Of late, the economies around the world are witnessing a drastic change in the form of employment from traditional to independent employment. Freelancers are independent workers serving multiple clients, temporarily hired for short term projects. With complete independence, they work on their own terms and let their creative juices flow without hindrance. The prospect of unparalleled freedom offered by freelancing is its most attractive feature.
However, this independence comes with its own baggage of complications and risks. Unlike a corporation, freelancers are more vulnerable to exploitation due to lack of legal protection. With problems such as wage theft or non-payment of dues, delay in payment etc. looming over the self-employed, it has become imperative for freelancers to lawyer up.
Self-employed individuals hired to work on short term projects are freelancers. Freelancing not only includes content writing but also graphic designing, social media marketing, software/ web development, data presentation, PR and communications etc. The United States of America has the largest number of independent workers. It has been estimated that by the year 2020, more than 40 percent of the American workforce would be self-employed.
India isn’t far behind and stands second in the world after the USA. India has produced 15 million freelance professionals who have taken up 40 percent of freelance jobs offered globally. A major reason for this is the increase in the quality and penetration of technology within the country. This has provided a much-needed boost to the freelance industry.
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Imagine a non 9-5 job; when you can happily press the snooze button without worrying to call in late for work. Where you are not enclosed within the walls of the tiny little cubicle but are sitting at your favourite coffee house, enjoying that warm cup of coffee as you work; where you are not answerable to anyone but yourself because you are your own boss. This would have been paradise, except that it isn’t. No matter how enthralling and envious freelancing seems, it is riddled with certain complications.
Freelancers are counted among those employed in the unorganised sector because they do not have job security. Unlike traditional employees, freelancers do not enjoy paid leaves, insurances and bonuses. Non-payment or delay in payment of wages by the client adds to this burden.
Many freelancers have ended up losing faith in their clients after they are made to log day and night but don’t end up getting paid. More cases involved with no payment of fees are never made public because the freelancer’s job might be on the line. Many freelancers are at a loss of thousands of rupees because of the negligence of the legal duties they should have undertaken while agreeing to take up the project. This brings us to the most important legal step to be taken whenever working with a client-
Signing a Contract
The contract, a legal document, not only defines the roles of both the parties but also legitimises the work and becomes important legal evidence in the case of dispute. With the terms and conditions of work explicitly stated, it avoids misunderstandings and complications in future.
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In India, all contracts and agreements are crafted along the lines of the Indian Contract Act of 1872. According to this act, a contract entails the name and address of the parties along with clear financial statements, the deadline for submission and the date of commencement and termination of the contract. It is important to note that without a written contract, the client isn’t liable for pay since there is no evidence that a pay for the services rendered was agreed upon. Apart from the contract, exchange of information between the client and the freelancer should be via email or text so that there remains a proof in case of future dispute. Many freelancers who do not enter into a contract with their clients don’t have a strong case against them.
In the absence of legal formalities, such heinous behaviour on part of the client isn’t shocking. Being an unorganised industry, lack of professionalism and ethics is expected although not justified. It is the responsibility of the freelancer, in the absence of a legal advisor to take the necessary precautions to avoid loss of time, effort and money.