Ask a Freelancer

Ask A Freelancer: What Happens When I Get Sick or Injured?

By Nicole Dieker February 17th, 2015

I recently got hit by a car, which has put a dent in my ability to complete freelance work. How can I calculate losses from work missed due to an accident, and what can freelancers do to prevent financial and professional losses when illness or injury occurs?

—Frogger

First of all, I’m very sorry to hear about your accident. I hope you have a short and easy recovery.

If you are calculating losses from work missed for insurance purposes, you might want to talk directly to an insurance company representative or a lawyer to make sure you get a fair settlement. Prepare documentation of previous freelance earnings as well as current and upcoming work. Here’s some advice from AllLaw to get you started:

You have to show how much work time you lost and what you might have earned had you been able to work. You can use any evidence you have of a drop in billing or invoices, a calendar showing appointments you had to cancel, and any letters or documents showing meetings, conferences, or other appointments you were unable to attend.

We should all keep this type of documentation on hand just in case we need to use it someday. A big part of being your own boss is keeping your business healthy even when you are not! This goes beyond the usual “freelancers don’t get sick days” mentality and forces us to think about long-term planning.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, freelancers now have some options for reasonably priced health insurance. However, basic health insurance is not going to cover the cost of missing work that results from injury or an extended illness, so freelancers need to think about other options, like saving up an emergency fund or seeking out additional insurance that covers these specific circumstances. Freelancers Union contracts with insurance company Guardian to offer disability insurance that “protects you from loss of income in the event that you can’t work due to illness, injury, or accident for a long period of time.” Your health insurer may also have disability insurance options available.

Emergency funds and insurance help you mitigate the financial burden of illness or injury, but what about the burden of maintaining professional relationships? How do you manage relationships with your clients when you are no longer able to complete contracted work?

Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer suggests making an “emergency binder” with your clients’ contact information and work-related info like the password you use to log into a client’s WordPress site. As Formichelli puts it: “At any one time I have six to 12 assignments due with various editors: How would anyone know who they are and how to contact them?”

The emergency binder is there in case of severe injury or illness, when you are unable to communicate with your clients yourself. Most of us, if we’re lucky, are not going to need to use the emergency binder—but we are probably, at some point, going to experience an ailment that prevents us from working for a significant amount of time.

What should you do when that happens to you? First, you need to honestly evaluate your mental—and physical—state. Are you going to be able to start working again after a week? A month? Can you complete a limited amount of work every day between rest and recovery periods?

Once you answer those questions, you need to adjust expectations with your clients. Most clients should be understanding; if you say you need an extra week to complete a project, for example, there shouldn’t be a problem.

However, if you absolutely cannot complete your contracted work, you need to tell your clients immediately. If possible, offer clients solutions instead of problems. Instead of saying “I can’t complete the work,” say “I can’t complete the work, but here’s the contact information for another freelancer I recommend to take over the job.”

James Chartrand of Men With Pens suggests taking this idea one step further:

If you can’t [complete work due to illness], hire someone who can help you. It’s much better to keep that client on your side and get a next assignment than to lose the person entirely.

I’ll add a caution, though: Be transparent with your client. Let the person know that you’re working with someone else to get the job done. That conveys honesty, integrity, solution-minded thinking and proactive attention. It’s a win all around.

Frogger, I hope you find your own freelance wins as you heal and recover. Missing out on expected income will always be a stressful scenario to encounter, but as I’ve outlined above, there are some straightforward ways to protect yourself.

Nicole Dieker got hit by a car last year. She does not recommend it to anyone. She does, however, recommend that you send your Ask A Freelancer questions to dieker.nicole@gmail.com.

Image by RioPatuca/Shutterstock
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