New York City Businesses Now Subject to 'Freelance Isn't Free' Act

Author: Marta Moakley, XpertHR Legal Editor

May 15, 2017

New York City's 'Freelance Isn't Free' Act, which contains a number of protections for independent contractors, is now law. Freelancers may enforce their rights in a number of ways, and the City as well as the Freelancers Union have engaged in a communications campaign to ensure gig workers are aware of their legal options.

Resources for Businesses

The City's Department of Consumer Affairs, Office of Labor Policy and Standards (OLPS) has released a number of resources for businesses engaging freelancers, including:

"Solopreneurs" covered by the law, including those who may be incorporated or who use a trade name, may now enforce their rights under the Act by:

  • Filing a complaint with the OLPS; or
  • Filing a claim in state court.

In addition, if there is a pattern or practice of violations, the City's Corporation Counsel may choose to bring a claim to recover, on behalf of the City, a civil penalty of up to $25,000.

The OLPS has made clear that freelancers are protected regardless of immigration status.

Application Outside of City Limits

The new law, as interpreted by the OLPS, may have some reach outside of New York City. In its FAQs, the OLPS explains that, while extraterritorial application of a law is ultimately a legal question to be resolved by courts, the determination of whether the law applies may depend on whether:

  • Some, but not all, of the work is performed in New York City;
  • The freelance worker is hired or retained in New York City; or
  • The hiring party has significant operations in New York City.

Enforcement Assistance for Freelancers

In addition to processing complaints, the OLPS provides court navigation services to freelance workers pursuing their claims in court. The OLPS has released a 54-page guide detailing the court process. Although the OLPS may not provide legal advice, it may refer a freelancer to an attorney in certain circumstances.

Of interest to those engaging gig workers, the Freelancers Union has released an app that allows freelancers to "choose from a curated selection of lawyers who are committed to serving freelancers." The app was released in conjunction with the Act's effective date. According to FAQs on the Freelancers Union site, the app connects freelancers with lawyers who practice in legal areas including nonpayment, contracts, intellectual property, discrimination and immigration.