On 27 October 2016, the world changed for freelancers. At least for freelancers in New York. In a landmark move, New York City Council passed the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, marking the dawn of a new era for freelancers’ rights when it comes to non-payment of invoices.
Any long-term freelancer – whether a professional translator, writer of any other kind of freelancer – will be able to recount one or more tales of having completed work in good faith and then not receiving payment for it. Making phone calls, sending emails and writing steadily more legal-sounding letters can be a serious time drain as well as an emotional drain on a freelancer’s resources.
In recognition of how common this problem is for freelancers, the Freelancers Union has created the world’s longest invoice, which freelancers around the world with unpaid bills have contributed to. At the time of writing, the total stands at $4,194,581, with the Freelancers Union revealing that 71% of freelancers struggle to get paid.
The passing of the Freelance Isn’t Free Act in New York provides unprecedented protections to freelancers chasing payment of their invoices. Under the new legislation, clients of New York’s freelancers will be required to use a contract for their engagement of the freelancer and could be liable for a range of non-payment penalties, such as legal fees, civil fees and double damages. The idea behind the act is that freelancers deserve the same protection from wage theft as full-time employees already enjoy.
As an unprecedented piece of legislation, the Freelance Isn’t Free Act may well serve as an inspiration to other US states. Given that freelancers now account for some 35% of the US workforce and generated $1 trillion in 2015, according to the Freelancers Union, there is likely to be strong demand across the United States for the act to spread.
Other countries will no doubt be keeping a watchful eye on the example being set by the US in terms of the country’s treatment of its freelance workforce. The protections in place for full-time workers around the world already vary wildly from place to place and the rise of freelance working means that freelancers tend to be afforded less protection than most in many ways. A lack of benefits such as sick pay, maternity leave and paid holiday already mean that freelancers lag behind the established rights of many employees.
The Freelancers Union is campaigning vigorously for the Freelance Isn’t Free Act to be taken up across the US, but the lack of such a campaign in many other countries means that freelancers can be particularly vulnerable to non-payment. And it seems that it is up to the freelance community itself to push for change and assert freelancers’ rights.
There are some things that freelancers can do in order to guard against the non-payment of invoices. For large jobs, using an Escrow account means that the money for the job is essentially held securely between the client and the freelancer, pending completion of the job. Staged payments can also work well for jobs such as large translation services, with the freelancer and client agreeing milestones in advance of the project starting.
Doing your homework when approached by a new client can also be helpful. Google them and find out as much as you can in advance of accepting the job, so that you have a clearer picture of who it is that you will be working for.
Of course there is only so much that you can do in advance, even with an extremely cautious attitude to new clients, which is why the passing of the Freelance Isn’t Free Act in New York is being hailed as such a victory for freelancers.
Have you suffered at the hands of non-paying clients? How much time and energy did you pour into chasing an invoice before realising that you would never see the payment for that job? Share your thoughts via the comments.