More than 600,000 New Jersey freelancers generate receipts of $30 billion annually to the state’s economy. But despite their emergence as an increasingly important sector in the business community, freelancers have a distinct disadvantage compared to other workers: We often don’t get paid promptly and sometimes not at all. And the onus is on us to collect these fees — a time-consuming and expensive process, especially if one is forced to go through a collection agency.

The Zwicker & Johnson Bill (A-4410), sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker and Gordon Johnson, will do much to ensure fair treatment of freelance workers. The bill has several provisions but the most significant one, in the view of consultants, allows them to file a complaint against the client if a bill of $600 or more goes unpaid for more than 30 days.

The legislation has teeth. It provides that any client who does not pay its freelance workers in accordance with the provisions of the bill will be found guilty of a disorderly persons offense and subsequent offenses will incur more stringent punishment, including a fine or imprisonment.

Late and non-payment of bills is a serious problem for any consultant, especially when one incurs expenses such as travel, phone, internet fees, or supplies in the course of the project. Some clients fail to give the consultant priority when paying obligations. Bills for utilities and supplies are paid first and payroll met before our fees are slated for payment. Others delay payment by demanding miniscule backup for even small expenses. Worst of all are those who have no intention of paying at all. Just asked the many contractors left unpaid by Donald Trump. This failure to honor commitments results in problems such as poor cash flow, unnecessary borrowing, and a lower credit rating for the consultant. We have little recourse in the face of clients who cannot or will not pay their bills.

As technology and government requirements expand, freelancers will become an even more crucial factor in the development of New Jersey businesses of every size. From the Mom-and-pop company that outsources its payroll and accounting to the corporation that demands specialized technical services on an ad hoc basis, freelancers will be needed in a wide range of disciplines from IT and human resources to marketing communications and health care.

The bill was approved by the Assembly and will go to the Senate as soon as a companion bill can be introduced. Let’s hope the Senate will see the wisdom of protecting this important segment of New Jersey’s workforce.

Anne Sweeney

President, Anne Sweeney Public Relations, South Brunswick

Editor’s Note: For more on Zwicker’s bill, see Diccon Hyatt’s cover story, “Andrew Zwicker’s March: Physics to Politics,” from the May 3, 2017, issue of U.S. 1.

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