How to Protect Yourself as a Freelancer

Steps you can take to ensure you’re not railroaded by new laws surrounding freelancers.

California’s AB5 took effect on January 1st, and it has serious implications for virtual business owners and freelancers in the area. Similar legislation is coming to several other states. And Congress is currently contemplating comparable legislation with H.R. 2474 as well.

The livelihood of freelancers is being threatened, and it’s important to know what you can do to protect yourself and ensure that you’re in compliance with the new laws. 

To put it simply, AB5 has been disastrous for many freelancers and VBOs in California, effectively ending their careers. Though the law was supposedly designed to give more rights to Uber and Lyft drivers among other gig workers, AB5 has ended up limiting the freedom and economic prosperity of a broader class of independent workers.

Freelance writers and photographers in California were particularly targeted, as they are now limited to 35 submissions per client per year. It’s a fairly arbitrary number, but the logic behind it is that if a content creator is providing more than about three submissions a month, they should really be an employee of that company.

Many of us left traditional employment because we preferred the freedom and flexibility that freelancing offers. Now California is trying to herd freelancers back into jobs, assuming that companies will be willing to hire on their independent contractors, which has not been the case. Many California freelancers and VBOs have simply been dropped by their clients in light of the new law. As you can see, a law that was intended on some level to protect independent contractors has had the opposite effect. 

So, if you’re a California freelancer, what are you to do? You need to protect yourself, and the first step to accomplish that is to understand the law

Who counts as an independent contractor anyway? 

AB5 requires freelancers and VBOs to meet a three-standard ABC test to be classified as a legal independent contractor in the state of California:

  1. You must be free from the control and direction of the employer.

Basically, to meet this test, you have to determine your own schedule and method of performing the services rendered without the supervision of the hiring entity. 

  1. You must perform work that is outside the hirer’s core business.

This test is the one that’s making it particularly hard for writers, many of whom write for news outlets and media entities. The work you perform has to be distinct from the nature of the employer’s business. 

  1. You must customarily engage in an independently established trade, occupation or business.

This test means that you have to have established your business on your own, and you must work within it regularly. It can’t just be some one-off side hustle. To qualify as an independent contractor in California, you must ensure that you meet all three tests. 

Now, certain professions were given blanket exemptions to the ABC test, including doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, private investigators, insurance agents, accountants, financial brokers, real estate agents, direct salespersons, and commercial fishers.

Seek legal counsel.

There are several conditional exemptions as well. To find out if you’re exempt, and to understand overall how AB5 applies to you, it may be helpful to contact a business or employment lawyer. Contacting a lawyer will ensure that you understand the law and help you determine whether or not you’re in compliance so that you can protect yourself. 

Make your voice heard.

VBO Nation was made for freelancers by freelancers. And we sympathize with freelancers and VBOs in California. Similar legislation is coming to other states, and national legislation may be on its way with H.R. 2474.

To combat this disastrous legislation, VBO Nation has launched our Center for VBO Independence where those affected by AB5 and similar laws can mobilize for our cause. We want to protect freelancers everywhere and send a message to the government that our livelihood is not up for regulation.

Among other things, we have created a petition to tell Congress to vote NO on H.R. 2474 and any other legislation that attempts to force freelancers back into jobs. You can access the petition at https://vbonation.com/petition/ or change.org

Keep up with the latest freelance law news.

You have to stay informed to protect yourself as a freelancer in light of all of these new laws. To help you do that, we have launched our advocacy platform to keep you up to date on the latest freelance law news. Be sure to check it out frequently so that you can stay abreast of changes that may impact you and your business. 

We know these are troubling times for freelancers in California and across the country, but know that VBO Nation is committed to leading the fight in protection for freelancers. We have sent correspondence to public officials to inform them about the harmful effects of these kinds of laws. And, we have contacted influencers and movers and shakers in the business community to seek out their support.

We will continue to raise awareness and be advocates for America’s 57 million freelancers and VBOs. We hope you’ll join us in the fight to protect freelancer interests. Together, we can show lawmakers that we won’t be stifled or silenced.

Chantel Baul

I’m a skilled communicator with more than four years’ experience in digital and print content creation, who has a keen ability to adapt messages for diverse audiences. I have demonstrated proficiency in editorial writing conventions, social media strategy, brand reputation management, and interdisciplinary collaboration. I’m a driven and progressive researcher with an aptitude for storytelling. I'm also a proud Public Affairs Officer in the United States Army Reserve.

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