BUSINESS

New York City Has A Plan To Help Freelancers Get Paid On Time

The bill requires contracts for projects and payment within 30 days of completion.

When it comes to getting paid on time, freelancing sucks. 

Freelancers often don't get paid with the same assured regularity that salaried, or even hourly, workers do. Instead, they could be following up with a client three months after their project was completed, trying to figure out whether a check was never cut, or whether it just got lost in the mail. 

New York City is trying to do something to change that. Earlier this month, members of the City Council proposed a bill to mandate stability in the lives of freelancers. The bill, which covers freelance projects where a client retains an independent contractor who the client agrees to compensate more than $200, requires that the client 1) must execute a contract that includes a payment due date with the freelancer before the work begins, and 2) must pay the freelancer within 30 days of completion of the project (unless the contract says otherwise).

While this type of law would be difficult to enforce, if this bill were to not only pass but also be put into practice by companies that use freelancers, it would be huge. As journalist and illustrator Susie Cagle pointed out, requiring written agreements for freelance work might even be as important as requiring timely payment.

That said, even with written contracts, a big part of freelancers' jobs often becomes tracking down payment, according to Alisha Miranda, who has done digital media strategy, mostly for startups, in a freelance capacity for the last five years.

"Being paid on time is a constant battle for me," Miranda told The Huffington Post. She said that she uses boilerplate contracts that she finds online, follows up nicely, and always tries to find out who at the company is in charge of paying freelancers. Even so, she's constantly chasing down money. Sometimes, every contact she has at a company has disappeared (quit or been fired) between the time she's assigned a project and the time she should be getting paid. 

"I don’t know any person who has figured out a way to get paid on time," she said.

And it's not always the client's fault. Take this anecdote from Jamie Wiebe, writing for the Billfold

Right now I’m waiting for a paycheck from last month that’s three weeks late — $800. Maybe not much for some, but that’s my rent money. It’s not just the reliability of individual clients that’s up for debate. This check was mailed on time, but somehow disappeared en route, possibly due to our crazy mail-tossing landlady. Or possibly due to the interminable vagaries of the U.S. Postal Service. I don’t know.

This question of rights for freelance workers makes sense for New York City to tackle: it's a city full of actors, writers, artists and other creative people working independently on a project basis out of coffee shops in Bushwick. But this new bill also falls into a larger national conversation about the rights of the growing freelance workforce. 

There is some question as to whether the "freelance economy" -- where we're hurtling toward a changing business landscape where almost everyone works for themselves and contracts out -- really exists or not. But if that is the way the economy is headed, some basic worker protections are in order. The right to be paid on time can be added to the right to affordable health care and portable benefits for independent workers, which are just now coming to the forefront of political debate.  

What sets being paid on time apart from the other debates about freelancers, of course, is enforceability. Some freelancers are so pessimistic about their clients paying on time, they don't have much faith in a law meant to give them legal protections. 

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