New York State just did for self-employed freelancers what Britain must do too

We all know that it can be difficult to ensure that you actually get paid for your freelance work, even when you’ve got rock-solid payment terms in place with your client, writes Julia Kermode, founder of independent work champion IWORK.

Well, that nightmare, overly common scenario of being unpaid despite the paperwork is about to become a thing of the past if you’re lucky enough to be a freelancer working in New York State. 

What’s in the Freelance Isn’t Free bill?

In a bold, audacious, and totally refreshing move that will hopefully lead the way on supporting freelancers and the self-employed, NY’s Council has just approved legislation which gives the following protections:

  • freelancers must be paid by the agreed date, or within 30 days of completion of the work;
  • freelancers being paid $250 (£206) or more must receive a written contract from the business engaging them;
  • a labour department enforcement mechanism will be set up to help workers recoup unpaid wages.

Waving an overdue goodbye to rampant wage theft

In essence, the law stipulates that freelancers must be paid promptly for work, receive contracts for that work, and have some legal recourse (through the labour department enforcement) for non-payment.

Perhaps New York Assembly member Emily Gallagher summed up this landmark package best, when she tweeted: “I was a freelancer for many years. Juggling invoices, taxes, schedules and the work itself is complicated enough. But worst of all is the rampant wage theft. Everyone deserves clear contracts, timely pay and legal support.”

From Buffalo to Suffolk Country, freelancers just got covered

Importantly, the new law doesn’t just apply to freelancers based in New York, it also applies to any freelancers who are contracted by companies based in the entire state of New York. This means that if you are freelance working for or on behalf of a company with its head office based in NYC, you should be able to benefit from the protections in the new law.

Again, a post on the Twittersphere, by Freelancers’ Union president Rafael Espinal captures it perfectly for freelancers ‘on the ground’ and ‘across the pond’. “Freelancers across the state of New York, from Buffalo to Suffolk County, will be afforded the same protections as those performing work in NYC’s five boroughs.”

A lesson for the UK’s Small Business Commissioner?

And it’s not just payment that the new law is concerned with. Additionally, there is a provision that prohibits companies from retaliating against freelancers who seek payments based on the rights they have been granted through the law. Significantly, and potentially of interest to the UK’s Small Business Commissioner whose teeth and ability to really bite offenders some have questioned, companies that violate any of the law’s provisions are subject to penalties of up to $25,000

A bit like they are here, especially in the creative industries, freelancers are a very significant proportion of America’s workforce. But they are not protected by the same minimum wage laws and financial protections that employees receive. Also, unfortunately, similar to here!

The most exposed must not have these protections vetoed

According to the bill, these NY state freelancers (writers, editors, graphic designers, videographers and other creatives) are some of the “most exposed” when it comes to wage theft. But hopefully not anymore, because the Freelance Isn’t Free Act will play a key role in holding hiring parties to account.

At the time of writing, the legislation (New York Bill S8369) has passed both the State Assembly and the State Senate, meaning it is now set to be delivered to the governor for either signature or veto.

Let’s celebrate this ground-breaking move while keeping our feet on the ground. The legislation is currently restricted geographically to New York, but surely other states will now follow suit, and bring in similar protections for their freelancers? 

Finally, the UK government should sit up, take notice and act

Beyond that too, I hope. In fact, successful implementation in America should also make policymakers in other countries sit up and take notice, and there is no reason why the UK can’t follow suit. How can we disagree that ‘freelance’ doesn’t mean ‘free’? I, for one, will be lobbying for comparable laws to be brought in here too, because clear contracts, proper pay, and, if those two rights aren’t extended automatically, legal aid, are surely the absolute minimum that our industrious, independent, and invariably innovating freelancers deserve.

 

13th June 2022

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