Sometimes legislation introduced with good intent has unforeseen consequences. California’s AB5 law restricts the use of contractors, aiming to give workers greater protection and make big companies pay more tax. Some writers and journalists have complained because technically they are now classed as employees, with an exemption that allows 35 articles per year. The American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Association have filed lawsuits, claiming that AB5 is unconstitutional. Legal challenges have also been raised by Uber and the California Truckers Association.
AB5 puts into law a California Supreme Court ruling which held that most workers should be classed as employees. Status has long been a difficult legal issue, with disputes about the tax position of taxi drivers pre-dating the rise of the gig economy. Writers who do not normally feature in the debate have suddenly been dragged in along with musicians and artists.
AB5 makes no real distinction between a freelancer who simultaneously solicits work from different places and a Uber driver who gets their work from a single source. As other legislators consider how best to classify workers, they need to accept that status is often defined by independence.
Paul Williams is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, best known for his study of the Jack the Ripper suspects.