Several California freelance writers are concerned about the financial consequences of Assembly Bill 5 (AB-5) in 2020. Read more about the law’s specifics.

Several California freelance writers are concerned about the financial consequences of Assembly Bill 5 (AB-5) in 2020. AB-5, which goes into effect on January 1, targets gig economy employees, who are now designated as independent contractors. The law specifies certain criteria for distinguishing independent contractors from employees. The primary focus of debate over who AB-5 would effect has been rideshare drivers, but the new rule may be detrimental to freelance writers.


The measure codifies the outcome of a court case, Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles. In the Dynamex ruling, a “ABC test” was established to assist differentiate between an independent contractor and an employee.

The test validates the following in order to appropriately categorize independent contractors:

(A) that the worker is free from the hiring entity’s control and direction in connection with the execution of the task, both under the contract and in actuality; and

(B) that the worker does work that is outside of the hiring entity’s normal course of business; and

(C) the worker is ordinarily engaged in a separately established trade, activity, or business of the same character as the labor performed.

The “B” condition, which requires a worker to undertake work that departs from the employer’s regular course of business, is a subject of contention among freelance journalists. Freelance writers do the same job as staff writers, but without the limits of defined working hours and the need to be in a newsroom or office. As a result, media outlets cannot use the same reasoning as corporations who claim to supply technology to allow rideshares rather than taxi services.

Effects in real life

AB-5 restricts the amount of articles a California writer may write for a single magazine to 35. An previous version of the law restricted freelancers to 20 articles per year per outlet. This figure effectively prohibits publishers and media firms from employing Californian writers for weekly pieces.

The yearly restriction of 35 articles may seem arbitrary, and it is. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the bill’s author, noted that this number is based on the notion that weekly columnists are similar to part-time employment, therefore 35 is the projected percentage of yearly submissions that a part-time writer would make. The assumption behind the restriction is that it will encourage media organizations and newspapers to recruit California writers as full-time or part-time employees rather than contractors, allowing them to benefit from employee benefits like as disability, unemployment, and Social Security. Yet, since freelance writing is a vocation that can be done remotely, detractors argue that California freelancers may lose opportunities to authors in states that do not have similar limits.

With the broad implications of AB-5 for the state, it will be fascinating to observe how the measure is actually implemented. It goes into effect on January 1, but there are still many unresolved issues from the bill’s detractors.

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