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With ‘Freelance Isn’t Free’ Act, New York City Moves to Protect Freelancers

Late last week, New York City Council voted unanimously to pass the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, legislation that protects freelancers from clients who pay late, less, or not at all. The Act might just be the first such legal protections for freelancers in the U.S., according to The New York Times.
freelance isn't free
Image Credit: Hannah Wei/Unsplash

Freelancers make up a growing segment of the U.S. workforce, and for many, it’s a full-time job, albeit one that comes without benefits or guaranteed paydays. In fact, 15.5 million people were self-employed as of May, 2015, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics — 1 million more than just a year earlier.  The Freelancer’s Union, a New York-based advocacy group that supports freelancers, reports that 70 percent of freelancers said they’ve had trouble getting paid for agreed-upon work. The group estimates that freelancers lose an average of $6,000 per year due to non-payment.

“One of the things that trips people up is they go to sue in Small Claims Court and try to get a judgment and they don’t have a contract,” Sara Horowitz, executive director of the Freelancer’s Union, to The New York Times. “You’re left with, ‘We had a conversation. I wrote down these notes.’”

A Bill of Rights for Freelancers

Do You Know What You're Worth?

“It’s not a hobby for them. It’s not a side gig. It’s a job. And quite simply, they need to be paid on time, and they need to be paid on full,” said Public Advocate Letitia James, as quoted by The New York Daily News.

Included in the bill are the rights to:

  • A written contract
  • Be paid in a timely fashion and in full
  • Be free of retaliation

The bill also establishes penalties for companies who violate freelancer’s rights, including double damages and legal fees. Companies who repeatedly violate the Act would be subject to a penalty of up to $25,000.

Bloomberg BNA reports that the bill received support from several labor unions and advocacy groups, as well as the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

“New York is in some ways at the center of the gig economy, of the evolution of the economy to more independent and contingent work,” Brad Lander, the councilman who introduced the legislation, told The Times.

It remains to be seen whether this legislation will inspire similar bills in other areas where freelancers live and work.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think freelancers need more protections, or is uncertainty part of the deal? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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