The long story short is I was engaged, hired and paid via an online freelancing platform to do some development work. I believe I performed to the best of my abilities, however the guy who hired me is not happy. After attempts to resolve the problem, he is threatening to take legal action against me to recover the money which is roughly $3000 which was paid over the period of a couple of months via the freelancing platform's invoicing process.

No money was received upfront, work was undertaken via the freelancing platform and all aspects of billing including invoicing were automatically handled by the platform as well. We had no contract directly between the two of us, only through the platform itself.


  • The freelancing platform I am using has a period of time in which the company/freelance hirer can dispute any logged hours before payment is made (a week for employer to review, then funds are held for a little while longer)
  • Payments are not instant. They are held in escrow in-case the company/freelance hirer has a dispute.
  • Payments are based on hours logged through the application the freelance platform makes you use which screenshots your work and logs the hours automatically.
  • The client never filed a dispute against me, all payments were successfully made to me. There was never a dispute whilst the work was ongoing, at any stage.
  • The guy who hired me never attempted to file a complaint through the freelancing platform, even though the platform has a dispute resolution process which is great for both sides.
  • All complaints they have had, have been through email only.
  • We are both in the same country as one another, but different regions.

Can someone who hired me through a freelancing platform and agreed to their legal agreements, take legal action against me because they were not satisfied even though they made no attempt to file a dispute through the platform? I apologised they felt as though I didn't do a satisfactory job, but they've been so hostile and constantly holding over the prospect of legal action against me. I wanted to make it work, but the stress is too much.

My concern is they're in the same country as me which would make the possibility of them attempting legal action a lot easier. I know if they were in a different country, then the threat of a lawsuit wouldn't really mean much. Am I protected by the freelancing platform here? Am I also protected by the fact they never attempted to file a dispute through the platform?

Just looking for some options and perhaps additional information from anyone experienced in such matters or has been through a similar situation themselves.

  • 4
    Sounds like the client is just trying to haggle the price down and has no moral standards while doing so Jul 4, 2016 at 6:11
  • As people are saying, stop ignoring the emails, and above all do not apologise or put in writing you think it is a low quality work. This sounds like bullying. Report/flag the client in the platform too. Jul 28, 2016 at 8:22

2 Answers 2


Sounds like you're using Upwork? If not, let me know and I'll adjust this.

Personally, I've been using Upwork for over a year and pretty much stopped using it because of low-quality clients.

If there was no issue with your work during the development process and the client was able to see your work and then all of a sudden is not happy, that's a little suspicious. Unless, they're not satisfied with what's happened since the most recent billing period.

This client may be happy but may want to keep the work and make back the payment so, in essence, you worked for free.


You are paid for your time especially during hourly contracts. You're paid $x/hour for your expertise and skill. You provided a service, even if it wasn't completely up to the clients expectations - you put in the time and your time is worth something.

I've been threatened a lawsuit or two in my time and have always been able to resolve the situation but I am not promising that your situation won't escalate.

Ask the client for specifics as to why they're not happy, why they didn't bring up issues earlier, etc. This can all be used to call BS or as evidence later on.

  • Inform support. This client may have done this before/ have a history of threatening a lawsuit
  • Offer x amount of hours of free work to fix major issues
  • Offer to work at a discount (I'd say at least 50%) to fix issues

If they don't want you to fix anything then remove your work. I would tell them that I'm sorry they're unhappy with my work and that I'll refund them x% (I did this once and gave back 50%) but that I will be removing my work as they're not happy with it and I don't want to leave them with low-quality work or with work that was done but not technically paid for (because of the refund).

Here's the thing about legal action - no one is safe.

I could sue you because you missed a comma in your question or claim you keyed my car. I could bring it to court as well (more than likely would be thrown out). Anyone can sue anyone for anything. If things do escalate then you need to be prepared to build a case. Save all work hours, save all communications through all methods, have proof of work, etc.


Through ALL communication stay professional, helpful, calm, and don't use profanity.

If none of this works and they decide to proceed with a lawsuit

Let the client know you're prepared to defend yourself.

This had a client back off of a lawsuit from me once:

I have X which proves you had no problem with the work after seeing it multiple times.

Y shows communication between us that I offered to fix the problem but you wanted to keep my work and get a full refund.

I'm not a lawyer but you may want to research one.


Ignore it. If escrow was used for payments, they had to relinquish their hold on the escrow.... if they did so without approving of the work, it's not your problem.

Bullying you into more work, or a return of funds, is just that, bullying. If they fail to go through stated channels, it's even more a case of just plain bullying. You do have a contract with the client as per whatever middleman site you are using. Bullying is a very common practice by bad clients, because it works. Heck, it's clearly got you reeling (for no reason).

I would simply stop working and stop responding to the client. Do all that you've been paid to do, then stop. And keep a record of everything which has transpired. Then forget it, until/unless some third party were to contact you, if that ever happens. In which case, you should have records.

No idea where you are... but in the US... anyone can sue anyone for anything. That does not mean they will win. And, although I'm not a lawyer and am not intending to provide any legal advice, it seems to me the worse case scenario would be an order to return the money they paid and their return of your product/code. So everyone goes back to zero. I can't imagine that they would be deserving of anything more.

  • 1
    Yup, just sounds like client bullying. Ignore it. Keep records of everything in case it's needed. But chances are, if you stop responding they'll just go away.
    – Scott
    Jul 5, 2016 at 5:05

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