The Way We Work
May 3, 2011 by Stephanie Gonzaga

For a couple of minutes, think of your favorite contract and the awesome employer who awarded it to you.  You love the job, you love how responsive and helpful he is, and yet along the way something strange happens: You haven’t heard from him in weeks!  What should a contractor do when his employer goes AWOL?

It’s very possible for an employer to suddenly disappear without a sign or warning, and it’s up to you to take control of the situation.  In my case, I’ve dealt with several clients in the not-so-distant past that went AWOL on me, and each experience was crazier than the other!

But I gained something valuable from each situation, and that’s experience.  To give you a good head start, let me share with you tips to help you get a hold of the idleness when a employer goes AWOL and, hopefully, resume your contract:

  • Don’t log hours if there’s no work to be done. If your employer suddenly stops emailing you and you’re in the middle of the project, finish up the milestone you were working on and don’t log any more hours after.  You wouldn’t want him to return without warning and fire you for spending too much time on work that he didn’t instruct you to do
  • Wait at least 3 days for a reply. An employer could go AWOL simply because he fell ill or she needed to tend to pressing business matters first.  Three days could be all he (or she) needs to get better and respond to your inquiries, so don’t feel too tense and worried about the absence — yet.
  • Email your employer in a calm and professional manner. If a week or two has passed and you still didn’t get a reply, you can send an email to check in on your employer.  In a calm, friendly, and professional manner, ask him if things are doing okay, that you sent an email two weeks ago but got no response, and that you hope he will get back to you soon.
  • Quote the message of your last email in your follow-up. I’d usually include the message of my last email in my follow-up email, just to show the employer that I did send him an email last Friday.  This helps if your employer replies and informs you that he didn’t receive your last message, hence no reply back.  Make sure to include the timestamp of the original email!
  • Follow up a second or third time. Whether your employer sends a reply or not, it’s important to keep in touch to remind him that there’s still a contract going on and that you’re waiting for his GO signal.  For example, you can wait another week for his reply before following up with a second email, and then another week before sending your third.  Just remember to maintain the calm and professional tone of voice when following up on your client.
  • Mention the status of your contract. For my second and succeeding follow-up emails, I’d usually start by asking about the status of the contract.  This starting line usually receives various responses right after.In one contract, the client said that the project’s still active but he has to settle some “important matters” first.  Another said that the contract is still ongoing, but they’d get back to me as soon as they’ve decided on what my next task would be.  As long as there is clarification on what’s going to happen afterwards, you’ll be able to figure out what your next move will be.
  • Offer to end the contract. When all else fails and there is still no reply from your employer, it may be time to suggest the end of the contract. I’d usually mention this (and include a link to oDesk’s help pages) because having little to no inactive contracts increases and sustains my chances of gaining new projects. It also helps to have some closure between you and your missing employer, but you can always keep your contracts open if you still have faith in your agreement.
  • While keeping idle contracts active is perfectly fine, it’s no excuse not to maintain the communication between you and your employer.  Even though he suddenly disappeared and has not informed you of his reasons for leaving the work unfinished, it’s your job as the contractor to follow up and reach out to him before moving on.Have you ever had an employer who went AWOL on you, especially during the critical stage of the project?  How did you handle the situation?  Feel free to share more tips and employer AWOL stories in the comments!

Stephanie Gonzaga

Freelancer, Blogger, and Creative Writer

Stephanie Gonzaga is a freelancer on oDesk and blogger of The Freelance Pinoy, a freelancing blog for the Pinoy solo professional.

  • Donnatella Soleil

    This is good to know. I have done too much free work for several employers who suddenly disappear or do not remember me. These people need to be reminded that a lawsuit can do wonders on making memories return. Thanks oDesk.

  • Pingback: Ce se poate face atunci c()

  • Palash

    @Stephanie: yes are Wright. Right now I am facing this type of situation, Odesk give me special email in every week, asking “Did you complete the job for …..?” and My client going AWOL. What should I do?

    Thanks everyOne.

  • Stephanie

    @Anne: Thanks Anne for commenting! I know what you mean. I’d understand cases like an employer going AWOL because of an emergency or a business trip, but those who deliberately disappear just to get away without paying for the work should be more considerate and honest to their contractors.

    I think the best way to deal with that problem is to ask for upfront payment or to break the project into milestones. If the client refuses to pay, we don’t work.

    @EVANS: No problem. :)


    Thanks for your advice

  • Anne Berja

    This really happens to me a lot especially if I’m working on a task based on fixed-price. Most employers usually pay soon as they have the articles but some of them just disappeared without saying anything. There are also some clients that ask for trial tasks and then as soon as you’re done revising and submitting what they asked you to, they will just disappear without saying anything.

  • Anne Berja


  • Stephanie

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and opinion Dr R Azrin!

    It’s good to know that despite the fact that you need to take some time away from your contracts, you still manage to connect with your contractors and bill them for their time.

    What we’re putting emphasis here though are employers who, for some reason, disappeared without a trace for a very long time. In the contractor’s point of view, it can be stressful and difficult when we’re trying to figure out what’s the next move to make.

    This is why I wrote the post in a somewhat chronological manner. I place “not logging any hours” and “following up” on the first few spots of the list to encourage contractors to do so before they decide to take more serious measures.

    So I’m not saying all employers are like this. I’m sure there are very valid reasons why an employer like you would be gone all of the sudden. Thanks for the tips (calling, using your Linkedin profile) and I do hope that communication and availability is strong between you and your contractors.

    P.S. Regarding the Facebook Connect button, the staff will most definitely do something about that.

  • Dr R Azrin

    First off, Your Facebook Connect is having the wrong API Call. Next off, many reasons employers disappear.

    Like me, I had many disappearing and usually I try to track them down by fone or what not, be proactive and bill them for it (time log).

    Some went on HOLIDAYS and awarding the contract and FORGOT ABOUT IT! And like me.. I am a headless chicken..too many things to do..and last minute runs!

    So, we are still human, try to get a mobile number just in case you need to call him, and be courteous at all times, don’t threaten anyone etc as they are your customer, (especially the ODESK support team , do mind your manners and tone of voice when talking to the employers)…. you may not realise that they are top CEOs of MNC and bad reference from them can drag bad publicity to anyone…you, the platform or likewise.

    Having said that, I always stress a LinkedIn profile, because the details are there. You cannot get me, talk to my other friends, see if they can help. I may be recalled to active military duty for God knows when…so that is my two cents.

    Good luck

    Dr R Azrin
    Zyraz Technologies PLC

  • Pingback: What to Do When an Employer Goes AWOL | Freelance Flux()