June 27, 2023

Bullying of Freelancers Needs To Stop

In the U.S., over 76 million workers were paid at hourly rates last year, representing over 55% of all wage and salary recipients. Millions more earn freelance and gig work income calculated using other methods.

Given that so many of us are working hourly and gig-based jobs, it’s not surprising to find many of these workers are among the many that are undervalued, including those that have higher degrees and years of experience working as 20+ year expert consultants in Tech and Biopharma industries. Freelancers often experience bullying from their clients that can occur in various contexts, project-based collaborations, or client interactions.  They are individuals who provide services on a contract basis, and are vulnerable to bullying due to power imbalances and the nature of their work arrangements. 


We  interviewed a number of freelancers to get their take on being a freelancer and their experience with bullying by  their clients.  Angela who has a PhD in Biochemistry is a freelancer in the Biotech industry who has experienced first hand as a contract principal project manager at a clinical research organization (a vendor that services biopharma businesses). Upon accepting the contract, the company reduced her pay by 10 dollars an hour after the offer was made and accepted verbally, and then after the contract was signed, they required her to buy software for the client work that was not negotiated upfront. Like so many freelancers she had to choose to either end her contract or eat the costs. “I had no choice but to continue she said. My mother had just past away and I figured I’d escalate it to an attorney but once I put my expertise behind it I felt an obligation to stay since the feedback I received from the attorney had put a burden of  legal cost that would not assure me that I could recoup my costs and that Company’s behavior would be held accountable by the court.”  


There were even instances of non-payment the first four weeks of the contract that was later reconciled by the company over two months later.  Oftentimes this is common practice for multimillion dollar service organizations and big pharma companies, who have taken advantage of consultants and have gotten away with violating agreements alongside their  lack of ethics. Even when contracts include bullying and non-payment clauses it’s usually up to the consultant to incur legal fees against a non-compliant client who can drag the claim on for several years.



Here are some examples of bullying behaviors that can be experienced by freelancers:


-Exploitative demands: Clients or employers may exert pressure on freelancers to work excessive hours, take on additional tasks outside the agreed scope, or demand unreasonable deadlines without proper compensation. This can lead to burnout and negatively impact the freelancer’s well-being.


-Non-payment or delayed payment: Freelancers may encounter clients who refuse to pay for their services or delay payment without valid reasons. This not only creates financial stress but can also leave freelancers feeling exploited and disrespected.


-Verbal abuse and disrespect: Freelancers can be subjected to verbal abuse, derogatory language, or disrespectful behavior from clients or colleagues. This can undermine their confidence, self-esteem, and professional reputation.


-Unreasonable criticism: Clients or employers may provide excessive or unfair criticism of the freelancer’s work, often without constructive feedback or clear guidelines for improvement. This can contribute to a hostile work environment and cause distress.


-Threats and intimidation: Freelancers may face threats or intimidation from clients or colleagues, such as blackmail, harassment, or the threat of negative reviews or reputational damage. This can create a sense of fear and insecurity in the freelancer’s professional life.


To address and prevent bullying of freelancers, it is important to establish clear communication channels, set expectations, and establish boundaries from the beginning of a project or contract. Freelancers should carefully review contracts, ensure fair compensation, and consider including clauses that protect them from abusive behavior. Online platforms that connect freelancers with clients can also play a role by implementing policies and procedures to address bullying incidents and providing support mechanisms for freelancers.


Freelancers should also be proactive in advocating for themselves, setting clear boundaries, and promptly addressing any instances of bullying or mistreatment. They can seek support from professional networks, industry associations, or legal resources if necessary.


Overall, creating awareness about the issue, fostering a culture of respect and professionalism, and implementing safeguards within the freelance ecosystem can help mitigate bullying and create a healthier working environment for freelancers.



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