Protecting Freelancers in New York City

Indepayment is proud that our home town, New York City, is considering creating the first-of-its kind legislation that statutorily protects freelancers and independent workers from non-payment and wage theft.   The protections are badly needed: One study estimated that NYC freelancers annually may be owed $1.1 billion annually in unpaid wages. The legislation is supported by the Freelancers Union, and it is a model for solutions to freelancer wage theft around the nation. 

The New York City Council’s Consumer Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on Monday, February 29, 2015.  Our friends at the Freelancers Union are holding a rally before the hearing, and really want a full house during the hearing to show support to any wavering City Council members.  Democracy in action!

New York City’s legislation is known as City Council Intro 1017 of 2015 and called, in legislative speak “A Local Law to Amend the Administrative Code of the City of New York, in Relation to Establishing Protections for Freelance Workers.”   You can read the full proposed legislation here.  

We’ve been working with the Freelancers Union to support the legislation. The Indepayment team will be there on February 29 to testify in support of Intro 1017. 

The proposed legislation does two significant things to combat wage theft and non-payment: it provides freelancers similar protections against wage theft as employees have in court and makes not paying freelancers a violation of the New York City Administrative Code. Once a violations of the Administrative Code is established, the violation is enforced by the City, like a parking or Health Code violation.  Intro 1017 creates a streamlined administrative process where the City adjudicates alleged violations and, if a violation is found, enforces the Code,

Here are some of the cool parts of Intro 1017 as written:

  • Requires a written contract that has the scope of the project and the payment terms;
  • Requires payment within 30 days after work is done.  That basically makes it impossible for the client to claim not to have known when payment is due.  It also should make clients adjust their payroll policies to meet the legal requirement;
  • Bans the ol’ “we can pay now if you take less” routine;
  • Bans retaliation against freelancers who assert their rights;
  • Puts in place an administrative process through the New York City Department of Consumers Affairs for debts that are under two years old as measured from the date of non-payment.
  • Creates a new “cause of action” for unpaid freelancers who sue for their wages in Court.  If they prevail, then they get double damages and attorney’s fees;
  • Requires the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs and the New York City Law Department to track non-payment complaints to identify recidivists and track the scope of the problem;
  • Creates a criminal penalty for a knowing and willful violation – employers who purposely don’t pay could be imprisoned for three months!

Although we will suggest some improvements in subsequent blog posts – such as creating liability on behalf of the owner of the client for non-payment which exists for employees under the New York City Labor Law and the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act and allowing for court cases subsequent to the City’s enforcement by extending the limitation period for bringing these claims and making it clear that a freelancer can use private enforcement as a supplement to City enforcement -- Indepayment supports the legislation as written.

We look forward to working with the Freelancers Union, the City Council and other stakeholders to see Intro 1017 become a part of the New York City Administrative Code.