Before starting to read this, you should be aware that this article is concerning an Upwork complex situation and refund that’s been forced to my account after two years of working on the platform.
If this has happened or is happening to you, let me know in the comments below as I am compiling a list of people as to resolve this situation altogether. (We are currently 6 freelancers.)
I’m a successful Upwork freelancer, and I love it. I’ve made over $100k on that platform and was able to career shift through it. The reason why I’m posting about this is to understand whether I’m being in a fair or a non-fair position from an external perspective.
It’s important to note that I’ve informed Upwork’s support that I’ll post this problem externally online on Medium and my website. They didn’t inform me not to.
Here’s what happened:-
I started off on Upwork a few years back. I built my status slowly and learned a huge deal along the way. In 2018, I signed a client as usual. Let’s call him “Robin” for the sake of the non-disclosure agreements.
Robin was far by the best and the worst thing that ever happened to me on Upwork. I’ve worked with him till Sept of 2020. Robin worked with me fairly and I never had any dispute with Upwork on him. He needed presentations for investments, plans, designs, financial sheets; all within my area of expertise.
It was perfect. I even met Robin in real life in Zurich, instead of virtually. We continued working via Upwork while locating in Zurich, as to not violate any Upwork terms.
Here’s the first thing you should be aware of.
There are two ways of recording how you work on Upwork, either hourly through the software or adding manual hours. They state it very obvious that a freelancer falls under the Upwork protection if they record their hours through the software, not manually.
I meet Robin, and we conduct a brainstorming session and a few meetings. The only reasonable thing to do at this stage is to add manual hours. It doesn’t make sense to open the software on a blank screen, and just click somewhere to keep the computer alive. Hence, I recorded manual hours, lots of them. I usually do that with other clients as well, it’s never a problem.
Here’s when it could be a problem: If the client on Upwork asks for a chargeback (refund). Then he might be entitled to it if you’re manually recording the hours.
I’m on very good terms with Robin. He would never request a refund from Upwork, I’m sure of that.
Anyway, that lasted for a couple of years and ended when he informed me that he has issues with Upwork and his credit card. I just told him to go sort it out and call me when he’s ready to work again. I will not work with him for free till he fixes his credit card on Upwork. In all cases,I don’t care really, I have several other clients, and Upwork pays me per week. So, worst-case scenario, I would lose one week of earnings, but that’s tolerable.
That was the end of it.
Until May of 2021, when I receive an email from Upwork:
We are writing today to let you know that a payment made to your account has been reversed by your client’s bank.
This reversal (chargeback) is a result of your client contacting their bank and asking them to reverse the payment for the following transaction(s):
I went nuts. A day after, a few other freelancers whom we were working with, started contacting me saying that Upwork is asking all of them for a refund as well.
Is Robin really asking for a chargeback? That’s impossible. I start investigating by calling Robin. He apologized and said he never called any bank, additionally, he said this is a bit of a mess-up as he forgot that there is “a credit card connected in his account that wasn’t actually his”.
Let me translate this. Robin has been using someone else’s credit card for two years, and this other person realized that money was being withdrawn in the previous two years on a platform called Upwork without his consent.
Now, here’s what I thought of.
- I’ve worked with Robin for two years, and I worked hard for this.
- I will not give a refund, as this is not my fault.
Then, I spoke to Upwork.
They told me, here’s what you can do: — Provide us with proof of your work, and we will try to convince the bank to not ask for this chargeback on behalf of their client. — That option sounds illogical in all sorts of ways. Why would a bank take my side (a freelancer from another country) instead of his own actual client who never actually requested those services?
Nevertheless, I sent Upwork two years’ worth of projects. They respond 40 days later telling me that they tried and failed. Then they said something that seemed, in my point of view, a bit of a human-right violation.
“You have to pay this money back, what we want you to do is work on our platform and we will take your earnings from there. Till then, you’re not allowed to withdraw any earnings.” (Paraphrasing)
Let me get this straight — Upwork, a billion-dollar company, wants me, a freelancer, to work for free on their platform for approximately 230 hours (with my hourly rate) because a client on their platform was using someone else’s credit card? How in god’s name is that my fault?
Yes, the clients can ask for a chargeback if I record the hours manually and their case was proven. But that’s not the client asking for the money. That’s the credit card owner, who is another person. That’s Upwork’s fault for not vetting their clients.
Eventually, I keep trying to open a communication channel with Upwork and their support concerning this refund situation. They insist on this situation.
They eventually wrote this message.
We have already discussed this in our numerous communications from May.
Whoever owns the credit card can ask their bank to chargeback a payment. We cannot get around this, unfortunately.
We consider this matter closed as we believe we have gone over this with you at length.”
They consider this matter closed. I even tried to raise a complaint on this “Escalation” department — their response “We’re sorry, the executive escalations are the highest tier.”
At the moment of this writing, I’m still on the platform. It’s a little bit demotivational knowing that the next 230 hours that I’ll work will go to Upwork instead of me because of this, so I’m slowed down on a motivational level.
I’ve worked honorably and by the book on Upwork for a long time. When things were not making sense, I still followed the rules. I could’ve easily gotten paid from Robin outside of Upwork. Heck, he was physically in front of me. Yet, I respect how Upwork opened my eyes to becoming the person I am today, and for that, I’m forever grateful.
Whenever I speak to someone about this, they are shocked and deem it unfair. I decided to write this here because I would love to hear opinions on both sides of the matter. If you have any opinion on this matter, please share it with me.
In my opinion, a better way to think of this is as follows — If you’re working as a cook at Mcdonalds and it turns out that Mcdonalds has been scamming the world without you being aware. Do you, as a cook, have the responsibility to pay what you honorably earned back to the world?
Upwork Profile (23 December 2021): https://www.upwork.com/freelancers/~0155e42f63471e6bdf
Ever since this article and the situation, I’ve gone on to create my own freelancing platform focused on the niche of business documents – Albusi