Legislation to help freelance workers under development for 2013 General Assembly session
When he ran for governor in 2010, Lincoln Chafee promised to push for changes in state law to help the state's independent workers, such as freelancers and contract workers. Specifically, he pledged to give them access to the Department of Labor's wage claim system.
Currently, when workers discover that an employer has shortchanged them, they can file a complaint with the DLT, which will investigate. If it finds the complaint warranted, it can order the employer to pay up.
If the missing wages amount to more than $1,500 and the employer is not responding, the DLT can refer the case to the attorney general's office for prosecution. If either side objects to the DLT's decision, they have 30 days to appeal it to Superior Court.
However, independent workers such as freelance writers or consultants cannot take advantage of that system. If they get shortchanged or aren't paid at all for a job, their only alternative is to file a civil lawsuit.
The reason: the DLT system only covers traditional employees. State law specifically says that "independent contractors or subcontractors shall not be considered employees."
Chafee pledged to change that. But that hasn't happened yet.
Chafee spokesman Christine Hunsinger said the governor cannot unilaterally change the system; it requires a revision of state law.
She said the governor's office is discussing the best ways to do that. According to an April 11, 2012, memo from a legislative analyst for Chafee, one challenge is to refine the definition of an "employee" because that definition affects unemployment benefits and workers' compensation issues (and taxes).
Hunsinger said the governor now plans to introduce legislation to fulfill the promise during the 2013 General Assembly session.
As a result, we rate this promise as In the Works.
RILIN.state.RI.US, "Labor and Labor Relations, Section 28-14-1, Definitions," accessed July 19, 2012
ChafeeForGovernor.com, "The First One Hundred Days Plan for Jobs," accessed Jan. 20, 2011
Interview, Laura Hart, spokeswoman, Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, July 19, 2012
Interview, Christine Hunsinger, spokeswoman, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, July 19 and 24, 2012
Scribd.com, "Independent Contractors and Wage Claim Rights," April 11, 2012, accessed April 24, 2012.