California Assembly Bill 5, in its original language, seemed as though it could end freelance journalism in the state. The bill, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law September 18, codifies and expands on a 2018 California Supreme Court decision that made it harder for companies to classify workers as freelancers rather than employees. As employees, workers are covered by state laws on the minimum wage, worker’s compensation coverage, workplace discrimination and other protections. As freelancers, they are not.
The bill grabbed nationwide headlines because it appears to define the workers at Uber, Lyft, and other “gig economy” tech companies as employees, covered by a range of workplace protections. When it became clear the bill would pass, Uber, Lyft, and Doordash pledged $90 million toward qualifying a ballot measure that would let them continue to classify their drivers as independent contractors.
The core of the Dynamex decision, and of the new law, is a three-pronged “ABC test,” which is used to determine who is and isn’t a freelancer. The “B” prong, which presents the biggest issue for freelance journalism, states that employers can only contract out work that is “outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.” A company in the business of journalism, then, could not hire freelancers to do journalism.
As CJR reported in March, some publishers responded to the Dynamex ruling by cutting ties with freelancers based in California. The passage of Assembly Bill 5 offers some relief: freelance writers, editors, photographers and editorial cartoonists were
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