NYC Extends Human Rights Protections to Freelancers & Independent Contractors

On January 11, 2020, legislation went into effect to extend New York City’s protections against discrimination, harassment and retaliation to independent contractors and freelance workers. In 2014, the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) had been expanded to include protections for interns. Under the recent expansion, freelancers and independent contractors whose rights are violated now have the same rights as employees and interns to file claims with the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

In NYC, one-third of the workforce is estimated to be freelancers or independent contractors, and three-quarters of incidents of harassment or discrimination against freelancers are unreported. With the upsurge in the freelance economy, these recent changes to NYC law are vitally needed to ensure that freelancers are afforded the same protections as traditional employees.

The NYC Commission on Human Rights (“Commission”) has issued guidance indicating independent contractors are now required to be included in the sexual harassment prevention training required by employers with 15 or more workers. 

To be eligible for protection under the statute, independent contractors must work for the employer more than 80 hours per year and for 90 days or more.  Previously, training for these workers was recommended but not required.

The Commission also has issued guidance that independent contractors and freelancers are eligible for the same “reasonable accommodations” under the law as employees. “Reasonable accommodations” are now available to employees, freelancers and independent contractors who require them due to, among other reasons, disability, pregnancy, and domestic violence victim status.  In addition, the prohibition against an employer conducting criminal background checks and making inquiries regarding salary history for job applicants has been extended to independent contractors and freelancers.

On January 11, 2020, legislation went into effect to extend New York City’s protections against discrimination, harassment and retaliation to independent contractors and freelance workers. In 2014, the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) had been expanded to include protections for interns. Under the recent expansion, freelancers and independent contractors whose rights are violated now have the same rights as employees and interns to file claims with the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

In NYC, one-third of the workforce is estimated to be freelancers or independent contractors, and three-quarters of incidents of harassment or discrimination against freelancers are unreported. With the upsurge in the freelance economy, these recent changes to NYC law are vitally needed to ensure that freelancers are afforded the same protections as traditional employees.

The NYC Commission on Human Rights (“Commission”) has issued guidance indicating independent contractors are now required to be included in the sexual harassment prevention training required by employers with 15 or more workers. 

To be eligible for protection under the statute, independent contractors must work for the employer more than 80 hours per year and for 90 days or more.  Previously, training for these workers was recommended but not required.

The Commission also has issued guidance that independent contractors and freelancers are eligible for the same “reasonable accommodations” under the law as employees. “Reasonable accommodations” are now available to employees, freelancers and independent contractors who require them due to, among other reasons, disability, pregnancy, and domestic violence victim status.  In addition, the prohibition against an employer conducting criminal background checks and making inquiries regarding salary history for job applicants has been extended to independent contractors and freelancers.

Finally, the Commission clarified how it is determined whether an employer was subject to the protections provided to workers under the NYCHRL.  Previously, the NYCHRL excluded as “covered employers” those who employed fewer than four persons.  The new law clarifies that, to be excluded from coverage, employers must have had fewer than four employees from the time period beginning twelve months prior to the beginning of an unlawful discriminatory practice and continuing through the end of such practice.  However, the four-employee rule does not apply to gender-based harassment claims. Under the NYCHRL, all employers are covered by the anti-sexual harassment provisions. The recent changes also clarify that an employer’s spouse, domestic partner, and children who work for the employer, as well as independent contractors who work “in furtherance of an employer’s business enterprise,” are counted in determining the four-person threshold. 

For more information or to consult with an experienced NYC employment law attorney, please contact Colleen M. Meenan at Meenan & Associates, LLC.

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