Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Labor Practices

You are probably not a freelancer.

Maybe you think you are because your employer doesn't withhold taxes and doesn't offer any benefits, but you probably aren't.

I've recently been told by several artists that they've been treated like independent contractors by several studios.

"But Richard," you say, "what do you care?  You, too, can benefit from this practice!"

True, we could scoff at the law in order to save money.  We don't, though.

It varies from state to state, but in New York the rules are clear.  The classification is always at the discretion of the state, but here are the guidelines they go by.

I'll put the correct answer for Independent Contractors in parenthesis.

• Are you working under direct supervision?  If you are on premises, the answer is always "Yes".  (no)
• Do you set your own hours? (yes)
• Do you provide your own tools? (yes)
• Are you reimbursed expenses? (no)
• Is your rate fixed per project? (yes)
• Do you run the risk of profit and loss? (yes)
• Does your studio levy fines or penalties? (no)
• Are you permitted to take on other work? (yes)

And most importantly: Do you provide your own Worker's Compensation insurance? (yes)

On top of all this, you must sign an Independent Contractor agreement which sets all of this out.

Now why would a company want to skirt the law?  And isn't it better for the artist to be freelance?

A studio gains price advantage by avoiding payroll tax, payroll service, Worker's Comp and Unemployment Insurances as well as the possibility of other benefit packages. For a staff of ten, this could be anywhere from $10000 to $50000 a year.  That's 24 months of that and you've got a sweet boat.

Is it better for the artist?  Ask your tax attorney.

Typically drawn animators can easily fit the Independent Contractor scenario. They get paid by the foot, usually work at home and can do it in their underwear at 2 am while taking on seven other jobs.  Assistants, production artists, digital animators -unless they're incorporated -are unlikely to meet the legal requirements.

One other thing.  By Federal law, unless you're "management" , more than 40 hours per week requires overtime pay.