illustration of group of freelancers looking at you, standing up for their rights under the freelance isn't free act

Freelance Isn’t Free Act: The Details About FIFA

In New York, hard work is a common currency. New Yorkers, renowned for their industrious spirit, weave dreams with tireless tenacity. But while dreams are vast, paychecks should never fall short. Particularly for freelancers, who, like all workers, deserve to be remunerated both timely and in full for their diligence. Recognizing this pressing need and to uphold the rights of freelancers, New York City introduced the Freelance Isn’t Free Act (FIFA) in 2017, and in 2023 FIFA has gone statewide. A formidable asset in the toolkit of every New York freelancer, FIFA promises to level the playing field. But how can one harness its full potential? Journey with me as we explore FIFA, revealing its benefits and guiding you, step by step, to ensure that every cent of your hard-earned freelance income finds its way to you.

man is writing contract for freelance isn't free act

Overview of FIFA Guide

In this article, I’m going to break down everything you need to know about FIFA. I will also explain the step-by-step process to make a FIFA claim.

Jump to:

Section 1: What is the Freelance Isn’t Free Act? How Does it Work?

1. What is the Freelance Isn’t Free Act (FIFA)?

FIFA is a New York law that allows freelancers and independent contractors in New York to receive double the unpaid value of their invoice if the hiring party refuses to pay, underpays, or pays late. The act provides strong protections for freelance workers, ensuring they receive timely and proper payment for their services.

Provisions of the Freelance Isn’t Free Act

  • Written Contract: If you’re hiring a freelancer for $800 or more (considering any gigs in the last 120 days too), you need a written contract. That contract should list both parties’ names and addresses, a breakdown of the job, the pay amount, how they’ll be paid, and the due date.
  • Timely Payment: Unless the contract says otherwise, you gotta pay within 30 days of the job completion. And no sneaky business – once terms are set, don’t try to underpay.
  • No Retaliation: Don’t mess with a freelancer for standing up for their FIFA rights. No threats, no denying them work, none of that.
  • Right to Damages: Break the contract or the law? The freelancer might sue. Late on payment? They could get double the due amount, plus legal fees.

2. When did the Freelance Isn’t Free Act go into effect?

May 15, 2017. FIFA applies to any contract entered into after this date.

3. Why did New York pass the Freelance Isn’t Free Act?

The Freelancers Union, which is a non-profit advocacy organization for freelancers and independent contractors, is based in New York.

After an in-depth study, the Freelancers Union found that nearly 1 in 3 New Yorkers is earning freelance income. It also found that freelancers contribute $31.4 billion dollars to the NYC economy annually!

However, the comprehensive study also found that 75% of freelancers faced difficulty receiving timely payment on at least one project. By some estimates, at least 150,000 New York City freelancers experience late payments or no payments each year.

Faced with these startling statistics and a history of payment abuses against freelancers, the City passed FIFA, which is now the most powerful legal payment protection for freelancers in the United States.

freelancer is working on computer in cafe

4. To whom does the Freelance Isn’t Free Act apply? (Or…Who qualifies as a “freelancer” under the Freelance Isn’t Free Act?)

FIFA defines who qualifies as a “freelance worker” very, very broadly.

  • You qualify as a freelancer entitled to special benefits under FIFA as long as you are hired to provide any sort of service in exchange for compensation within New York.
  • You qualify even if you have a company, so long as the company has no other employees.
  • Only salespeople, attorneys, medical professionals, and government contract work are excluded from protection under FIFA.

Here’s another way to think about it: If you receive a 1099 for your work, you qualify as a “freelancer” or independent contractor under FIFA.

freelancer is working home construction

Here is a list that we came up with of the different types of jobs to which FIFA could apply, assuming you did your work as a freelancer:

Work Category Specific Job
Construction   Drywallers, Painters, Carpenters, Electricians, Plumbers, Roofers
Artists Musicians, Singers, Photographers, Videographers, Painters, Drawers, Sculptors, Actors, Set Designers, Dancers, Hair Stylists, Makeup Artists, Fashion Designers, Choreographers, Graffiti Artists
Technical Editors, Writers, Software Developers / Coders / Programmers, Web Designers, System Administrators
Laborers Mechanics, Auto Detailers & Car Wash Professionals, Custodial Engineers / Janitors, Lawn Service Professionals, Movers
Miscellaneous Wedding Coordinators, Childcare & Babysitters, Dog Walkers / Dog Sitters, Consultants, Architects, CPAs / Financial Planners / Tax Advisors, Tour Guides, Personal Assistants, Chauffeurs / Drivers, Chefs, Caterers, Exotic Dancers, Translators

This list is only the beginning. There may be many other types of jobs to which FIFA applies.

The only real requirement for FIFA to apply to you is that you performed some freelance or independent contracting work within New York limits.

In sum, FIFA covers nearly all individuals hired as independent contractors for pay.

ballet dancer not in union

5. Does the Freelance Isn’t Free Act still apply if the freelancer’s work was not performed in New York?

According to the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, FIFA may still apply to you depending on the overall circumstances of the work.

This includes whether some portion of the work was performed in New York, whether you were hired in New York, and the extent of the hiring party’s operations within New York.

This is an open question that has not yet been answered by the courts.

6. What are the Freelance Isn’t Free Act’s specific requirements?

FIFA requires several things:

    • FIFA requires full payment to freelancers within 30 days of completing their work.
    • FIFA requires hiring parties to provide a written contract if the freelancer performs at least $800 of work over a four-month period. FIFA penalizes the hiring party—not the freelancer—if a written contract is not provided.
    • FIFA forbids hiring parties from offering freelancers less money in exchange for quicker payment.
    • FIFA outlaws retaliation against and blacklisting of freelancers who pursue claims for non-payment.

7. Is compliance with the Freelance Isn’t Free Act mandatory?

Yes. Everyone, including companies and individuals, who hire freelancers in New York must comply with FIFA.

Any contract attempting to waive a freelancer’s FIFA rights is void as a matter of law.

freelancer distraught because he hasn't been paid by client

8. What information is required in the written contract between the freelancer and the hiring party?

At a minimum, the written contract must include all of the following:

    • The name and mailing address of both the hiring party and freelancer;
    • A list of all services the freelancer will provide;
    • The value of the freelancer’s services;
    • The rate and method of compensation for the freelancer’s services; and
    • The date on which the hiring party must pay the freelancer’s services.

9. Does the Freelance Isn’t Free Act apply even if I don’t have a written contract?

Yes. FIFA applies to your freelance work even if you had an oral contract or a “handshake” agreement.

The only caveat is it might be harder to prove your claim if the hiring party denies they owe you anything.

freelance photographer photographing in church

10. What if the work I did was a long time ago? Is there a deadline to pursue my payment rights under FIFA?

Any freelance work post-May 15, 2017, is eligible for a FIFA claim. For non-payment or retaliation issues, freelancers have 6 years to file a complaint. But if it’s about missing a written contract, there’s a 2-year window.

The sooner you file, the more likely you will recover money.

11. Do I have to actually submit an “invoice” for the Freelance Isn’t Free Act to apply to me?

No. Merely completing your work and asking for payment is sufficient to trigger your rights under FIFA.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Freelance Isn’t Free Act


What Actions Can Freelancers Pursue if Their Rights are Abused?

The Freelance Isn’t Free Act is a beacon of protection for New York’s freelancers.

This Act empowers freelancers in NYC to lodge a complaint with the city’s Office of Labor Standards. If there’s no written contract, you can file within two years. For issues related to non-payment, late payments, underpayments, or any retaliatory actions, the window extends to six years.

However, there’s a catch. While the Office of Labor Standards can intervene, they don’t have the power to award the double damages the law entitles you to. To claim damages worth twice the contract’s value, you’ll need to head to the courts.

What is the Freelance Isn’t Free Act (FIFA) and when did it go into effect?

The Freelance Isn’t Free Act, commonly known as FIFA, is a law that was enacted in New York City on May 15, 2017. This legislation aims to protect freelancers and independent contractors from payment abuses by requiring timely and full payment for services rendered. Under this act, freelancers could receive double the unpaid value of their invoice if the hiring party fails to pay, underpays, or pays late.

When Did the “Freelance Isn’t Free” Act Become Statewide in New York?

The “Freelance Isn’t Free” Act was signed into statewide law in New York by Governor Kathy Hochul on November 22, 2023. This act extends the protections and rights previously established in New York City to all freelancers across New York State, ensuring fair payment and treatment for their services.

Who qualifies as a freelancer under FIFA?

The act defines a “freelancer” broadly. You qualify as a freelancer if you provide any service in exchange for compensation within New York City. Even if you operate under a company, as long as that company has no other employees, you are considered a freelancer under this law. The act generally excludes salespeople, attorneys, medical professionals, and individuals working under government contracts.

What are the basic requirements of the Freelance Isn’t Free Act?

FIFA has several key requirements:

  • Hiring parties must provide a written contract for services amounting to $800 or more within a 120-day period.
  • Freelancers must be paid in full within 30 days of completing their work, unless the contract specifies otherwise.
  • It forbids retaliation against freelancers who pursue their payment rights under the act.

Do I need a written contract to be protected under FIFA?

While it is highly recommended to have a written contract, FIFA still protects freelancers even if the work agreement was verbal or informally arranged. However, having a written contract may make it easier to prove your case should disputes arise.

Is there a time limit for filing a claim under FIFA?

Yes, there is a statute of limitations for filing claims under FIFA. For non-payment or retaliation issues, freelancers have a 6-year window to file a complaint. For matters related to missing a written contract, the deadline is 2 years.

Worried about legal expenses?
If you’re facing payment issues, considering consulting a lawyer that fights for freelancers could be beneficial. And here’s the silver lining: if you win your case, the Freelance Isn’t Free Act ensures that your legal fees are covered.


Continue to How Does The Freelance Isn’t Free Act Help Freelancers Get Paid?