Lander: New York Has New Law Protecting Freelancers Against Getting Stiffed

City Council Member Brad Lander (Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Keningston) yesterday led more 60 Council members, supporters and freelancers gathered at the top of the steps of City Hall yesterday to push for the passage of the ‘Freelance Isn’t Free Act’ or Int. No 1017-C, and about two hours later the City Council passed the measure.

The act is an amendment to NYC labor laws that would specifically target those cases in which freelancers were victims of unlawful payment practices, which is defined as non-payment, payment on a delayed payment schedule or a reduced rate of payment in exchange for a timely payment by the act.

City Council Member Brad Lander
City Council Member Brad Lander

“Today New York City became the first jurisdiction in the country – city, state, or federal –  to provide strong protections to freelancers and independent contractors against getting cheated out of money they’ve earned and helping to make sure that all workers get paid on-time and in full for the work they’ve done,” said Lander, who was the prime sponsor of the legislation.

If Mayor Bill de Blasio signs the bill, which he is expected to do, freelancers with a strong case will be able to go to the Director of the Office of Labor Standards within the Department of Consumer Affairs and file what is known as a “complaint.” The director will then send a ‘notice of complaint’ to the ‘hiring party’ so they are aware that they are being sought for payment of services. At which point the hiring party will either choose to pay for the services rendered immediately, respond back with proof that they already paid, or not give a response at all.

The new act is limited to any grievance of $800 or more and complaints must be filed within two years of the violation of payment. In addition, a written contract is required to be protected under this new act.

City Council Member Rafael Espinal Jr. Addresses the rally at City Hall.
City Council Member Rafael Espinal Jr. Addresses the rally at City Hall.

The act will not provide legal advice in cases of payment violation but instead will offer as defined by the bill a “navigation program” that includes: “general court information and information about procedures under this chapter”, “information about available templates and relevant court forms”, “general information about classifying persons as employees or independent contractors”, “a list of organizations that can be used for the identification of attorneys”, and any other relevant information.

Initially the act included criminal charges against the hiring party’s payment violation but the wording never made it into the final draft. There is no fine or criminal consequence specifically defined by the new law, for the worst cases freelancers will have to file an independent legal claim in order to regain their money.

Instead, the act is meant to help expedite payment through formal notice or provide necessary proof for any freelancer filing a legal suit. The law will take effect in the coming year and will open up an avenue for any freelancers within the statute of limitations who is still owed money for their work.

“Freelance is not free. It’s not a hobby. People are doing this to make money, to put food on the table, to provide for their families, to pay their rent,” said City Councilman Rafael Espinal (Bushwick, East New York, Cypress Hills), Chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee, promising to fight for the freelancers in his district of Brooklyn. “We are doing everything we can to make sure that they are being paid at the end of their work.

Other attendees at the rally before the passage included Council members, Ben Kallos, Carlos Menchaca, Jimmy Van Bramer, Margaret Chin, Stephen Levin, and Public Advocate Tish James.

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