The country's first freelancer protections against nonpayment go into effect in New York City today, so now's a good time to brush up on a law intended to help a full third of the city's workforce get paid on time.
To recap, the law mandates that freelancers be paid in full for work worth $800 or more, either by a date set forward in writing or within 30 days of completing an assigned task. The Freelance Isn't Free Act also aims to protect freelancers from employer retaliation, and can increase monetary consequences for employers who refuse to pay. We broke down the finer details last fall, with insights from the legislation's author, Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander, as well as the Freelancers Union, the Department of Consumer Affairs, and attorneys who represent both employers and workers.
"Starting today, New York City will be the first city in the nation to protect freelancers and independent contractors from getting stiffed," Councilman Lander stated Monday.
A 2015 report from the Freelancers Union found that more than 70 percent of freelancers in New York report problems with receiving payment.
Within two years of being stiffed, a freelancer can now file a complaint with the city's Office of Labor Standards, within the Department of Consumer Affairs. The office director will then draft a certified letter to the employer within 20 days, explaining how the freelancer's contract was allegedly breached. Best case scenario, the law will scare employers straight before a freelancer has to resort to claims court.
But court is still a possibility. And while the new law mandates double damages and attorneys fees if the judge rules in the worker's favor, the prospect of acquiring an attorney can still be a daunting one for tight-budget freelancers.
In an effort to smooth this road, the Freelancers Union today launched the Freelancers Union App to connect workers with attorneys who both specialize in small claims, and are eager to take on these types of cases.
"We had so many freelancers reaching out to us looking for attorneys that want to represent them, and realized that those can be hard to find," spokeswoman Caitlin Pearce told Gothamist last week. "And many of our members are attorneys who see this as key to their business."
The app launches today as a pilot, with about 30 attorneys active in the NYC area, according to Pearce. And while the union isn't involved in brokering the agreement between attorney and client, in general, they said, attorneys in this field tend to take cases on contingency. They understand that "if you are dealing with freelancers they won't be able to pay lawyers fees," Pearce explained (to be clear, assuming you win your case, the court directs the hiring party to pay your lawyer).
The Freelancers Union joined forces with the Department of Consumer Affairs Monday morning to distribute informational fliers at eleven transit hubs across the city, according to the DCA.
"Freelancers aren't free," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday. "It's now the law in New York City that they be paid on time, have the written contracts they deserve and have the tools to defend their rights."