in business. But for an agency to expect you to do so as some kind of God-given right is totally wrong in my opinion. The agency should have checked things on their end before entering into any kind of agreement, however loosely bound. To ask the translator to bear the inconvenience wrought by the client's ineptitude does not seem like an ethical business practice to me.

Nobody has ever issued me with a PO for work that I hadn't already received, but if I did receive one then I'd most certainly query it and make sure they confirm in writing that there was to be at least part compensation for any lesser amount of work. Of course, I do have clients who say they've got a big job for me, but with only a part of it available at present. If each part of it is going to be urgent then they'll normally have to pay my urgent rate for each part. Otherwise they'll get my best delivery date and time. If it's a valued client then I'll do everything possible to deliver asap. But I would never book my day solidly with jobs that haven't arrived yet, unless there's a contract in place to say I'll be paid compensation. - that would be suicidal.

Why do so many people here (people in general - I'm not targeting you here, Orrin, nor the OPicon_wink.gif) see the life of freelancers as a one-way street: they receive orders (orders rather than requests, in their view) for work; they accept 100% the terms and conditions they're presented with, never even querying them; they do their best to do everything the client orders; then they scream and stamp when the client doesn't "play fair".

AFAIC, a PO is nothing more than a request for work until I've accepted it, and I only accept what I consider fair. Maybe it sounds as though I'm difficult to work with, but my regular clients don't seem to have any problems with fairness.


 

Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 02:14
Japanese to English
+ ...
An excellent question Aug 2, 2014

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Why do so many people here (people in general - I'm not targeting you here, Orrin, nor the OPicon_wink.gif) see the life of freelancers as a one-way street: they receive orders (orders rather than requests, in their view) for work; they accept 100% the terms and conditions they're presented with, never even querying them; they do their best to do everything the client orders; then they scream and stamp when the client doesn't "play fair".


Honestly, as the service providers we should be the ones dishing out Terms of Service, not the client. When you go to the mechanic, do you bring a sheet of conditions that he has to accept to work on your car? No, I don't think so. An on a side note, you don't get your car back until you pay in full, usually--another difference from the translation world.

But why am I comparing this industry to other ones run on logic and business sense. It's like comparing apples and neutron stars.

At any rate, my recommendation to avoid situations like this in the first place is to not accept a job until you have all files downloaded on your computer and have reviewed them sufficiently. This also helps in other ways, like avoiding getting backstabbed with some PEMT, encountering problems with file formats or corrupted data, etc.


 

Thayenga  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:14
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
Good advice Aug 3, 2014

DLyons wrote:

Orrin Cummins wrote:

So it basically all depends on what you have in writing at this point.


And it's not even clear that the agency did anything much wrong. They may have expected two documents, and their client realized that one would be enough, so only sent one. Or received two documents and discovered that one translation would suffice. You don't know what happened, so you seem to have weak grounds for suggesting unethicality.

Even if they had agreed to send you two, they would normally expect to re-negotiate with you and attempting that would be perfectly ethical and good business. After all, you would be doing only one piece of work.

But as Orrin says, it comes down to what's in writing.

And even if you can prove something, it's best not to allege anything, you'll get almost no return for endless effort. Just don't work for them again.

[Edited at 2014-08-02 14:19 GMT]


I agree with what Sheila has said, and also with DLyons.

It is never a smart decision to reserve working hours for a project that has not yet materialized, e. g. has been downloaded on your computer, reviewed by you and with the client's agreement to all the terms.


 

jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:14
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Theoretically your time for the 2nd diploma was reserved but not used, Aug 3, 2014

and you might have rejected other offers because your time has been booked. However, if you look at it from another angle, you will understand this is not even worth thinking about. We all know each diploma takes about 10 minutes to finish. Even if the second diploma didn't come in, are you sure another client would have given you another job to fill in the 10 minutes? I doubt it.

So this "loss" can be ignored. If you insist on it your client will think you are not honest in business operation, or you haggle over every penny. To bring this small thing as an issue to the client will only give him bad impressions about you, hence it is not worth arguing about it..

If a contacted large project was cancelled midway, it is another issue.


 


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