Newsom signs bill exempting some jobs from AB5 rules for independent contractors

SACRAMENTO — California exempted more workers Friday from AB5, its controversial gig-work law, including musicians, translators, interpreters, writers and photographers.

© Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press 2019

Gov. Gavin Newsom Friday signed a bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, seen here in a Sept. 11, 2019, file photo, that provides an exemption for a wide range of workers previously covered under AB5, which set strict rules on who can be considered as independent contractors rather than employee.

Workers in dozens of jobs can now operate as self-employed professionals after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB2257, a clean-up measure designed to address criticisms that the state went too far last year when it tightened the rules for who can be considered an independent contractor.


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Newsom signed the bill without comment. It passed the Legislature without opposition Monday and takes effect immediately.

The new law expands the range of occupations that will be held to an earlier standard for determining employment status. It includes major exemptions for the music industry, which argued that musicians needed more flexibility to string together performance opportunities, as well as freelance writers and photographers, eliminating a previous cap of 35 submissions a year for any publication.

The change will allow agencies that connect freelancers with clients and handle the payments without supervising their work to continue operating. That will benefit event planners, for example, who could hire florists, makeup artists and musicians for a wedding without becoming their employers. Sole proprietors doing businesses with each other will also be exempted.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the San Diego Democrat behind the bill, said in a statement that it “was a product of robust dialogue over the last year with workers and businesses from every part of the state.”

“AB 2257 strikes a balance and continues to provide protections for workers against misclassification that had previously gone unchecked for decades under the old rules,” she said.

The state adopted AB5 last year, in response to a 2018 California Supreme Court decision. It requires that businesses treat workers as employees unless they meet three conditions: A) the worker is free from the company’s control, B) the work they perform is not central to the company’s main business, and C) they have established their own independent business in that line of work.

Supporters, led by organized labor, said it was a necessary change to address rampant misclassification that allowed companies to exploit workers and skirt giving them benefits. But it was widely criticized by business groups and many freelancers who said the new standard was too rigid and jeopardized their livelihoods.

One group that is not exempted under the new law is gig-work companies such as Uber, Lyft and Postmates, which built their business model around hiring freelance drivers and couriers. While California and some cities are trying to enforce AB5 against companies through lawsuits, the gig-work companies have poured more than $200 million into a November ballot measure that would exempt them from the standard.

Alexei Koseff is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @akoseff

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