Why Freelancers Should Fear California’s Gig Worker Law


California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed into law a new bill that all but eliminates gig work in the Golden State. State legislators took it upon themselves to redefine what constitutes an independent contractor, narrowing its definition so strictly that the results will reach a lot further than what misguided lawmakers intended. Freelancers should be worried.

Legislators created the law to target big names like Uber and DoorDash. It is their belief that gig economy companies with vast financial resources should take better care of their workers. Whether or not you agree, there are a lot more little guys than there are big-name companies like Uber. The big boys have the resources to fight the law. The little guys don’t.

Unfortunately, California’s law doesn’t make a clear distinction between a gig worker and a freelancer. It cannot. And even though there are exemptions for certain kinds of workers, the exemptions aren’t enough for many freelancers – like writers, for example.

An Insufficient Exemption

Freelance writers in California can remain independent contractors under the new law provided they meet a very specific requirement: they cannot produce content for a single client more than 35 times per year. If you were a writer producing one weekly column for a single publication, you would have to reduce your submissions to just 35 weeks or become an employee of that publication.

There are multiple problems here. For example, only the highest paid syndicated writers can survive on a single column per week. Full-time writers capable of producing feature length columns have to write at least 4 to 6 per week to make a good income. Those who survive on less lucrative content – like blog posts and news articles – often write up to 100 pieces per week.

The exemption is simply inadequate. For a content writer whose primary source of income is blog posts, meeting the requirements of the exemption would mean doing business with hundreds of clients simultaneously. That is both impractical and inefficient.

Freelancers Without Work

Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have already begun mounting efforts to fight the law. In all likelihood, they will get around it one way or the other. Meanwhile, small-time freelancers could find themselves without work by February 2020.

Some employers will scrap their freelancing budgets and bring on a full-timer to handle the work. As for the remaining freelancers unable to land one of the new jobs, oh well. State legislators expect them to find something else to do.

Social Justice Without Common Sense

California’s gig worker law is ostensibly about protecting worker rights. Dallas-based BenefitMall explains it this way: by reclassifying gig workers as direct employees, legislators are forcing companies to offer them the equivalent of full-time wages, overtime pay, and all the fringe benefits state law requires.

State legislators consider the law necessary to achieve social justice. Unfortunately, they don’t appear to be able to apply common sense to their legislative efforts. Creating a law to go after a small number of gig economy companies while ignoring the plight of thousands of freelancers shows a lack of understanding and awareness. It demonstrates that lawmakers do not think through the consequences of their actions before they legislate.

Freelancers in California now find themselves in the crosshairs of an aggressive state legislature and a willing governor who seem unconcerned about their futures. That’s bad enough. Now, freelancers in the remaining 49 states will have to keep an eye on what happens in California. If this starts to spread, the whole concept of freelance work could eventually be in danger.

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