We often write in this space about the sweeping anti-discrimination protections contained in the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). The law prohibits not only employment discrimination based on certain characteristics like age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender and others, but also bans harassment and retaliation against employees who assert rights under the law or otherwise cooperate in its enforcement.
New freelance rights
On Jan. 11, a sweeping expansion of these provisions took effect. Local Law 172, passed in 2019, amended the NYCHRL to extend all employee protections to “freelancers and independent contractors.” Freelancers in New York City will now be able to file complaints with the city for employer violations of the NYCHRL’s protections against discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
Protections for a huge sector of NYC workers
The New York Daily News quoted Caitlin Pearce, director of the Freelancers Union, as saying that there are 1.3 million freelancers in New York City – about one-third of the workforce. She explained the impetus for this expansion of the law – that this high number of people have had no safe legal recourse for reporting discrimination and harassment in their professional and vocational activities.
In addition, the law’s expansion also places significant responsibilities on employers to provide reasonable accommodations to independent contractors and freelancers. The NYCHRL requires employers to reasonably accommodate “needs related to disabilities, pregnancy, lactation, religious observances, and status as victims of domestic violence, sexual offenses, or stalking,” writes the Commission on Human Rights in a release on the new law.
That one-page information sheet clarifies that a covered freelancer or independent contractor is a person who does “work for an employer and [is] not an employee” – regardless of what title the hiring entity gives the person or the professional relationship.
Any freelancer with questions about how the law impacts their situation should seek advice from an attorney. New York City employers should consult legal counsel about compliance, including whether those people who provide services without employment relationships fall within the freelancer or independent contractor role under the law.