Obstacles to Freelancing in California in 2020

I really want to dive into freelance editing, but have hit a HUGE roadblock. There is a new law in California (where I live), AB-5, that has redefined who can be defined as an independent contractor (what a freelancer would be classified as) versus an employee. Basically, there is a new three-step (ABC) test to determine whether a business can classify/hire a worker as an independent contractor. The three conditions that need to be met are as follows:

(A) The person is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact.

(B) The person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.

(C) The person is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

(California Assembly Bill No. 5)

A worker can only be classified as an independent contractor if they meet all three conditions. 

The sticking point for me here is point B. Basically, a company can’t hire me as a freelance editor if editing is within the usual course of their business. To me, editing seems to be within the usual course of a publishing company’s business, and I want to work with publishing companies as a freelancer. There are certain exceptions to the law, and I can still work for individuals (such as self-published authors) or companies that need something edited that aren’t publishing companies (maybe something like editing a menu for a restaurant or editing marketing materials for a store or business). So I feel a little stuck, because I had hoped to do a substantial amount of work for publishing companies as a freelancer, but that is no longer possible for me as a resident of California.

Another problem I am encountering is finding resources on advocating for changing the law. I am currently a member of the Editorial Freelance Association (EFA), and I was able to find a page on their website that talked about their response to AB-5. They definitely encourage freelancers to advocate for changing the law. I looked into some of the groups that they recommend, although I am concerned about some of the rhetoric around the advocacy. AB-5 was designed to codify worker protections. I think that the law needs to be changed in order to allow freelancers to work. I don’t think it should be eliminated. Additionally, I’ve checked some of the editor Facebook groups that I’m in and haven’t seen much discussion about it. So I’m not sure where to look for support, both on how to navigate this and still find freelance work as well as finding people already engaged in advocacy on this and see what the state of the situation is. 

The Covid-19 situation is making it harder for me to find resources regarding this situation. This is quite ironic to me since Covid-19 is the reason I want to do more freelance work (I was furloughed at my full-tile job). The conversation has shifted to resources on how freelancers can access Covid-19 relief, unemployment benefits, etc. This is not to say that this is a negative thing or that I disagree - I think it is really important for freelance organizations to steer people towards these resources. The Freelancers Union did an instagram live on Wed, April 15, that was “The State of the Freelancers Union.” The majority of the video was focused on resources to navigate the current Covid-19 crisis. The video included guest appearances from several state officials, including California Senator Scott Weiner. The following is an excerpt from the Freelancers Union blog post summary of the video that covers Senator Weiner’s portion of the video: 

California Sen. Scott Wiener, who represents part of San Francisco, echoed the need for rent relief. He is coauthor of Assembly Bill 828, currently under discussion, which strengthens a statewide moratorium on evictions and extends the period of time for repayment of back rent. He is also sponsoring a bill to forgive rent for nonprofits and small businesses. For those applying for UI in California, Sen. Wiener said that the Employment Development Division is currently building their system for processing freelancer applications. The estimate is that it will be open to freelancer applications on April 28, and they commit to sending first payments within 24-48 hours after applications are received. The Senator recommended that freelancers set up their accounts with the EDD now but do not attempt to submit an application, so that when the new portal opens on April 28, you will be ready to file quickly.

He also shared that the Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development is hosting regular Facebook Live events to answer further questions. Check that Facebook page for information on the next event.


According to this Forbes article from January 29, 2020, the new head of the Freelancers Union, Rafael Espinal, said that he would prioritize gig worker legislation such as AB-5 and meet with state legislators about it. Yet in The State of the Freelancers Union, none of this is mentioned. Now, I understand that Covid-19 is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, but this obstacle to freelancing is connected to Covid-19. Most remote jobs in my area are freelance or contract, at least those that I see publically available. 

At this point, I really need support and resources on how to navigate this situation. Any help would be appreciated.  

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