An Introduction to the Ethics Committee
by Amy Russell
As the newly-elected director of the Ethics Committee (EC), I have discovered that many NCTA members do not know what this committee is or how it can help them solve problems between translators/interpreters and agencies. In this article I will explain what the committee does, in the hope that more NCTA members will avail themselves of the help the EC offers.
What Does the Ethics Committee Do?
Essentially, the EC facilitates the mediation and resolution of disputes that arise between NCTA members, both individuals and agencies. Many of the complaints received by the EC have to do with slow payment from agencies. Translators/interpreters often call the EC in frustration after spending months trying to get an agency to pay an invoice. Sometimes just a call or letter from the EC can restore broken links of communication and resolve misunderstandings.
In some cases, the cause of the slow payment turns out to be a dispute between the contractor and the agency over quality. To give an example, let's say that Translator A completes a translation of a book for ZZZ Translation Services. The translator submits the work on time and invoices ZZZ. ZZZ, however, does not pay the translator, claiming that their client feels that the quality of the translation is so poor that they refuse to pay ZZZ. In cases like this, where both the contractor and the agency are members of the NCTA, the EC may ask another NCTA member to review the translation and make a recommendation on how much the translator should be paid. The same holds true for situations where the agency reduces the amount of payment rather than withholding it altogether.
In addition to problems with payment, the EC also deals with other ethical issues, such as the relationship between contractors and an agency's end client. One example would be a case where a contractor believes he has been unfairly accused of "stealing" an agency's client. The EC handles these complaints by reviewing any agreements between the agency and the contractor and then issuing a recommendation.
Once the EC has received a memo of complaint from an NCTA member, it issues a letter to the person or agency named in the complaint. The member's memo is attached to this letter. Once the other party has responded to the complaint, the committee usually prepares a recommendation, which is then sent to both sides. If the problem is slow payment, the recommendation might include a suggested payment schedule. Even in situations where the recommendation does not result in immediate payment from the agency, the recommendation can be used as supporting evidence in small claims court.
How Do I Submit a Complaint to the EC?
If you, as an NCTA member, are facing the type of problem described in this article, here are the steps to follow:
- Write a letter detailing your complaint. Be sure to include specific information on the individual or agency you are complaining about, such as the name and contact number. Attach copies of any relevant supporting documents such as a contract, purchase order, invoice, and correspondence. Address the letter to the Ethics Committee, not any individual member or director, and mail it to the NCTA's post office box.
- Follow up your letter with a call to the Director of the EC. Keep in mind that a call alone does not give the EC enough to begin action: They need your written statement of complaint.
- Wait for the EC to contact you regarding your case. Usually this should not take too long, and the EC Director will keep you up to date on any new developments. Do not discuss your case with other NCTA members or take additional action such as retaining a lawyer or engaging the services of a collection agency until the EC has issued its recommendation. Such an "all-out" approach is tempting, but only invalidates any efforts the EC attempts to make on your behalf. If the EC's recommendation letter does not yield the desired result, then the EC may be able to suggest some possibilities for your next course of action.
What the Committee Does Not Do
Having outlined what the EC does, I would like to add a few words about what the committee does not do. The EC does not offer legal advice. The EC is not a collection agency. Most importantly, the EC is not a last resort. Members can get the most benefit out of the EC if they present their complaints early, before pursuing other remedies.