• Sonya Collins, independent journalist, moderator 
  • Debbie Kaplan, freelance journalist and content writer
  • Randy Dotinga, freelance journalist and board member of the Association of Health Care Journalists
  • Karon Warren, cofounder of Fight For Freelancers USA
  • Arturo Hernandez, attorney, McMahon Berger 

Brian Rinker

If freelancers didn't already have enough multitasking to do, they may need to add another to-do item on their lists — fight against so-called "anti-freelancer" bills. 

This panel comprised of freelancers and a labor attorney warned that recent laws like California’s AB 5, the proposed federal PRO Act and changes to the federal definition of “independent contractor” could cause a wave of would-be clients to shun freelancers for fear that hiring them could lead to costly lawsuits.

Such policies are intended to protect gig workers like app-based drivers from being taken advantage of by large employers that would rather not have to pay for employee benefits, including health insurance, overtime pay and retirement. Under these new laws, if certain criteria are met, independent contractors would be classified as employees, thereby entitling them to benefits. 

The policies are aimed at employers, but panelists worry that some freelancers will meet the criteria to be classified as employees and could lose longtime and future clients. Even though many freelancers don’t want to be labeled employees, their clients might limit or stop working with them for fear it could lead to a lawsuit. 

Not long after AB 5 went into effect in 2020, Randy Dotinga, a San Diego freelance writer and AHCJ board member, said he “started hearing about freelancers losing work in California." 

Dotinga and other freelancer advocates helped roll back some of the changes in AB 5 that limited the number of assignments a freelancer could do with a single client. Even so, he said the law has inspired similar legislation and has created a chilling effect nationwide where companies from other states in a bid to limit risk have stopped hiring freelancers in California. 

The Fight for Freelancers USA, a coalition co-founded by Debbie Kaplan and Karon Warren, recommended that freelancers need to pay attention to these laws and fight for their rights to run their businesses how they see fit. 

Kaplan and Warren, both longtime freelancers, said the best way to defeat such laws is to harness what freelance writers do best — tell compelling stories that demonstrate the harmful impact these laws will have on real people. 

For those interested in battling the "anti-freelancer" bills, the panelists offered the following suggestions: 

  • Call, email, write and tweet lawmakers: tell them not to support laws that classify freelancers as employees
  • Get published: write op-eds and letters to the editor
  • Share your story — why you prefer to be self-employed, and why you want to remain self-employed
  • Join a freelancer advocacy organization 

Sharing personal stories and the impact policies have on real people, Warren said, can help push back against these harmful laws "so that it doesn't put us out of business."

Brian Rinker is a freelance journalist and writer in San Francisco.