Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Labor Committee Chair Carl Heastie today announced the Assembly's approval of a bill (A.5472) to assist independent contractors who provide much sought after professional services but are being victimized by clients who refuse to pay for the work provided.
"Being ripped off by a client should not be an occupational hazard that freelancers have to live with," said Silver. "Under the provisions of this measure, when a transaction goes bad, independent contractors will be able to turn to the state Labor Department just like every other worker in the state and get the help needed to recover the wages they are owed from unscrupulous employers."
"No one should be denied payment for their work," said Heastie, the sponsor of the bill. "This abuse of the self-employed, many of whom work long hours seven days a week and pay their own health insurance, social security and Medicare, has gone on for far too long. The requirements and penalties of this bill are meant to deter clients from failing to pay freelancers the money they have earned."
A critical provision of the legislation would ensure freelance workers are not treated as second class citizens. The bill would grant the state Department of Labor (DOL) broader oversight over contracts involving independent workers, providing the same protections and compensation-guarantees that traditional employees receive but currently are not available to freelancers.
To ensure independent contractors receive payment for the wages they are owed, the measure would:
"This bill will give independent contractors some peace of mind, knowing the law has been strengthened to crack down on this injustice so they can spend less time chasing down delinquent clients for wages owed and more time earning a living for themselves and their families," added Silver.
The Speaker and Heastie noted that not only will the bill help freelancers prosper but it also will support their presence in the workforce, which benefits the state's economy and the many existing and newly established businesses that depend on a steady supply of highly skilled and flexible independent employees to compete in today's fast-paced and ever-changing economy.
Under the bill, which the Assembly has now passed for three years in a row, violators could face several penalties, including being forced to pay double the amount of compensation due, fined up to $20,000 or sentenced to a maximum of one year in jail.
To document how common it is for deadbeat clients to abuse independent contractors, the Freelancers Union, through its "Longest Invoice" website, maintains an online running tally of the almost $16 billion currently owed to freelancers. This public posting of unpaid services involves professions such as computer software programmers, web designers, graphic artists, writers, photographers and television producers.
The bill was delivered to the Senate.