The agency I work through booked me for a job today then it cancelled 12 minutes later. Obviously, I didn’t miss any work in the 12 minutes I was “confirmed” but now they’re asking me to not charge a cancellation fee. The message they sent me says “Would you mind not charging for this cancellation considering how short the window was? We’re not charging the client for it. We will definitely make it up to you! Love your _______ family”.

Should I charge them or not? Our agreement says if a job cancels in 24 hours I can bill.

First of all, gross. Any agency who calls us “family” gets the following email. To date I’ve sent it twice in different iterations. 

“To clarify our relationship: I am a contractor who supplies services to your company in a business to business context. I am not an employee, nor am I apart of your corporate culture and I am not a relative of anyone within the organization. While I do very much enjoy our rapport and the relationship we’ve built, please refrain from referring to our relationship as anything other than a business relationship. Understand that while I enjoy you personally, the Department of Labor, The IRS and myself insist on adhering to the boundaries of a business relationship in the workplace/within the context of our contracted agreement. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Of course I am very much looking forward to our continued partnership. 

Referring to contractors as family to guilt them into literally anything is grossly exploitive and I’m quite sure the government would agree. 

I also had a VRS provider do this to me after making me beg for weeks to pick up hours that were available at night time. Their reasoning for making me wait 6 months was that I wore headphones into the center (which was perfectly permissible) and that they felt that action would lead to me using my cell phone on calls. When they asked me to come in and help out (because we’re family) on a holiday weekend they were short staffed for, I reminded them. We’re not family, we’re professionals. Do not ask me for a discount, extended effort or a favor on these grounds if you wouldn’t do the same for your lawyer. Certainly not when I’m the one doling out all the favors.

To you question however… For me personally, it would largely depend on the current state of our relationship. Are we in good shape? Did I have to skip out of a job early the week before but they paid me for the full time or were they late with a check two weeks ago? While I think it’s entirely up to you, the contract you signed says you can bill for it. It fails to mention anything about family I am certain and I would assume it doesn’t say anything about a minimum amount of time since confirming for the provision to be enactable. 

Some ways you can frame it back to them are, this is a precedent that as a field we are working very hard to maintain. As an organization working in the community and shaping the industry, best practices would be to remain firm on the contract and pay the fee. You can also bargain for additional work. Feel free to inform them that this is work you counted on and it did in fact remove you from the market even if briefly. Your comment of “obviously” to me is a point I’d argue. Work moves fast in this field and we often have minutes to grab a gig before it’s gone. I don’t mean this as a rebuke but I think your statement is intentionally kind to them when if you considered past jobs you’ve nabbed in the moment, you might realize that it could have cost you more than a cancellation. Luckily, it didn’t. 

On the flip side of that is in regards to the speed of coordination. If you’ve ever seen the inner workings of a larger agency, it moves at a pace not unlike the stock exchange. If they booked you into the gig and you were taken off of their available roster, there is a good chance that someone else was booked into a gig at the same time that previously would have conflicted with your 12 minute commitment.

Years ago, I had an agency do this exact same thing and expect me not to bill on a very large job. I was completely devastated because at the time I really needed the money. I think I was billing like $28/hour-ish as a new interpreter with two years in. The job was an all day gig and I knew they were going to bill for it anyway. I had no backbone so I agreed not to and as soon as I hung up the phone I thought of all the times when I had needed some support in one way or another and they left me high and dry. While I’m not one to believe so much in an eye for an eye and I was certainly not seeking redemption… I was however reminded that I was the one in the relationship expected to do good business, on their terms. I factored it into other asks that followed and I think had I been smarter about it, I could have replaced the work with something in the same range.

In situations like this, perspective is key. If you have direct clients or if that’s where you want to start shifting your focus, perhaps allow this to be the motivation you need to start reaching out. Begin prospecting, let the annoyance that this situation is push you through the first few no’s you receive until someone says yes and cuts you a check.

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