VRS Call Center, Saturday 2:30 AM. Your mother was wrong! Those smutty novels weren’t a waste of time; they developed your Extra Linguistic Knowledge for this call!
The lovely and talented Aunt SuperTam says that when I say “probably” I actually mean “absolutely.” As in:
SuperTam: I’m right!
So, when I say interpreters should probably know this… well, you get the point.
I got a bunch of questions about contracts recently (one as recent as yesterday!) WAIT! Don’t go away. This is actually less boring than it sounds. AND and there is a gift for reading to the end. Here we go!
Rule 207 says interpreting without a contract means sooner or later just working for free.
Interpreting is a service, you can’t “repossess” it, once you provide it, it’s done and so is your leverage. So, providing that service, without a contract in place beforehand, means you accept the possibility that the entity requesting your services will just not pay you.
It may “roll the dice” that you will not be able enforce your “oral agreement” with them, or bet on you not pushing for payment under a theory like Quantum meruit (if you don’t know what that means then the odds of it getting way with not paying or you walking away from the fight without, tired and defeated before it is forced to pay you are in their favor).*
You need to have a contract or an enforceable agreement.
This is a post on a blog, it’s not legal advice. If you want to know how to write a contract talk to a lawyer in your area. This Post won’t replace the advice of an attorney; it’s just to help you think about what you and your attorney should discuss.
There are good examples of Terms of Service agreements used by other interpreters and referral agencies out there in cyber-space. It’s worth your time to look them over. The Terms other interpreters use may or may not make sense to you at first (especially if you read terms as meaning words not paragraphs). I have seen some contracts with really weird Riders and provisos. Remember, there is always a reason for them.
Think of it this way, if you drive west on I-80 from Salt Lake City for about 40 miles and turn south around Dugway, then drive for several miles you will see a very large, very old billboard that reads “No Weapons Grade Nuclear Material Beyond This Point.”
You know why they put that billboard there?
Because sometime or another they had a problem with that.
That is how contract Terms are born, they fix a problem. You may not have ever had that problem… but you don’t want it to happen, once you know it could happen.
So… what problems do interpreters want to fix before they happen?
“Interpreter/Translator shall be paid a minimum of two hours and thereafter time shall accrue in units of 30 minutes each.”
“Rates: $150.00 initial two-hour minimum for interpreting services $60.00 per hour thereafter.”
Now, we all know what a two-hour minimum means. But not everyone does. I recently wrote a term for an interpreter that says:
Rates: $150.00 for the initial two-hours interpreting services, paid regardless of the actual time required to complete the interpreted activity less than two hours and $60.00 per hour thereafter. No other services are offered nor may be demanded of the interpreter.
The interpreter showed up to interpret and the Deaf Client’s issue is resolved in 15 minutes, and the business claimed that if they paid for two hours she would stay the full two hours and handed her a stack of papers to scan. I kid you not. So that is now a term.
You need to address special rate circumstances such as legal, Deaf/Blind and Performance. You may charge a differential for after hours.
2. Reimbursable Costs
Like mileage or parking or, depending on where you work, tolls, light rail or trains.
3. Unusual Travel/Time Cost
Travel of over 50 miles or requiring over 2 hours of travel or more one way should be billed portal to portal.
4. Coverage of Longer Appointments
You will want a term that requires a second interpreter for appointments over two hours. If you are so inclined you can offer to arrange this but make sure you include a term that absolves you from liability for the other interpreters actions and sets how you will be paid for getting the sub-contractor.
5. Cancellations and No-Shows
A “contract” is just an “agreement” and can be cancelled by either arty prior to any obligation maturing. Wow there is more than you wanted to know, right? What that means is a contract is not binding until one of the parties is obligated to do… something. So a term such as Cancellations less than two business days before the beginning of the appointment will be billed for the full amount scheduled matures an obligation (the obligation to cancel, if at all, two business days prior to the assignment). Maturity of one Term makes the whole thing enforceable.
You might also want to consider a specific term for appointments that require travel outside a radius of say 150 miles of your office or requiring additional planning, travel purchases, and hotel confirmations or appointments spanning multiple days. I suggest requiring one week’s notice but I have seen terms of up to a month’s notice of cancellation to avoid being charged for the entire assignment.
No-Shows are billed without exception. Say that with me. NO-SHOWS ARE BILLED WITHOUT EXCEPTION! Do not accept guilt when it is offered by others. You showed up. You are not the Client’s keeper. Client no-shows are a cost of doing business, but no your cost. You showed up. One of your Clients showed up. You did not call this meeting. You did what you contracted to do.
(Actual voice mail) “We just got your invoice and are frankly shocked you would try to charge us when your Deaf person (seriously… not the Client’s name, “MY Deaf person”) did not even show up. We think you owe us an explanation.” I gave them one:
“The Client (name) was scheduled for an appointment with your office, not with me. I was contracted for an appointment at your office and I was there on time as ready to do my job as you were to do yours. You may not pass your costs on to me and I will not accept your costs. If you have any further questions I would refer you to our contract and specifically para. 2 wherein it states that I am paid a 2 hour minimum, initial meaning that is the cost for me to show up, which I did; para. 4 that states No-Shows are billed without exception; and, para. 7 which explains the terms of payment.
Thank you for your business.
Believe it or not, they still call me when they have Clients who are Deaf. It’s business not personal.
6. Force Majure
This means one party or the other can’t fulfill the obligations because the very heavens have turned against them! I suggest covering the most common acts of deity for your area specifically and others generally:
Cancellations due to weather will be billed unless otherwise negotiated or when a weather emergency has been officially declared by the authorities. Furthermore a party shall not be liable for any failure of or delay in the performance of this agreement for the period that such failure or delay is beyond the reasonable control of a party, materially effects the performance of any of its obligations under this agreement, and could not reasonably have been foreseen or provided against, but will not be excused for failure or delay resulting from only general economic conditions or other general market effects.
Not everyone feels the need to include these, but in this age of terrorism I am including these type of clauses more and more.
7. Payment Terms
Here is mine. It’s pretty standard and I have seen almost exactly the same language in at least three Terms I found on-line.
Net due 30 days from the invoice date. Invoices paid within 15 days will be discounted 3.0%. Invoices paid late will be assessed an additional 5.0% for each additional 30 day period.
It’s a good idea to list all the ways they can pay you. PayPal is great. Venmo is my favorite. Accepting credit card payments through Square is quick and easy but many banks have a similar system that charges a lower percentage so check with your bank!
8. Prices Subject To Change
Prices subject to change without notice. The prices listed herein are current as to the date of execution of this contract. An up-to-date pricing list is available at my website. A notice will be emailed to the address on file if prices change more than 10% from those quoted herein. Scheduling an appointment will be considered agreement to pay current prices even if different from those listed above.
9. Subject To Availability
ASL interpreting services are subject to scheduling availability. This office reserves the right to refuse service to anyone at any time for any reason.
That is in no way a complete list of all terms that could be included. The language is, as I said, just an example of standard language I have used or see used by others. There are terms that may only apply to your geographic area you may want to consider. In the end talk to a lawyer in your area.
I promised you a gift and here it is. Almost every contract has a set of very standard terms. Terms that are included if you are selling a car, hiring a landscaper, agreeing to trade goods for services or any other situation you can think to contract about. Attached here are sample of standard language for those standard terms. Again. Check with an attorney in your area before you cut and paste them! Again all of these are examples NOT SAMPLES. I am not your attorney nor am I giving legal advice, I am giving you examples to encourage thoughtful discussion.
Have fun out there!
*Someday ask me about the lawyer who taught me this lesson by refusing to pay me… it has a happy ending.
Never let some else tell you what you are worth. Not in business. Not in life.
Interpreting for a Client who is complaining about you is a celebration of effective communication.