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jeremiah-brown
Community Member

Job flippers

What is Upwork's official policy on this practice?

As a freelancer, I expect a job posting to be posted by the actual client.  Seasoned freelancers are all too aware of job postings consisting of scammers and job flippers.  I have been aware that job flipping is occurring, I just didn't have the terminology to pair with the practice (now I do, thanks to another freelancer).

Would also like to hear opinions from others - what do you think about the job flippers on the site? 

1. Do you think clients get the best possible work from freelancers when they are unknowingly playing telephone?

2. Do you think it is ethical?

3. What about jobs where professional standards and very specific details are involved (engineering, law, etc)?

4. How much revenue do you suspect Upwork loses to job flippers?

5. How do you think this impacts clients and freelancers desire to post or perform more work in the future?

***Edit: To clarify #4 - yes, Upwork would receive more for a single job.  I should have specified that I am thinking about loss of revenue in terms of potential or follow-up work.  This is the work lost due to mistakes created and caused by someone relaying the scope of work between the client(s) and freelancer(s).  Especially in areas where the *broker/middleman* has no knowledge of what to ask, technical processes, professional standards, etc. 

For example, a business owner posts a job, middleman flips it to a freelancer, freelancer performs work and submits through middleman back to business owner, job is closed, business owner submits documents to city planner and discovers the $3000 he/she spent on the freelance engineer was all wasted because the professional stamp is missing from the blueprints.

Because the middleman has no experience (permission or not) they neglected to ask what would have been an otherwise obvious and implied part of the job, the business owner is now left with a $3000 pile of paper and a bad experience using Upwork.  Does that person go back to Upwork for more of the same?  Do they take another $6000 of follow up work elsewhere because the middleman was simply trying to turn/flip a job for his/her immediate cut?  Yes, these are very real scenarios.   The worst part - the freelancer put his/her name on the documents and now they earn an undeserved negative professional reputation.

21 REPLIES 21
kochubei_valeria
Community Member

Hi Jeremiah,

 

Subcontracting isn't prohibited on Upwork, provided the client isn't against it and Upwork TOS isn't being violated.  You can check out Optional Service Contract Terms for more information.

~ Valeria
Upwork

The client must be informed of the subcontracting, correct?


Jeanne H wrote:

The client must be informed of the subcontracting, correct?


At one time, that was the case, and it still might be, but the topic has been discussed in this thread -- https://community.upwork.com/t5/Freelancers/Most-recent-terms-regarding-subcontracting/m-p/1089997/h... 

and no Upwork staffer has to this point seen fit to elaborate on the following section of the site TOS, which the thread I referenced mentions:

 

3. RESPONSIBILITY FOR EMPLOYEES AND SUBCONTRACTORS, INCLUDING AGENCY MEMBERS

If a User subcontracts with or employs third parties to perform Freelancer Services on behalf of the User for any Engagement, the User represents and warrants that it does so as a legally recognized entity or person and in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. Further, at all times a User that agreed to perform services under a Services Contract remains responsible for the quality of the services and represents and warrants that User has entered into agreements with any such employees and subcontractors on confidentiality and intellectual property at least as strong as those in these Optional Service Terms.
 
Source: https://www.upwork.com/legal#optional-service-contract-terms 
To save everyone a bit of time, my understanding is that "optional service contract terms" are essentially default contract terms that apply unless the client and freelancer explicitly agree to alternate terms when the contract is initiated. Anyway, subcontracting is clearly permitted, but nothing in that paragraph stipulates that the client be informed that the User will be subcontracting, unless  
the phrase "represents and warrants" implies notifying the client.
__________________________________________________
"No good deed goes unpunished." -- Clare Boothe Luce

Thanks for the response, John. It's good to have a knowledgeable community member respond since no one from Upwork will. I don't know how I missed the change. Not that I subcontract, nor will I.

 

"Anyway, subcontracting is clearly permitted, but nothing in that paragraph stipulates that the client be informed that the User will be subcontracting, unless  the phrase "represents and warrants" implies notifying the client."

 

The phrase "represents and warrants" could be interpreted in many ways depending on your motivation. For me, it absolutely does mean the freelancer should be honest with the client. I have concerns for the freelancer doing the work and the client.

 

I'll check out the thread you mentioned.

Right, because its unethical - if permission from the original client was never granted to subcontract the work.

If a freelancer suspects that a job or client is really just subcontracting the work (project or job) from another client, what options do freelancers have?  I have posted several times, and even messaged an Upwork staff member asking for assistance with this.  I was not asking for personal info, not asking for contract details - only asking for verification that the work was not simply being forwarded over to me from a different job posting.  I know Upwork is more than capable of performing this task.

I have had several clients who have pulled this scheme on me.  I have either caught it and simply denied the offer, or have been tangled up in the contract and took a loss (monetary or otherwise) just to keep them happy so I dont lose my score.

Jeremiah, 

 

As I mentioned in my response on another thread, the client and the freelancer are free to discuss terms of their contracts and ask any clarifying questions about the work they feel are appropriate. If they suspect there is a TOS violation involved, they can flag the job posting, freelancer profile or message using the Flag as Inappropriate feature and our Trust & Safety team would investigate the report. We will not be able to share the outcome of that investigation or any information about the terms of contracts that user has had with other users.

~ Valeria
Upwork

That's well and good intent, but it still does not allow freelancers a way to verify that they are performing work that is being "flipped", "farmed", or "subcontracted".  The logical solution would be to reach out to Upwork to have them look into it - to which I have discovered I am simply waved off.  If I flag the job posting, it still takes the same amount of time for a staff member to review the same exact thing that I simply requested a "yes/no" answer for.    

Why don't you just ask the client that did hire you if it's a subcontract? Or if you suspect it is, then decline the job? 

 

It's not your job to verify another freelancer's arrangement with a client. 

deborah-ponzio
Community Member

I think it's about the transparency of a supply chain. Lot of debate on such transparency in the textile, food, and other industries. No mention of the need for transparency in the world of services.

As a client, I would see it as a fraud if I talked to someone who sounds knowledgeable, and pay accordingly, and then find out that someone else has been underpaid and mistreated to carry out the actual work.

pgiambalvo
Community Member

I hate it.

1. Do you think clients get the best possible work from freelancers when they are unknowingly playing telephone? No.

2. Do you think it is ethical? No.

3. What about jobs where professional standards and very specific details are involved (engineering, law, etc)? Those standards will be compromised.

4. How much revenue do you suspect Upwork loses to job flippers? No idea.

5. How do you think this impacts clients and freelancers desire to post or perform more work in the future? A great deal and negatively. I don't think Upwork should allow it at all.

yofazza
Community Member

  1. No
  2. Yes to some point. Look at Agencies, maybe an Agency for Client or Project Management Office is needed to make it "ethical" and it might be useful to some individual clients. (partially joking).
  3. Just one of a reason of why #1 is a No.
  4. Actually they get more, if both projects are done through them.
  5. Not sure, full of uncertainty, depends on many factors. I just try to not depends too much on Upwork. I saw it as a means to extend my network. In my field there's a lot of client with clients. Some resulted in bad experience, some not, some real client eventually deals with me directly, etc.

Yes! Please, please, please, make it required to show in the post if it is from an Agency!

 

a_lipsey
Community Member

Hi Jeremiah, in my opinion, there are two things here that you are collapsing into one. 

1. Whether or not the freelancer has permission to subcontract or has made the client aware that they will be subcontracting part or all of the work. 

2. Whether or not the freelancer has informed the subcontractor that they are a subcontractor. 

 

Then you ask whether we think it is ethical. It's important to understand that ethics are not morals. Ethics are standards set by professional associations, society, etc., but they are not about right or wrong. So is it ethical to do the first: subcontract without the client's knowledge. Well, according to Upwork's TOS/standards and many professional associations, the answer is no. According to my professional association, it would fall under transparency, so no, it would not be ethical. 

 

The second question: is it ethical to subcontract without telling the subcontractor there is another client? I think that's a greyer area (as ethical issues typically are - in fact, ethical questions are typically not black and white). Do I think it's wrong? Do I think it could cause numerous problems? Yes to both. Is it unethical? No, I don't have to tell someone I hire all the ways I might use their work or every thing about my business, and I, in fact, may not inform them of certain confidential details regardless if they are a sub or direct to me. The caveat would be that this is provided that I am owning the work under Upwork's TOS. If I have agreed to other arrangements regarding copyright, etc., then that would be another matter, but again, not an ethical issue but a legal one. 

 

As to Upwork losing money, if anything they make more on subcontracting since they get fees twice on the project. 

 

As to professional standards, that's where you have to look to your own professional association or laws that apply to your profession. You cannot apply the standards of one profession to another. So to make blanket statements is not useful, since what might be okay for blog writers won't be okay for lawyers. One has to have a credential, the other does not. 

 

How does it impact clients and freelancers posting jobs or applying? This is highly personal. I personally don't subcontract except with a few colleagues that I have established long relationships with and we work as partners on projects. It's all very transparent, and the clients usually are extremely happy when I am brought onto a project or I bring a colleague on, because we are doing so because they have very specific expertise that the project needs. 

 

As a client myself, I do not mind hiring a freelancer who has subcontractors on their team, but I want to know who they are, and I expect the freelancer to be transparent about the nature of how they work - if they are a team and delegate then how does that work? And I expect the quality that I'm paying for. I had a freelancer recently who I suspect subbed the work out a few weeks into the contract. I noticed a distinct change in the quality of the work. 

 

Does that mean I won't post jobs? No, it means I will vet freelancers more stringently and be very clear about working with "teams" in the future.  

 

As a freelancer, I believe I was once hired as a subcontractor without my knowledge. Again, my response to that experience was to adjust my client vetting procedures, and it has not happened since. 

 

Upwork has never claimed to vet clients. My suggestion to all freelancers is to assess what kind of risk they are willing to take and adjust their own client vetting procedures accordingly. Do you (general you) know exactly what your client vetting procedures and criteria are? I think it's helpful to actually write it out. My suspicion is that many freelancers (perhaps the majority even, although that would be a guess) say that they vet clients, but what they really mean is that they ask a few questions, don't see red flags, and so accept them. But they don't actually have a set of criteria and standards for clients that they establish and check against. That may seem strict to establish, but we all know it just takes one client you didn't properly vet to have a major negative impact on your business. 

"Upwork has never claimed to vet clients." Nor do they tell anyone that when they are signing up.

Why would that be something they go into detail on the fact that they don't do it? It's interesting what you choose to point out because it doesn't really make any sense why they would do that. What company highlights features they don't provide in their product or service? Where exactly do you want this information about what they don't do, along with all the other things you seem to demand Upwork explicitly say and make freelancers aware of, besides the fact that it's all in the TOS and help pages, and if people would just read and learn how working online works before starting, they'd have far fewer problems? You can't force people to do their due diligence. It wouldn't matter how many times or where Upwork advertised it, Peter, people still wouldn't be reading it.

 

As long as you continue to expect Upwork to be something it's not, you'll continue to be disappointed and upset about it. The sooner you accept it for what it is and what it does, the sooner you can learn to use it for the powerful tool it is. (General you, not you specifically. ) 

I only suggest that because it is so obvious that many new freelancers DO believe they are vetted and that means they are protected by Upwork when they are not. This leads them to not doing their due diligence because they think Upwork does it for them. But of course, no one is going to point out or highlight things that don't cast the best light on their service or product.


Peter G wrote:

I only suggest that because it is so obvious that many new freelancers DO believe they are vetted and that means they are protected by Upwork when they are not. This leads them to not doing their due diligence because they think Upwork does it for them. But of course, no one is going to point out or highlight things that don't cast the best light on their service or product.


Well, there are a lot of things Upwork doesn't point out and certainly I can get on my soapbox about numerous things. But let's put this to you and me, two different people: did you ever think Upwork vetted clients? I certainly never believed they did. The way job boards work, clients or employers (depending on the platform) post jobs. I would never believe that a business slow down the "production" process so much by requiring such vetting. I think that's an argument people run to when they don't want to take responsibility for their own business practices. 

Honestly, I did, albeit briefly. Naively, and yes, stupidly, I figured that a job board this big wouldn't let things be posted unless they had been checked out to make sure they were legit and that the clients could actually pay. I realize that there is no way they can actually do that, but I think you have to admit, they used to be much better at it that they are now.


Peter G wrote:

"Upwork has never claimed to vet clients." Nor do they tell anyone that when they are signing up.


Isn't it ironic though, that farmers, or job flippers as the OP calls them, are vetted by Upwork, if they're also Upwork freelancers? And if they're not Upwork freelancers, then I'm not sure how the distinction between them and actual clients matters. In my line of work, I mainly fix and enhance websites, and the client more often than not is someone in the web design or development business, rather than the individual or business who owns the website, so if I turned those jobs down because I object to farming philosophically, I'd be poorer as a result. On the other hand, brand new clients with no hiring history are another story, whether they be farmer or regular client, so there's some risk in working with them, but clients take the same risk working with brand new freelancers, and virtually every legit freelancer on the site was brand new at some point, so it seems hypocritical to automatically spurn jobs posted by new clients.

__________________________________________________
"No good deed goes unpunished." -- Clare Boothe Luce

I am going to answer this before reading further...

Yes, I do vet the clients that I work with - that procedure takes different forms depending on the nature of the work, the scope of work, the type and size of business (or individual), etc.  There is no one size fits all for this process between each client.  

To the initial point in your comment - I would (mostly) agree that subcontracting may be a matter of personal preference but there is one very big problem - freelancers can't verify permission to subcontract for some job postings PRIOR TO HIRE.

For example, lets take the job that has prompted me to ask this question - I performed work for a client that seemed to be legitimate.  Throughout the course of the work being performed, I began noticing very minor details that suggested the client may be job flipping.  I also saw another job post from a different client advertising the same work.  Different clients.  Now, the problem - since I have applied to the job posting and did not yet receive a response, I am unable to message that client directly and ask if the job is subcontracted with permission or not.  All other details and talking points aside, I have no way to communicate with this client to verify, for myself, that the job is (or is not) being flipped.  This is the presumption that I am using for my question.


Jeremiah B wrote:


To the initial point in your comment - I would (mostly) agree that subcontracting may be a matter of personal preference but there is one very big problem - freelancers can't verify permission to subcontract for some job postings PRIOR TO HIRE.


It's not your job to verify permission to subcontract. It is the freelancer who has the direct client. 

 

Regarding vetting: you have had this happen once. Don't you think the more appropriate response is pulling a standard question into your vetting process to ask if the client is subcontracting this work from a direct client to you, rather than asking Upwork to change all its policies to address a situation that has happened to you once, that you cannot even confirm? 

 

There is no rule that you must be informed if the client is, in fact, subcontracting. The best thing to do is make this part of your regular vetting. 

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