Freelancers can face difficulties with one of the most rewarding aspects of their work: getting paid. Now new legislation under consideration in Albany would grant independent contractors in New York protections against companies that don’t pay up for completed work.
The language of the bill, first introduced in the Senate earlier this month and sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver this week, sets a two-month window for freelancers to be paid following the completion of a project. The legislation also gives the State Department of Labor new powers to take action against businesses that violate work agreements with freelancers or fail to pay full compensation within a reasonable amount of time.
In the case of disputes between freelancers and businesses, what counts as “reasonable” would be adjudicated by Labor Department officials. Sara Horowitz, the executive director of the Freelancers Union, says that the “reasonable” standard for freelancer compensation would function much like the “just cause” standard that governs the firing of employees. State officials evaluating disputes would make decisions that gradually create recognized standards.
“There have been zero standards for freelancers, and that’s why this is so important,” Horowitz explained. “Right now, it’s so unclear what the law actually is on hiring freelancers. I think businesses would look forward to having guidance.”
Her nonprofit group, which has 90,000 members in New York, supports the legislation. They have made unpaid wages the centerpiece of an advocacy campaign launched in April along with a spate of subway advertisements. The Freelancers Union website also includes a space for disgruntled freelancers to name and shame companies that haven’t been prompt with payment.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron, who sponsored the bill, was once a freelancer himself. (Check out his biographical tagline in this 2005 op-ed for proof.) He worked as a writer on Sen. Chuck Schumer’s 2008 book as an independent contractor, although he says New York’s senior senator never stiffed him on wages.
“I always had something in writing,” he said of his work agreements with Schumer, “but I never had to use it.”
But the problem of delayed or unpaid wages is very real for New Yorkers, according to Squadron. Freelancers “come up to me all the time when I’m out on the street” to talk about the issue, he said in an interview....
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