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Why AB5 and PROAct legislation pose dangers for solo PR pros

by | Mar 6, 2020 | Analysis, Public Relations

If they pass, two pending pieces of legislation will have a profound impact on the PR industry: California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), which extends employee classification status to gig workers, and the federal H.R. 2474 (PROAct), which amends the National Labor Relations Act and related labor laws to extend protections to union workers. These bills, and similar pending legislation, are well-intentioned, but have the unintended consequence of making it more complex for organizations to hire and work with independent PR professionals, one of the industry’s most valuable assets.

Each bill contains language intended to strengthen existing laws protecting workers from being misclassified as independent contractors when they should be employees. AB5 and PROAct reference the “ABC” test of independent contractors, which evaluates behavioral, financial and relationship control.

But for many independent workers such as independent PR consultants, freelance writers and graphic designers, these bills miss the mark by assuming that all independent workers are the same—illuminating a persistent misunderstanding of the gig economy. Independent workers share the common trait of not being a W2 employee, but the similarities end there. Understanding the nuances of their work is critical to learning how to work with and protect the rights of those who choose to be independent.

“Solo PR pros” operate more like a small business or micro-agency rather than an on-demand gig worker

They own and manage every facet of the client relationship, including contract negotiation, billing and payment collection. Some independents hire others to support administrative or junior-level tasks, and some work with a trusted network of consulting partners.

“Control”—the word that AB5, ProAct and other laws and pending legislation use as a test of independence—is one of the top reasons that people make the leap to solo work. The desire to have control over your career, your area of specialty, work hours and client base is an impetus to creating a solo career and a key driver of satisfaction with that choice.

But AB5 and PROAct fail to delineate the key distinctions between the many different types of independent workers, and this failure has led to confusion and a loss of work to independent workers, even those who have a business structure such as an LLC. MBO Partners, a company that works with companies and independents, has advocated for a Certified Self Employed designation. This solution would allow independents to self-select independence rather than being pushed into an employee category based on a broad set of rules that don’t apply to everyone.

Solo PR pros serve small business and large enterprises across the globe. A bill in California that results in organizations not hiring solos for fear of non-compliance harms not only local independents but those across the country.

And it’s not only independents that suffer, but the organizations that hire them

Agencies and organizations often turn to cost-efficient independent PR consultants to support campaigns and objectives. It would be an undue burden for organizations to hire employees for projects and tasks that do not require full-time help. Independent PR consultants are subject matter experts and add depth and diversity to in-house teams.

Independent work is a foundation of this country and vital to the public relations industry, and independent workers are an important part of the public relations and marketing ecosystem. Don’t allow panic and confusion to prevent you from tapping this valuable talent source. You can use independent workforce experts like MBO Partners to help wade through the confusion and structure a compliance program.

You can also advocate for the freedom to work independently by calling or writing lawmakers about AB5, PROAct and similar bills. You can join the group Freelancers Against AB5 and read more details about AB5 here.

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Karen Swim
Karen Swim, APR, is President of Solo PR Pro.

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