Should You Tattle On A Bad Client?

Should You Tattle On A Bad ClientI frequent a lot of forums and blogs where freelancers post. As I read through the forum and blog posts, I often find that other freelancers have posted complaints about the actions of clients or former clients.

Usually the posting is done in such a way that the client cannot be identified, but sometimes a client’s name is actually mentioned in the post.

By complaining publicly about their clients, these freelancers are engaging in a practice that most career consultants advise against: they are burning their bridges behind them.

A traveller who crosses a burning bridge cannot return the way that he or she came. Likewise, a freelancer who publicly criticizes a client probably will not get future work from that source.

Personally, I follow the policy of trying to work out any difficulties that I have with my clients directly with them, rather than complaining about them publicly. Once in a while, there are good reasons why a client may not be cooperating with a freelancer. Here are just a few:

  • The client may be new to the business world and just learning the process. In time, and with your help, a newbie client could become one of your best clients.
  • The client may have fallen on difficult circumstances that are beyond their control. (Yes, sometimes emergencies really do happen.)
  • The client may be working for or representing someone else. We all have to start somewhere, and that includes your client. Do you remember your first job?
  • I prefer to give a client the benefit of the doubt unless the evidence is clear. (That doesn’t mean that I’ll readily jump into the next project with the troublesome client. It just means that I will reserve judgment until I am sure.)

However, although I’ve never had to do it, I actually do believe that there are some times when you are obligated to publicly inform other freelancers of a client’s bad behavior. Here are three of those times:

  • When the “client” is conducting a scam. Sadly, there are a few con men that pose as a legitimate clients. Sometimes their goal is to get free work, but it is just as likely that they are trying to gather personal information from the independent contractor. If a client is defrauding others, then your warning could keep others from becoming victims. You should also file a complaint against a scammer.
  • When the client’s behavior is illegal. If you become aware that your client is engaged in illegal activities in the course of doing their business, then you have an obligation to let others know. As soon as possible, you should make law enforcement officials aware of the situation, sharing with them the details of what you know.
  • When the client behaves in a way that is both unethical and immoral. Once in a great while a client’s behavior may be legal, but it is so immoral or unethical that you must take a stand. Admittedly, this is a tricky decision, because not everyone has the same morality. However, if you think that a client is engaging in an activity that is likely to eventually become illegal, then you should definitely take a stand.

An Important Word About Libel

I am not a legal expert and this blog post does not constitute legal advice. However, if you publicly expose a troublesome client, then you must make sure that you have factual evidence to support your statements. You should never make statements based solely on your suspicions. If you do not have any evidence, then it is quite possible that you will be charged with libel. In cases where there are no supporting facts, it is better to just walk away.

Have you exposed a problem client? Why, or why not?

How did it go?


About the author: Laura Spencer is a freelance writer from North Central Texas with over 18 years of professional business writing experience. If you liked this post, then you may also enjoy Laura’s blog about her freelance writing experiences, WritingThoughts.