Legislation will ensure that freelancers and independent contractors are protected from workplace discrimination and harassment under the NYC Human Rights Law

New York, NY — NYC Council Member Brad Lander, Freelancers Union, and freelance workers celebrated ahead of expected passage of legislation to expand the anti-discrimination protections of the NYC Human Rights Law to cover freelance workers and independent contractors. The legislation, Intro. 136, ensures that freelancers, and independent contractors have the same recourse to address harassment and discrimination based on their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, immigration status, or other protected identity as traditional employees under the Human Rights Law. 

“Corporations have shifted to rely more and more on independent contractors and freelancers. But these workers have been cut out of fundamental protections like the right to be free from harassment and discrimination in their work. Together with workers, and in partnership with Freelancers Union, we are clawing back the rights and expanding protections that all workers deserve,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Closing the loophole that left independent contractors without sufficient recourse for discrimination or harassment builds on the Council’s ambitious work to win protections for gig-economy workers. New York City’s new laws — including our 2018 living wage for for-hire drivers and the 2017 Freelance Isn’t Free Act to protect freelancers from being stiffed out of payments they’ve earned — have already secured hundreds of millions of dollars for hard-working New Yorkers.”

As temporary, contracted workers with little bargaining power, freelancers are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and until now have had little recourse to address it. Workers in this growing segment of both the local and the national economy face precarious working conditions, little leverage, and a lack of worker protections. Intro. 136 will give freelancers an avenue to report discrimination cases to the NYC Human Rights Commission for investigation and adjudication.

“One in three New York City workers is freelancing, including 61% of workers in media and entertainment sectors,” said Caitlin Pearce, Executive Director of Freelancers Union. “Freelancers represent an incredibly diverse group of workers from across all boroughs and backgrounds. Unfortunately, too many must go to work feeling unsafe and have no place where they can safely report violations. Research by Freelancers Union has found that nearly 75% of incidents of harassment or discrimination against freelance workers go unreported. I commend Council Member Brad Lander and the New York City Council for taking this step to provide freelancers badly needed recourse against discrimination.”  

“I now know I’ll be able to bring all my talents, experience, and ambition to the workplace without the fear of being taken advantage of. I’m so proud of New York for passing this bill and protecting the rights of freelancers across all industries,” said Erin Bagwell, a filmmaker and freelance writer who testified about facing sexual harassment as a freelancer at an adverstising company.

“NYC already established that freelancers should be valued with the Freelance Isn’t Free Act. So now, I’m proud NYC is staying ahead of the curve by recognizing that the future of work is changing – and that those changes mean freelancers should also be protected! Extending these protections to freelancers gives me hope for the future,” said Angela Ivana, freelance beauty professional and founder of CosmoSafe who testified about experiencing discrimination as the only African American beauty professional at an agency providing hair and makeup for productions.

“In our struggles for increased safety and greater quality of life, we have all finally achieved the goal of making NYC a sanctuary for freelancers against crimes of harassment and discrimination. This will be the framework and cornerstone for freedom of mind, work and perhaps the achievement of even higher merit. We also hope that our victory will be an example to the rest of the world of greater justice,” said Nina Irizarry, who testified about harassment she faced by the manager of her band as a contract singer. 

“Everyone deserves to feel safe in the workplace. Unfortunately, freelancers currently have no legal protection from harassment. This is especially troubling considering that 50% of the American workforce is estimated to be freelance by 2020. This new law is a game changer, and I hope that other states follow suit. It makes me proud to be a New Yorker,” said Jillian Richardson, a freelance writer who testified about experiencing harassment in a co-working space. 

“I am grateful to Councilmember Brad Lander and NYC leadership for passing this much needed Bill that protects and empowers freelancers like myself, to report and challenge the harassment and discrimination often found in oppressive workplace cultures,” said Carolina Salas Saunders, freelance marketer who testified about being sexually assaulted while working as a freelancer in the restaurant industry. 

“Civil rights enforcement can’t be effective unless it keeps up with the realities of changing workplace structures and, just as importantly, conscientiously closes loopholes that the discrimination defense industry tries to exploit. Council Member Lander’s Intro 136 makes a critically important contribution on both fronts,” said Craig Gurian, Executive Director of the Anti-Discrimination Center.

“As the gig economy continues to crowd out traditional employment, it is crucial that all protections available to employees, including protection from unlawful discrimination, be available to independent contractors. This bill is a fundamental step in that direction and we strongly support it,” said Miriam Clark, President of National Employment Lawyers, New York affiliate.

“We applaud New York for covering independent contractors and others under its Human Rights law. New York is joining a growing number of jurisdictions extending labor rights to workers, no matter what the boss wants to call them,” said Rebecca Smith, Director of Work Structures at the National Employment Law Project.