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Oct 11, 2016
Facts about Disputes

UPDATED 12/21/20


The majority of jobs on Upwork end in a positive outcome, however, disagreements and disputes may occur from time to time.  Our Dispute Assistance program along with our highly skilled and dedicated team is designed to help users navigate through the issue and guide things to an agreeable outcome.  Not only are we focused on working through the issue with the Client and Freelancer, but future success for both parties is just as important -  even if there are bumps along the way.  


Regular communication between clients and freelancers usually helps prevent or resolve any disagreements before they turn into a dispute.  However, if you do find yourself in a dispute it’s important to understand the process thoroughly and our hope is that this article provides clarity and assurance that we are here to help. 


Upwork provides both Dispute Assistance and Mediation Assistance on both Hourly and Fixed Price jobs. 


So, what is the difference? 


Dispute Assistance

A dispute is filed by the user on the platform from the contract page and Upwork provides Dispute Assistance.  For hourly jobs, this means the Client is disputing the hours billed by the freelancer the prior week.  On Fixed Price, this means the Client or Freelancer is disputing the funds that are still held in Escrow. 


Mediation Assistance 

A mediation is when there is no option to submit a dispute from the contract page, and instead either the Client or Freelancer can request mediation via a Support ticket.  For example, if a Client has an issue on an hourly job that extends past the hours billed the week prior, they can contact Support to request Mediation Assistance.  On a Fixed Price job where there are no funds currently held in Escrow, but the Client releases funds to a Freelancer, they can request Mediation Assistance as long as the payment was released within the past 30 calendar days.  


Disputes on Hourly Jobs

If a client does not agree with the hours billed the previous week by their freelancer, the client has the opportunity to file a dispute on the platform. The client may only dispute the validity of the hours billed and not the quality of the work through Upwork’s dispute process. For example, if the client notices screenshots that are not relevant to the assignment or sees low activity levels in the Work Diary, they can dispute those hours.


In order to qualify for  Upwork Hourly Protection, freelancers should be logging their time using the Upwork Desktop App. By doing so, and following the Upwork Hourly Protection criteria, a freelancer is taking all of the necessary steps to have their payments covered.


Dispute Assistance and Mediation Assistance only apply to funds paid through Escrow.  Manual payments including Bonus, Expense, other one-time payments, and advanced recurring weekly payments do not qualify.


When can a client file a dispute on an hourly job?

If a client does not agree with the hours billed the previous week by their freelancer, they have the option to file a dispute during the Review Period.  The review period begins Monday at 12 noon UTC and the client has until Friday at 23:59 UTC to file a dispute.



How can a client file an hourly dispute?

The steps to file a dispute as a client are as follows: 


  1. Click on the contract title of the job in question.
  2. From the ellipses (...), click on ‘Request a Refund’.
  3. Click on the link to ‘Complete the Dispute Form’ located on the right side of the page.
    1. Enter the number of hours you are disputing
    2. Select the reason for the dispute 
    3. Add detailed comments on why you are filing a dispute
  4. Check the box to certify you understand the dispute policy and click Continue to complete the process.


To read more about filing an hourly dispute click here.



What happens next?

Once a dispute is filed, the Freelancer will be notified and can respond by either accepting or rejecting the dispute.


  • If the freelancer accepts the dispute, all disputed hours are refunded to the client.
  • If the freelancer rejects the dispute, Upwork’s Dispute Team will notify both parties that we’ve received the dispute and will review the hours billed. Any hours that don’t qualify for Upwork Hourly Protection will be refunded to the client and the remaining billed hours will be paid to the freelancer according to the Weekly Billing Cycle.
  • If the client cancels the dispute, all the hours will be paid to the Freelancer according to the Weekly Cycle.

Hourly disputes are processed by Upwork within 4 business days.

Read more about responding to an hourly dispute here and check Hourly, Bonus, and Expense Payment Agreement with Escrow Instructions for more details.


Hourly Mediation

If the Client has an issue on a job that extends past the hours billed by the Freelancer the prior week, the Client may request Mediation Assistance.  In order to qualify for Mediation Assistance, the Client must contact Upwork Support within 30 calendar days from the last payment released to the freelancer on a contract.  


A Mediation Specialist will work with both parties in an attempt to reach a mutual agreement.  If we are unable to reach a mutual agreement, either party has the option to pursue the matter independently outside of Upwork.  


Hourly contracts do not qualify for Arbitration.


Disputes on Fixed Price Jobs

Disputes on Fixed Price jobs can apply to funds currently held in Escrow, or funds released to the freelancer within the past 30 calendar days.  


If a client wishes to dispute funds currently held in Escrow, they can file a dispute by doing the following: 


  1. Click on the contract title of the job in question
  2. Click on the ‘End Contract’ button
  3. Select ‘Pay Nothing and refund Escrow’
  4. Complete the process by leaving contract feedback then submit the request


The freelancer will be notified and has the option to either accept the refund request, or file a dispute if they do not agree with the request. 


If the freelancer either accepts the refund request or does not take action on the refund request within 7 calendar days, the funds in Escrow will be returned to the client. 


If a freelancer does not agree with the refund request, they can file a dispute by doing the following: 

  • Go to My Jobs and click on View Request in Ended Contracts
  • Choose Do Not Approve and click Next
  • Specify a reason for the dispute and give details to support your claim that the work is complete and payment due. Explain the situation so the dispute specialist understands your claim
  • Click Continue and review what it means to initiate a dispute. If you agree, click Continue to Dispute

If a client wishes to dispute a contract with no funds held in Escrow, they must contact Support within 30 calendar days of the last payment released to the freelancer.   

Additionally, if the freelancer would like to dispute funds not being released from Escrow by their client, they can contact us via Support ticket to request assistance


What happens next?

The dispute will enter into Upwork’s Dispute Assistance process where a dispute specialist will assist both parties in reaching a mutual agreement. If the client and freelancer are unable to come to a mutual agreement, the dispute specialist may provide a non-binding recommendation as part of the process. If the recommendation is rejected, the client and freelancer may choose to proceed to arbitration for a fee. You can read more here.





What is Eligible?

  • Arbitration is only available on Fixed Price job where: 
    • Funds currently held in Escrow
    • No funds currently held, but the last payment released to the freelancer was within 30 days


What is not eligible?

  • Hourly contracts
  • Manual payments including Bonus, Expense, Other one-time payments and Advanced Recurring Weekly payments.


How does it work?

The fee for arbitration is $875 and is split three ways between the client, freelancer and Upwork.  Each party will be responsible for paying $291.  The American Arbitration Association (AAA) will handle the arbitration process.  Once the case is sent to AAA, it can take up to 30 calendar days for the arbitrator to provide a legally binding ruling.  Once received, Upwork will carry out the ruling accordingly.


Keep in mind:

  • If the case proceeds to arbitration, both parties must pay their portion of the fee within the allotted time. If one party pays for arbitration and the other does not, the dispute is found in favor of the party who paid their fee.  In that case, any funds held in Escrow will be released to the paying party and the arbitration fees will be returned.

  • Once a case proceeds to arbitration, fees are non-refundable.

  • The arbitrator will provide the legally binding ruling to Upwork and we will carry out the resolution accordingly by moving funds where applicable and closing the dispute case.

  • If either party has questions regarding the outcome of the ruling, they must contact the arbitrator directly.  Upwork cannot act on behalf of either party. 


Please refer to Fixed Price Service Contract Escrow Instructions for more details.


While our Community Guidelines prevent us from discussing the specifics of an individual case, we are here to answer any questions you have about the process. If you have an issue with your case, our moderators will put you in touch with someone from the Dispute/Mediation team who can help you further.