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CNN Freelance Isn't Free Act

CNN’s New Rules For Freelancers May Violate The Freelance Isn’t Free Act

October 28, 2019

Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

In May 2019, CNN announced that their freelancers must wait at least 90 days to receive payment for their work. Under the new “Net 90” plan, freelancers working for CNN will file an invoice and receive payment 90 days later. In New York City, this policy may violate the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which guarantees timely payment for freelancers.

WarnerMedia Vice President Brad Ingram informed freelancers of the change in a memo. “We understand that the change in standard payment terms could impact your business,” Ingram wrote, “However, we are making this change to be better aligned with our corporate requirements.”

Under the new policy, freelancers will receive payment 90 days after sending an invoice.

Caitlin Pierce, executive director of Freelancers Union, says “Net 90 is NOT a reasonable payment term for people who must pay rent every 30 days.” Pierce adds, “CNN is effectively asking freelancers to finance the cash flow of a multi-billion dollar company by waiting one quarter of a year for payment.”

The policy goes against the stated goal of New York City’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act. The Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which went into effect on May 15, 2017, sets a 30-day payment standard for freelancers. According to the Act, if a contract does not include a payment date, clients must pay freelancers within 30 days of completing the contracted services. However, CNN’s Net 90 policy does not violate the law if freelancers sign a contract including the 90-day payment policy.

In its memo, CNN promised to issue new contracts with the Net 90 language as existing contracts expired. The policy of asking freelancers to sign contracts with extended payment dates is inconsistent with the intention, though not the letter, of the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which provides legal protections for freelancers to receive payment in a timely manner. 

The Freelance Isn’t Free Act covers freelancers who perform $800 or more of work for a client in a four month period. Under the Act, freelancers can receive double damages for underpayment, nonpayment, or late payment. For example, a freelancer owed $5,000 on their contract who did not receive payment by the due date could receive $5,000 in damages, for a total of $10,000.

In the same memo, CNN announced a “process to get paid faster than 90 days” as part of an arrangement with Citi. If this process results in freelancers earning less than the contracted amount, it violates the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which bars clients from offering freelancers less money in exchange for faster payment. 

The Freelance Isn’t Free Act also protects freelancers from acts of retaliation, including refusing to work with freelancers or threatening to blacklist freelancers who complain about not getting paid in a timely manner in violation of the act.

Freelancers who face underpayment, non-payment, or late payment can file a complaint with New York City’s Office of Labor Standards. Freelancers who take their case to court can receive double damages and attorney fees under the Freelance Isn’t Free Act. 

Are you a freelancer for CNN affected by the Net 90 policy? Reach out to employment lawyer Charles Joseph for a free consultation. Charles Joseph founded Working Now and Then and Joseph & Kirschenbaum, which has recovered more than $120 million for clients. 

Learn more about freelancer rights under the Freelance Isn’t Free Act and independent contractor rights in New York City.