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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Independent contractor and freelancer worker protection in New York City

Certain workplace protections typical for employees will be extended to independent contractors and "freelance" workers for New York City businesses, under a new bill passed by the New York City Council today and expected to be signed into law by the Mayor, Bill deBlasio, soon.  But oppressed and exploited workers shouldn't rejoice too much, and may need to get a lawyer anyway to protect them.

Here's why. The bill could be onerous on businesses, which risks the unintended consequence of discouraging businesses from using independent contractors and instead (perhaps) prompt them to "hire" them as "employees." 

On the other hand, the bill requires written contracts for any "gig" with a value of $800 or more, and provides for damages and legal fees to be paid to the prevailing plaintiff. Court actions can be brought in state court (Supreme Court of each borough).

The intended beneficiaries? Anyone -- everyone -- who is an independent contractor or freelancer. 

Who's not covered? Lawyers, doctors, nurses (the bill refers to "medical professionals") and salespeople. (That, by the way, is to the benefit of those professionals, because the burdens of the bill potentially could discourage New York employers from using freelancers in those professions. Keep reading.)

Who's required to comply? Any non-governmental entity. This doesn't just mean all businesses. It means religious institutions, educational institutions, nonprofits, political campaigns, just about anyone and everyone who pays $800 or more to anyone without making them an employee. 

What the bill does*:

(* - Assuming the present version is signed by Mayor DeBlasio)
  • It establishes and enhances protections for freelance workers (independent contractors / not employees) including the right to written contract, the right to be paid timely and in full, the right to be free of retaliation. 
  • It provides penalties for violations of these rights, including statutory damages, double damages, injunctive relief and attorney's fees. 
  • If you want to bring a court action, you do it in state court in the Supreme Court of each borough. 
  • The government (NYC) can get involved when it discovers or suspects there is evidence of a pattern or practice of violations, and go to court to seek penalties of up to $25,000. 
  • Complaints from the public would go to the Office of Labor Standards (OLS) which will have to set up a system to adjudicate these complaints. 
I am fielding inquiries from affected businesses, nonprofits and churches and may be reached at either 917-696-2442 or via email at EDixon@NYBusinessCounsel.com.


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