New York City to Protect Freelancers From Nonpayment for Gigs

Author: Marta Moakley, XpertHR Legal Editor

November 11, 2016

UPDATE - November 16, 2016: Mayor Bill DeBlasio has signed the Freelance Isn't Free Act. It will take effect 180 days later on May 15, 2017.

The New York City Council has unanimously passed the first law in the nation protecting freelancers from clients' nonpayment for services performed. The Freelance Isn't Free Act creates and enhances protections for freelance workers, spotlighting gig economy enforcement issues at the municipal level. Mayor Bill DeBlasio is expected to sign the legislation, and has scheduled a hearing on the matter for Wednesday, November 16, 2016.

Council Member Brad Lander sponsored the bill after the Freelancers Union launched the Freelance Isn't Free Campaign in September 2015. The Act does not cover all independent contractors, however. Certain sales representatives, attorneys and licensed medical professionals are excluded from the Act's protections.

The Act provides freelancers the following protections:

  • The right to a written contract;
  • The right to be paid timely and in full;
  • The right to freedom from retaliation; and
  • The right to recover unpaid amounts due through penalties, including:
    • Statutory damages;
    • Double damages;
    • Injunctive relief; and
    • Attorney fees.

A freelancer may enforce his or her rights by filing a claim in state court. In addition, if there is a pattern or practice of violations, the Corporation Counsel may choose to bring a claim to recover, on behalf of the city, a civil penalty of up to $25,000.

The Office of Labor Standards (OLS) has enforcement authority over the Act and may:

  • Receive complaints;
  • Create a navigation program, which would provide information and assistance to complainants; and
  • Gather data and report on the Act's effectiveness.

If enacted, the Act requires the OLS to make available model contracts on the website for public use. The contracts would be available in English and in the additional six languages most commonly spoken by limited English proficient individuals in the city: Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Haitian Creole, Russian and Italian.