Elance - Dispute Resolution and Arbitration
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Most Elance projects go smoothly, and of the ones where problems arise, most of those are resolved amicably. But sometimes you may find yourself in an argument with a client that you just can’t get past, either due to a disagreement about the scope or type of work, or simply because the client is unreasonable. In the worst case you may end up with a client who refuses to pay for work completed, or won’t agree to release escrow.
It is in this situation that the parties generally look to the freelancing site itself to help settle the dispute. Elance provides a three-tiered dispute handling system, starting with member-based dispute resolution, proceeding to Elance-mediated dispute assistance, and finally, if necessary, an arbitration process.
Unfortunately, this is one area where, in this author’s opinion, Elance does not really make the grade. It’s certainly not the worst site in this regard; there are some that pretty much tell you up front that you’re on your own if a problem arises. However, given Elance’s size, how much it charges in fees, and its desire to portray itself as a leader in the industry, the company could and should do a whole lot more—especially for freelancers.
The first step in Elance’s dispute resolution process is called Member Resolution. You initiate this by pressing the “File a Dispute Notice” button from within the project workroom. After filling out the pertinent details, the notice is sent to the client, who responds; you can then respond back again, going back and forth to try to negotiate your way through the problem.
Frankly, Elance is being rather generous in even really calling this part of the dispute resolution process at all. The company isn’t actually doing anything, and one could argue that this is not much different than the client and contractor simply arguing about the project right within the workroom message center.
It is possible that in a case where communication has broken down, sending a dispute notice to a client might be enough to get them to “wake up”. I have heard providers claim that in situations where a client was not responding to queries or to requests to release funds, filing a notice was enough to get their attention. But the reality is that most clients and contractors don’t get to the point of needing to file a dispute until they are already in substantial disagreement, and in that case, having them send dispute notices back and forth is unlikely to resolve anything.
If member-based resolution doesn’t work, either party can request Elance Dispute Assistance. However, this option is only available for fixed price escrow jobs, or hourly jobs where full use of Work View has been enabled (including screenshots.) If you’re working a fixed price project without escrow, or hourly without Work View, you have no recourse at all—you’re basically powerless if the client decides not to pay.
On a fixed price project, dispute assistance basically consists of an Elance mediator attempting to work together with the parties to come up with a mutually agreeable solution. According to Elance’s own documentation, “Elance will facilitate the call with the goal to resolve the dispute. Elance will not make a determination or assess blame.” I have not personally had the experience of using this process, but based on figures I’ve seen on other sites, it probably does stop quite a few cases from going to arbitration. If nothing else, in cases where one side or the other is clearly at fault, having someone point out that they are likely to lose arbitration may be enough to convince the at-fault party to concede.
For hourly projects, Elance takes a more active role in dispute assistance. The difference is likely because hourly projects with WorkView have more information available to help in making a determination. An Elance representative will review pertinent information, including work room communication, logged time and screenshots, and decide whether billed time should be accepted or rejected.
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