PSA: NYC’s ‘Freelance Isn’t Free’ Act Goes into Effect Today

A small silver lining.

Photo: Andrés Nieto Porras

Last October, the Freelance Isn’t Free Act — designed to protect freelancers from getting stiffed by their employers — passed the New York City council unanimously.

NYC Will (Hopefully) Soon Protect Freelancers Against Wage Theft

Today is the first day it goes into effect! Congratulations freelancers of New York City, for you are now protected by law. From Gothamist:

“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. “This means new protections for NYC’s million of freelancers — for people like Elizabeth McKenzie, a freelancer in film production who lived on bread and rolls, and worked in the dark because she couldn’t pay her utility bills after getting stiffed for $2,500 she had earned.”

A brief refresher on the law: freelancers are now required to be paid in full for work that’s $800 or more, either within 30 days of completing the assignment or by a date in writing. If you’ve signed onto do a three-month project for $3,000, the person paying you will have to pony up that cash in 30 days or face legal action. And, if you’re a freelancer trying to get a handle on all of the money you’re owed from everywhere, you have some time.

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.

Gothamist is also quick to point out that getting a lawyer to go to small-claims court could prove to be a daunting task: if you’re a freelancer who has resorted to small claims court to chase down the $2,500 you’re owed for work you did a year and a half ago, chances are a lawyer might be out of the picture financially. But, ideally, it won’t come down to that. The Freelancers Union also launched an app that helps connect freelancers with lawyers looking to take on this kind of work, so at least there’s that.

Freelancing full-time is sustainable if you have steady work that pay you on time, or if you’re making enough money off the big projects to keep you afloat between gigs. It’s not sustainable if you’re wasting time you could use to work, sleep, eat or go to the grocery store sending strongly worded emails to the void of the accounts payable inbox at Big Company That Owes You, LLC.

The fact that this law even exists will scare employers into paying their freelancers on time. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but sometimes, this is what it takes.

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