The City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs on Wednesday unanimously voted out of committee a bill that would institute harsh penalties for employers who stiff freelancers or delay payment.
Informally known as the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, the proposed legislation would provide for double damages and the award of attorneys fees to freelancers who bring successful litigation against employers who engage in a range of unlawful labor practices.
The bill codifies a requirement that employers pay freelancers in full 30 days after services are completed (or an agreed upon date) and that freelance contracts of $800 or more to be committed to writing. It also prohibits employers from retaliating against freelancers who seek to enforce their rights.
At the committee hearing, Council Member and lead sponsor Brad Lander spoke about the difficulties freelancers often face when contending with employers who delay or deny payment or pay less than their promised rate. He related several anecdotes he's cited before about hardships faced by freelancers, including a freelance film producer forced to subsist on a Dickensian diet of "bread rolls and water" because an employer refused to pay her $2,500 she was owed.
Thrilled to report: "Freelance Isn't Free Act" to protect independent contractors from wage theft just unanimously passed out of committee! pic.twitter.com/jiKL7fNCp4
— Brad Lander (@bradlander) October 26, 2016
According to a study from the Freelancers Union, which has supported the bill, more than 70 percent of freelancers in New York report having dealt with payment issues. The study found an average rate of unpaid income approaching $6,000 annually.
The bill, which is the fourth iteration of the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, also establishes a mechanism for the director of the Department of Consumer Affairs to enforce the updated labor regulations for freelancers.
Previous incarnations of the bill required written documentation for contracts worth over $200 and included potential criminal penalties for employers, but its final version does not.