There was an online Twitter kerfuffle the other week involving media company Condé Nast, a bunch of freelancers, and the New York State Department of Labor, all about whether a company can have a "full-time freelance" position. Meaning an employee with no benefits or much upside.
The results were better than might often be expected, as publishing as an industry has become known over the years for its use of non-staff people to work and be discarded. (It can get worse in high tech. About half of Google's workforce are contractors with worse benefits as the full-timers. Like many not having health insurance.)
David Tamarkin, site director for the company's Epicurious food site, posted that they were seeking a "food writer who is at the beginning of her/his career" for an "amazing job."
This is a full-time freelance position based in New York City. Candidates should ideally already live in the NYC area. Relocation funds are not available for this position.-- David Tamarkin (@DavidTamarkin) March 11, 2019
Full-time freelance is an offensive term to many because it means someone has all the obligations that go along with being an employee but few-to-none of the benefits. If you're out sick, tough. If you need medical insurance, tough. If you want a vacation, tough.
The comments came, like the food at the Abuse Me Café, hot and plentiful.
There's a reason those of us in the biz have always called it Condé Nasty-- Dare Williams (@Dare_Williams13) March 13, 2019
After a period of servitude, would I be free to leave and start a new life on the Western frontier or would my children be full time freelancers too?-- Jack Kimble (@RepJackKimble) March 13, 2019
So vacation is off the table? lol-- Chef Megan (@HealthyChef101) March 15, 2019
I'm a former recruiter and I would drop you as a client in a heartbeat. Your job description is, "Please live in NYC and work 40+ hrs/wk for freelance 'salary' without security or benefits. In a 3.8% unemployment rate environment".-- Brigid Fitch (@Brigid_Fitch) March 13, 2019
Good luck with that.
I just want to say that I have had the most hearty, rolling laughs reading all these replies.-- Margaery Thighrell (@Aphrothighty) March 13, 2019
Thank you to everyone who replied, and to David who freely and happily tweeted about his org doing a lil employment fraud.
Y'all have made my day.
There's so much more, but why go on ... except for one. As Condé Nast is high profile--and has a reputation for spending lavishly (think Vogue and Vanity Fair as examples), it only seems a matter of time before some irritated freelancer dropped a dime with state regulators.
We've seen the tweets and have shared the situation with our Worker Protection team. They are now looking into it. Thanks for helping to bring it to our attention!-- NYS Dept of Labor (@NYSLabor) March 13, 2019
Yeah, really a bad look for a company and its management. Within a day or two, there was a new tweet:
Some clarification on the EA job I tweeted about yesterday: This job will in fact be eligible for benefits, including health insurance, 401k, and sick leave. Also, "building 30 recipes a month" refers to a data entry task--it is not recipe development.-- David Tamarkin (@DavidTamarkin) March 13, 2019
Here's a statement from the company:
Condé Nast is proud of how we treat our employees. The position that was the subject of the tweet is in fact a full-time employee with benefits. While we do use some temporary workers, like many businesses, we ensure that such individuals are properly categorized as employees and eligible for benefits when appropriate.
I've heard from someone on the inside that this entire thing was a giant screw-up. It seems that there may have been a big misunderstanding on Tamarkin's part because, as more than one person pointed out, this wouldn't be legal and no HR person in her/his right mind would have signed off on the description.
And yet, the question goes deeper. How does a manager post about a hiring in a way that seems a cry for intervention from a regulator armed with a subpoena? Because no one at any point in the chain seemed to have ensured that everything was clear.
Anyone in a managerial position needs training about basic aspects of employee relationships (among other things). Part of this is understanding the difference between a contract or freelance worker and a full-time employee. When you cross the line, you not only catch the attention of labor regulators, but also the IRS and state revenue authorities who surely will want you to have been collecting and paying taxes. Plus, there's the chance of the odd massive lawsuit, like the one Microsoft settled in 2000.
Someone has to ensure that managers know what they can and cannot legally do or say. And if a situation like this happens, the problem is on the company. Why wasn't there a formal job description with the relationship all spelled out? Why didn't someone in the HR and legal departments vet such an announcement on Twitter? Why wouldn't a supervisor or manager know to get such clearance?
Failures like this are systemic. You don't point to the worker who posted the wrong thing and vent your wrath. You take yourself out back and find a way to self-inflict a quick kick in the rear, because, ultimately, you're the one who screwed up. Take the time to provide the training.