Independent Contractors Gain Powerful New Protections in Seattle

04/09/2023 09:39 | Brianna Salinas (Administrator)

by Laura Hurley 

I recently interpreted for the Office of Labor Standards (OLS) and learned that the city of Seattle has a new ordinance that protects independent contractors. I didn't know it existed until I found out through that interpreting job, so I figured other interpreters might not know about it either. Here's some information about the new labor protections for independent contractors so you can know your rights and pass the word to other colleagues who work in Seattle!

This is my own summary of the ordinance and the webinar I interpreted, but I'll also include links to more official and detailed information on the Office of Labor Standards website.

The Independent Contractor Protection Ordinance (ICPO) went into effect in September 2022 to provide labor protections for independent contractors. We aren't employees so we aren't covered by regular employer/employee labor laws, and this ordinance is designed to close that gap in worker protections.

The ordinance creates some requirements that commercial hiring entities in Seattle must comply with when they hire independent contractors, such as: a notification of rights, a written notice of the terms of work and payment, timely payment, and itemized payment information. It doesn't impose new requirements on us as independent contractors, but it's useful for us to know what information our clients are required to provide when they hire us.

The ICPO protects self-employed independent contractors who:

  • work as a "one-person shop" (i.e., don't have employees),
  • do at least part of a job in Seattle[1], and
  • expect to receive at least $600 from the hiring entity during a calendar year.

"Independent contractors” under this ordinance doesn't include Uber or Lyft drivers (gig workers have their own ordinance), companies with employees, or lawyers (apparently attorneys can fend for themselves in contract disputes).

The ICPO applies to any commercial hiring entity that hires an independent contractor in Seattle. This means a business or nonprofit that hires an interpreter to help them do business would count, but a person hiring you to provide language tutoring for their child probably wouldn’t (unless they run a tutoring business and hire you to help them conduct that business). Note that an interpreter or translator could be both a contractor and a hiring entity under the ordinance if they subcontract a colleague to work on a project.

The requirements of the ICPO are:

  • The hiring entity must provide the contractor with a written notification of the contractor's rights under this ordinance. They're allowed to use either the document OLS created or a different one, as long as it includes all the information the ICPO requires them to provide.
  • The hiring entity must provide a written notice to the contractor before any work begins with all the details about the job and pay. As with the notification of rights, they may use the model notice OLS created or their own form, as long as it contains all the required information. The model notice is impressively detailed, which will allow us to negotiate very clear agreements with clients.
  • The hiring entity must pay on time—according to the terms of the pre-work notice if it specifies payment terms, or within 30 days if it doesn't—and they must provide itemized payment information with each payment.

Once the work has started, the hiring entity can't require the contractor to accept less than the pay in the agreement as a condition of being paid on time. The agreement can include terms and conditions for payment (such as partial payments after completing certain stages of a job, or the right to inspect or approve the work), and of course it's possible to negotiate changes and amend the pre-work notice. However, once work starts, the agreement is what it is.

For instance, if you're hired to translate a 5,000-word document for a particular price by a particular date, they can't come back after you've begun the project and say, "Oops, it's actually 10,000 words and we still need it by the same time. We'll pay you 1.5 times what we originally agreed to because a lot of the words repeat, so it won't be that much extra work!"

The ICPO gives us some negotiating power in these situations by holding contracting entities to the terms of their agreements. My understanding is that if a hiring entity does not provide pre-work notifications with all the required details of work and pay, then if the contractor later makes a complaint, it will be presumed that the terms of the agreement were whatever the contractor (us!) says they were unless the hiring entity can produce some evidence to the contrary.

I know many of us write our own client agreements to protect our interests, so I appreciate that this ordinance relieves us of some of that burden. It puts the responsibility and penalties on the hiring entity and gives us an enforcement mechanism and the benefit of the doubt in payment disputes. If you want all the details, The OLS website has the full text of the ordinance, the model notifications, fact sheets, and Frequently Asked Questions. They also have personnel available to answer questions and receive complaints, if you have any.

I hope this is useful info, and please feel free to share it with colleagues.

[1] In the webinar, they said that it counts if the job is physically located in Seattle, if you must attend a meeting at the hiring entity's office in Seattle as part of the job, or if you live in Seattle and perform the work remotely from your home. It doesn't count if, for instance, you have to drive from your home in Everett to do a job in Kent and happen to stop in Seattle for a sandwich on your way there. Some of the actual work must happen in Seattle city limits for the city to have jurisdiction.

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