Here is a comparison of the arbitration policies at the major freelance job sites – oDesk, Elance and Freelancer.com. All three sites handle disputes differently, so if you find yourself in a dispute, make sure that you read the terms and conditions regarding dispute resolution very carefully to know what your options are.
oDesk’s terms of service can be found here. (Section 2.10 is the Dispute Resolution policy)
Disputes can only be about the hours worked, not the quality of the work. Directly from the oDesk User Agreement:
For Hourly-Rate Contracts only, Clients may dispute hours during the four (4) days following the close of a weekly invoice period. It is the Client’s responsibility to review the Work Diary and Time Log of every Contract on a weekly basis and to file any disputes on a timely basis. Once the dispute period has passed, the charges are accepted by the Client and can no longer be disputed and can only be refunded by the Contractor. Disputes can only address the hours billed, not the quality of the work performed or deliverables.
Fixed Price Projects
There is no dispute policy for fixed-price projects as employers have complete control over whether the worker gets paid. Directly from the oDesk user agreement:
Contractors agree that there is no guarantee of payment for Fixed-Price Contracts. Clients have complete and sole discretion to determine whether a Contractor has completed a Fixed-Price Contract and whether to pay the Contractor.
The dispute policy for Elance can be found here. There are different rules for hourly and fixed-price projects. The first step for all projects is Member Resolution, which is basically self-mediation that does not involve Elance. If Member Resolution fails, there are different dispute rules for hourly and fixed-price projects.
Hourly Projects that do not use Elance’s WorkView™ are not eligible for Dispute Assistance, but they are eligible for Member Resolution.
For projects that use Elance’s WorkView™, an employer can dispute time posted on a timesheet, if they believe that the screenshot is not related to their project, and twelve minutes will be removed from the amount to be paid. A contractor can either accept or dispute this. If their is a dispute, Elance will determine, in their sole discretion, whether the work was part of the project, or not.
Fixed Price Projects
Fixed Price projects that do not use Milestones are only available for Member Resolution, and are not available for Dispute Resolution or Arbitration.
For eligible projects, the first step is Dispute Resolution. For this step, both parties take a phone call from an Elance Mediator. The mediator is a neutral, third party who does not award funds or assign blame.
If an agreement cannot be reached in Dispute Resolution and there are funds left in escrow, Arbitration is available. The fee for arbitration is $399 for jobs under $1000 (split three ways between the client, contractor, and Elance) and $750 for jobs $1000 and over (split 3 ways between the client, contractor, and Elance). The arbitration is done by a neutral, third party, not Elance. More information can be found here. Please note that the only evidence that will be taken into account are the items in the Workroom before the project goes to arbitration.
The only projects that are eligible for their Dispute Resolution Service are projects that use their Milestone Payment System. In addition, if funds have already been released, the project is no longer eligible. Both hourly and fixed-price projects are eligible, and the process is the same.
Freelancer.com’s Dispute Resolution Terms can be found here (Item # 11 on the Terms of Service)
The first step is self-mediation. If both parties cannot come to an agreement within the dispute process, either party can bring the dispute into arbitration.There is a fee of 5% or $5 of the disputed amount, whichever is greater to bring the project into arbitration. Both parties must pay the amount, if one side does not pay, they automatically lose the arbitration.
There is no explanation of the rules used in arbitration, Once the project goes into arbitration, the dispute team reviews all evidence and they state that usually reach a decision in 48 hours. The winning party gets their arbitration fee refunded.