Employment Discrimination and Freelancers

What protections do gig workers have from discrimination?

The number of independent contractors, also referred to as gig workers or freelancers, has risen sharply in the past decade. Independent contractors are contracted to perform work or services for another entity. Employers often consider hiring independent contractors advantageous because these workers come with tax benefits and typically are not required to receive health insurance and other benefits. As more of the workforce becomes gig workers, it is important that freelancers understand their legal rights against employment discrimination under the law.

Title VII and Independent Contractors

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1964 to protect employees from discrimination. The law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of color, race, national origin, religion, or sex. It further bans discrimination based on retaliation.

What many people do not realize, however, is that Title VII specifically only covers employees. It does not apply to independent contractors and other gig workers. With roughly 15 million people in America employed as gig workers, according to the Brooking Institution, protecting independent contractors has become a crucial issue.

Section 1981

Gig workers find some protections under 42 U.S.C. 1981, referred to as Section 1981. This law, which was passed post-Civil war, provides that all people have the same rights to make and enforce contracts, to sue, and to the full benefit of the law. Like Title VII, Section 1981 is intended to prevent employment discrimination. The law does not limit its protections to employees.

Under Section 1981, gig workers have a legal remedy against discrimination based solely on race or ethnicity. The law does not apply to sex or disability, for example. Section 1981 does not require that you first file a complaint with the EEOC and it has a longer statute of limitations than Title VII.

Additionally, many states provide protections to gig workers against employment discrimination. Several states have broadened their discrimination statutes to include all workers, not just employees. Any gig worker who has experienced discrimination on the job should consult with an employment discrimination lawyer as soon as possible.