What is the Freelance Isn't Free Act?
Freelancers who work in New York City often joke that the operative word in freelance is "free." This is so because they often face long delays getting paid for their work. Not only are they not paid in a timely fashion, it is not uncommon for freelancers and independent contractors to get stiffed. That's the bad news. The good news is that help may be on the way.
Last month, the City Council unanimously approved a measure to protect freelancers from wage theft, the "Freelance Isn't Free Act." The bill requires anyone who hires a freelance worker to provide a written agreement that has a timetable and procedure for payment. In addition, arrangements in which a freelancer will earn at least $800 over a four-month period needs to be memorialized in a written contract that includes:
- The names and addresses of the freelancer and the hiring party
- An itemized accounting of the work to be performed
- The rate of pay and the payment date
If the payment date is not specified, payment is required within 30 days of the completion of the assignment. The measure also prohibits hiring parities from retaliating against freelancers for exercising their rights. While freelancers will have two years from the date of alleged violation to file complaints with the Office of Labor Standards (OLS), courts will have the final say concerning monetary awards.
In this regard, the measure provides penalties for violation of a written contract: $250 in statutory damages, double damages for the underlying value of the contract and attorneys fees. Lastly, the OLS will have the power to take legal action against a repeat offender and impose a penalty of up to $25,000.
Why This Matters
This bill will protect the nearly 4 million freelancers in the New York metropolitan area who often work without a contract. Previously, these claims were typically handled in Small Claims Court, which were often unsuccessful. Now, freelancers will have powerful legal recourse, and attorneys will have more incentive to take these cases. Mayor DeBlasio is expected to sign the measure, and it will become effective 180 days thereafter. In the meantime, freelancers who have been victims of wage theft should speak to an experienced employment law attorney.