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.