• Advocacy

Freelancers included in NYC anti-discrimination legislation

Have you ever been turned down for a gig because of your race or gender? Discrimination among individuals in the freelance workforce isn’t commonly discussed – mostly because there’s not a lot a freelancer can do if it happens.

In New York City, however, that might soon change. Councilman Brad Lander introduced an amendment to the City’s Human Rights Law that would clarify which workers are protected under the law and include freelance and contract workers within its scope.

The New York City Human Rights Law prohibits various forms of discrimination in hiring, employment, housing, and policing. The Anti-Discrimination Center, a non-profit fighting discrimination, calls it “one of the most powerful anti-discrimination laws in the country, far stronger than either federal law or most state counterparts.”

It bars discrimination based on “race, color, religion/creed, age, national origin, alienage or citizenship status, gender (including sexual harassment), gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy, marital status, and partnership status.” Here’s a handy card the NYC Human Rights Commission provides on protections under the law.

The Human Rights Law was amended earlier this year to prohibit discrimination against those caring for children or someone with a disability. In August, the mayor and several council members announced an amendment introduced in Council to add “actual or perceived uniformed service as a protected status” under the Human Rights Law. An amendment was also introduced prohibiting employers from asking about a prospective employee’s salary history, following a similar law passed in Massachusetts in early August that was widely praised as a strong blow against gender wage discrimination.

For freelancers, this is a big deal. Discrimination against independent workers has been historically hard to document because freelancers previously had no recourse against it. This law would enable freelancers to report discrimination cases to the city or take employers to court under the law.

The amendment provides a much-needed update to our labor laws as it not only offers protections to freelancers, but actually recognizes independent contractors as part of the workforce as a whole. The bill would make simple changes to clarify that all workers (working for employers with more than three employees) are employees.

Under the law, the term “employee” includes:

  • Interns
  • Part-time, temporary, leased or seasonal workers
  • Natural persons employed as independent contractors to carry out work in furtherance of an employer’s business enterprise who are not themselves employers.”

Finally, freelance work is becoming part of the rules, rather than an exception to them.

Jesse Kudler Jesse Kudler is a writer and musician in Philadelphia, where he works in organizing electoral campaigns, non-profit communications, arts administration and curation, and other freelance positions.