Interpreter Q & A: What to do when your team interpreter has an unexcused (and provocative) absence?

By Brenda Cartwright
Monday, April 23, 2018

This article is written by Brenda Cartwright (BC). Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher and a well known author. BC also contributes numerous blog articles for Signing Savvy. Look for them on the “Articles” tab on our website.

This article is part of our "Dear BC, Interpreter Q & A” series, which answers questions on interpreting and Deaf culture from multiple perspectives. There isn’t always one “right” answer to every question, and different people have different opinions on how to handle different scenarios. That is why more than one perspective is provided in this series, however, more opinions always exist. These perspectives are gathered from talking with experienced interpreters and deaf consumers from across the United States and Canada and do not solely come from the author.

This article was also published in the Winter 2018 Edition of VIEWS Magazine (page 28-29) from RID. VIEWS is a digital publication distributed quarterly by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and dedicated to the interpreting profession. The magazine includes RID member spotlights, announcements from the RID board, and engaging stories about issues impacting the interpreting community. See this article and more in the Winter 2018 Edition of VIEWS Magazine from RID.

Dear BC,

I was on a team interpreting assignment with someone that I have known for years - she is a good person and a really good interpreter. She had texted me to let me know she was running an hour late to the assignment because she had to drop off her mother at the airport. Finally she arrived. Then on a ten minute break, she told me she was going to have to leave early.

“Why?” I asked.

She proceeded to tell me the reason was that her husband wanted her to come home and “be with him.” I just sat there with my mouth open and looked at her. I didn’t know what to say or do. Finally, I said, “You can do whatever you want, but the last time I checked we were both being paid to do this job.”

I wanted to call the agency (which is quite reputable) and let our supervisor know what happened, but she and the supervisor are pretty tight. Any thoughts on how I could have handled this better or what to do next?

Baffled Teammate

The video features a full interpretation of what is discussed in this article.

An Experienced Interpreter's Perspective:

This scenario is a perfect example of how interpreters sometimes have to engage in uncomfortable conversations with their team in order to incorporate the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct tenets into our practice. I don’t envy the interpreter in this situation. Their initial response is unfortunate but it’s also a very human reaction to such a frustrating scenario. 

It’s tempting to avoid the conversation altogether by contacting the agency directly or emailing the team afterward, but I think it is best to request an in-person meeting with the team. I would start by apologizing for the initial response and explain that you were thrown off by her behavior as you have only known her to be a strong and ethical interpreting team. Strive to emphasize your respect for her but also be transparent about your frustration that she put you in such an uncomfortable situation.

As these behaviors seem to be out of character for her, I would hope that together you could discuss what makes sense in terms of communicating with the agency. Hopefully she would be open to informing them that she only worked a small portion of the assignment. If she is not open to this, you could tell her that you have to inform the agency of her revised hours. The goal of an in-person conversation would be to resolve the issue between you and have the team communicate with the agency herself.

An Experienced Deaf Consumer's Perspective:

First and foremost, I am impressed with interpreter A’s ability to stay professional during this exchange. I’m afraid I might have lost it and burst out laughing, “You’ve got to be kidding - no way!” 

The first issue, driving her mother to the airport, is difficult to judge – was this an emergency situation? Could she have found someone else to drive her mother, or substitute for the interpreting assignment? Did she notify her supervisor, thus allowing the supervisor an opportunity to find someone to cover for her? Did the supervisor “excuse” her from being late to the assignment? If interpreter B did not notify her supervisor, as is implied in this encounter, she placed an undue burden on her team interpreter (and friend). 

The second issue indicates a severe lack of judgment, responsibility, and ethics on the part of interpreter B. Interpreter A was correct in pointing out that they were both being paid for the job. The only thing interpreter A could have done differently is emphasize her displeasure more strongly and tell interpreter B it is not acceptable to leave the assignment. 

Interpreter A has an ethical responsibility to let the supervisor know of this situation, regardless of friendship ties. If the supervisor is acting ethically, they will call in interpreter B to discuss the matter. Interpreter B may have committed fraud if she submitted a time sheet for the entire assignment and was paid in full. No matter their friendship, the supervisor needs to be aware of interpreter B’s irresponsibility and lack of respect for her team. Interpreter A should also notify interpreter B of her conversation with the supervisor and her reasons for doing so, whether it be in a face-to-face meeting or through email. If I were in that situation, I would tell interpreter B I am not comfortable working with her and request that the supervisor not assign us together in the future.

What's your perspective? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For 35 years Brenda was the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

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