Guru - Ethical Policies, Fairness and Integrity
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Guru has a big advantage when it comes to new project policy enforcement: since it screens and approves projects prior to them being posted, it can theoretically enforce near 100% compliance with its rules. The site isn’t perfect here, as sometimes invalid projects do slip through the cracks, something that bothers Guru freelancers. In my experience the company is much better about this now than it has in the past. Guru responds pretty quickly to problem project reports, and there are few illegal projects active on the site right now.
Aside from this, there really aren’t any other ethical policies that the company spells out, so there isn’t much else to enforce. Of course users are expected to follow the usual conduct requirements (ensuring legal behavior and following the site’s terms of service), but that’s rarely much of an issue.
I don’t have any general concerns about Guru’s corporate integrity, nor am I aware of any widespread issues in this regard among the community. I do have a couple of specific complaints, though.
My biggest criticism is one I have touched on elsewhere: I think Guru is doing a disservice to its freelancers by forcing them to use a service called “SafePay” that really isn’t safe. I think it is flatly deceptive to tell a contractor that it is okay to start work on a project because money has been escrowed, when that money is actually a check that hasn’t cleared, and the company refuses to cover the amount of the check if it bounces. If Guru is going to force the contractor to take on the risk of a check not clearing on a project, then the company should very clearly tell the contractor that escrow has not yet been funded, and that work should not begin until it has. The same applies to chargebacks on credit cards. The fact that Guru actually charges an extra 2% fee for escrow and yet comes after the contractor for bounced payments is very hard to justify.
I think a valid argument can also be made that Guru’s mediation and arbitration service isn’t as well balanced as it could be. The decision to put the onus of proof on contractors to prove that they have completed work and deserve payment—as opposed to putting the burden on clients, or taking a neutral stance—clearly favors clients. Even more problematic is the fact that absent a clear project agreement, arbitrators will judge the project’s requirements, such as schedule and quality, based on what the client specifies. The potential for abuse here is high, and Guru should know that a large percentage of projects do not have formal project agreements. Guru also doesn’t provide a default project agreement, increasing the likelihood that contractors will work without such a document, later compromising their chances of receiving payment if a problem arises.
Many freelancers take issue with Guru’s decision to put the entire financial burden of operating the site on their shoulders: contractor fees are very high, while clients pay absolutely nothing. There are many freelancers who feel that employers should be required to pay at least a nominal fee in order to post a project.
While I’m sympathetic to the cost concerns here, having been an active freelancer myself, I don’t find this argument convincing. The idea behind making a site like Guru free for clients is to encourage them to post more projects, which in turn increases the potential for contractors to make money. Since Guru already screens projects, there’s no need for a refundable client project fee to prevent chaff listings, and imposing a non-refundable fee will just encourage clients to go to other sites that don’t have them. While making clients pay for projects might allow Guru to ever-so-slightly reduce its contractor fees, I don’t think this small benefit would be worth the cost of decreasing the number of projects listed.
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