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June 7, 2022, 1:59 p.m.
Reporting & Production

The Freelance Isn’t Free Act passes to protect workers contracted by New York companies (even if they don’t live in the state)

The passage of the law especially benefits freelance workers who live outside of New York but are contracted by companies in the state.

Last week the New York State Senate passed Senate Bill S8369B, aka the “Freelance Isn’t Free Act,” to protect freelance workers from wage theft and unfair payment practices by companies based in the state.

The law is aimed at “creating parity between employees hired onto a payroll and freelancers hired under a time-limited contract.” It mandates that any company hiring a freelancer for at least $250 must provide them with a written contract and timely payment in full. If the contact doesn’t specify a payment date, then the freelancer must be paid within 30 days after the work is completed. The bill also specifies that companies are prohibited from retaliating against freelancers for seeking payment based on their rights guaranteed in the law. Violators of the law could be subject to penalties up to $25,000.

“Freelance Isn’t Free is a major step toward making sure everyone is treated fairly, no matter what tax forms they file,” Eric Thurm, campaign coordinator at the National Writers Union and communications chair for the Freelance Solidarity Project, said in an email. “As the boundaries between traditional employment, freelancing, and gig work become murkier, we must fight for workers who have been unfairly excluded from U.S. labor protections. We’re proud that this bill will not only help New York’s freelancers, but also those working for New York-based employers across the country. As a longtime center for creative industries, we’re excited that New York is setting standards for how writers, artists, illustrators, editors, audio producers, and more get paid.”

The law is a statewide expansion of the New York City law that was enacted in 2017. Its success at the city level is what led lawmakers to expand it to the entire state. From the bill:

On May 15th, 2017, New York City’s Local Law 140 of 2016 establishing the Freelance Isn’t Free Act took effect. This landmark law, which created basic labor protections for freelance workers such as the right to a written contract, timely and full payment, and protection from retaliation, has resulted in 1,191 cases filed with the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) in 2018 and 2019 alone, with more than $1.3 million recovered in restitution and penalties. In 2020, amidst the COVID lockdown, there were 490 complaints filed by freelance workers, 450 for unlawful payment practices. In December of 2021, the City filed its first lawsuit under the Act against L’Officiel USA, the American subsidiary of a global magazine company that had demonstrated a systemic pattern of failing to pay freelancers on time or at all.

These numbers clearly demonstrate what freelancers have always known to be true: that independent contractors, not protected by the same minimum wage laws as regular employees and generally ineligible for unemployment and workers compensation, are some of the most exposed laborers in our state when it comes to wage theft.

The passage of the law especially benefits freelance workers who live outside of New York but are contracted by companies in the state.

“I’m excited about it,” freelance journalist Aria Velasquez, who’s based in Atlanta, Ga., said. “Even though I’m no longer based in New York, a lot of companies I’ve freelanced for are and this becoming a statewide law gives me more protection and leverage against exploitation.”

Wudan Yan, an independent journalist based in Seattle, Wash., said the law not only creates opportunities for freelancers to safely seek work in the state, but also paves the way for more states to guarantee gig workers’s rights. Washington, California, and Pennsylvania also offer varying levels of legal protections to freelancers.

“It’s a really important legal precedent for other states to possibly consider adopting a statewide law on freelancing,” Yan said. “Freelancing Isn’t Free isn’t just about late payment; it’s also about things like retaliation and a number of other freelancers rights. This is really exciting.”

Still waiting on a comment from (presumably) pro-worker Rihanna but in the meantime, read the full bill here.

GIF from Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money.”

Hanaa' Tameez is a staff writer at Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email ( or Twitter DM (@HanaaTameez).
POSTED     June 7, 2022, 1:59 p.m.
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