How to Get Out of a Bad Upwork Contract

If you’re on Upwork, at some point you’re going to run into a crappy client. Just like any other relationship, you run into a jerk. And sometimes, there aren’t any red flags. And sometimes there are and you ignore those red flags. So, how do you get out of a bad Upwork contract?

I’ve had three or four over the past seven years that I’ve been on Upwork. Considering I’m a six-figure earner, that’s not terrible. Some have been worse than others. Frankly, how to get out of a bad Upwork contract depends on the scenario, but it does boil down to a few basic things.

Decide That It Is a Bad Upwork Contract for You

So, the first bad Upwork contract I dealt with was probably six years ago. The first project actually went well. The client was happy. I had ghostwritten an ebook for a B-list celebrity in another country. He was happy. I was happy. He sent me more material to do it again.

I got to work. I sent him the file. It was a flat rate, milestone request. And he refused to release the funds. He accused me of farming out the work. I was fucking floored. Never in my Upwork career then or now have I ever gone against Upwork’s Terms of Service and farmed out my work to someone else. I value my account. I value my livelihood. Yes, I have a thriving client-base now off of Upwork, but I still value my Upwork account.

I did the only thing I could think of because I wanted my money. I needed my money. I had rent to pay, groceries to buy, bills to pay (the electric company doesn’t take thoughts and prayers), and a family to support. I contacted Upwork’s mediation team. They took statements from both of us. They took the product specs. They took the writing I created the first time as a sample of my work. They took the current writing. They determined that I had, in fact, created the new document. And I got my money. I also ended the contract. He was unable to leave negative feedback. I blocked him from ever being able to contact me again.

More recently, I had a client in another country who owns a US domain. They send me an outline for US legal articles. The (main) problem is that although I would follow their outline, they would send it back from their “editing” team wanting me to remove practically everything they asked me to put in or want me to include what toed the line for legal advice. No one in the United States other than licensed attorneys can give legal advice. As a paralegal with over 15 years of experience, I am not going to write anything (this also was supposed to have my name attached) that even appeared to come close to the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). That’s a felony in my state. It’s a crime in most states (although some states now allow licensed legal technicians). Despite educating the client that this was unacceptable, it continued to happen. They also sent a list of how they wanted me to choose outgoing links, but would ask me to reassure them that the links weren’t competitors…instead of clicking on the links. So, I had to do my job and theirs. For the price, it wasn’t worth it.

The thing is, neither of these clients had red flags in the beginning. They just either flipped (the first client) or ended up being lazy (the second client). The second client doesn’t seem to think they’re lazy, by the way. They think I need to be “more concise” to fit all of their needs into an article. Their outline, by the way, is almost three pages.

Determine When to End the Contract

Now that you’ve decided you have a bad contract on your hands, the next step is to determine when to end it. If the client is abusive, end the contract immediately. Do not pass go. You can and should explain why you are ending the contract. I’ve done this outside of Upwork. Keep all of your documentation. Provide the client with any work. Whether you attempt to collect what’s in escrow is up to you. Personally, I’d refund it unless I’ve provided all or the majority of services before the client became abusive. Why? Because if they became abusive right after the contract started and I haven’t provided services, if I refund them, they have no reason to leave bad feedback (they probably will), but they certainly can’t say that I took their money and did not render services.

What if the client isn’t abusive? What if it just isn’t working out? What if it just isn’t the right fit? What if you just don’t like it? What if the scope of the work is just far beyond what they stated it would be? What if they’re just a pain in the ass?

Well, then you have to determine the right time to pull the plug.

Really, it’s a personal decision. Recently, I waited until I finished the two edits I promise with all of my writing contracts and for the release of payment. I fulfill my duties and I make sure that I get my money.

If the scope is changed, deadline is changed, or things have become otherwise unreasonable, it generally necessitates a conversation with the client to first try to come to some sort of agreement. Then, at the end of the project I provide a “It’s not you, it’s me…I have other projects – it’s been great!” conversation and end it. I do give honest feedback. Sometimes, clients just don’t know how to manage their time or things come up. Frankly, that happens to all of us…especially over the last couple of years.

A “Bad Project” for You Doesn’t Always Mean You Should Leave Bad Feedback on Upwork

That doesn’t always mean that you need to leave harsh feedback. If you just didn’t like working the project, you just didn’t like it. It didn’t make them or the project worthy of bad feedback. It just meant that you preferred something different. So, be fair.

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