“Can a magazine force freelancers to attend regular, on-site meetings?”

“Can a magazine force freelancers to attend regular, on-site meetings?”

Q –

Hello Angela,

I have been subscribing to your newsletter for several years now, and have found it be to extremely helpful.

As a freelancer for the past 14 years, I recently came upon an issue for which I’d appreciate your input. One of the magazines that I write for (on a per-article basis) has since changed editors. Very recently, the new editor began holding meetings looking for editorial input. I attended the first, but now these have become more regular (once a month).

My question is: Should we expect compensation for attending these meetings? While some of the contributors are employed by the parent publishing company, many of us are not. We are freelance writers simply trying to make a living. It’s an awkward position to be in since the fear of not attending may translate to not being considered for future assignments. At the same time, these meetings take up at least three hours (in addition to travel to and from to the office) and that is not reflected in my payment scale.

So, it boils down to this: Speak up and run the risk or alienating the editor, or just keep my head down and try to attend when possible?

I’d welcome your thoughts.

Thank you,

-B.P.


A –

It’s clear from your email that on-site meetings were not part of your initial contract with them. And, this requirement is completely unfair and may even be illegal. More on that later.

Think about it this way. Let’s say your neighbor, Big-Headed Bernice, wants to hire an electrician to re-wire her entire house. He draws up the plans, and gives those to Bernice, along with an estimate. They both agree for him to do that project. And, Bernice just might have future work for him as well.

The following week, Bernice decides she wants his input on some other home improvement projects. She tells him she needs him to come to her house for a “meeting” at 1:00 p.m. on the third Monday of every month. Each meeting will take approximately three hours. He lives an hour away so that would require two hours of driving per month as well. Bernice offers him no compensation because it’s understood (wink wink) that he might continue to get ongoing work from her if he attends. Also attending will be her plumber, her pool gal, and her landscaper. (Yeah, Bernice is loaded!)

Bernice has big plans for the future of her home and she’ll need creative input from EVERYBODY who works for her…on an ongoing basis. And, of course, there’s no guarantee that any of them will get the assignment for each new project idea. Oh, and have I mentioned that Big-Headed Bernice like LOTS of attention from people that she occasionally pays to work for her?

Do you know of any electrician, plumber, pool or landscape professional who would agree to such a time-sucking requirement just in the hopes of getting possible future work? And, what if the pool gal comes up with a great new idea for a fountain during one of the meetings…but Bernice hires the plumber to install that instead?

This entire scenario is completely ridiculous and so is the on-site meeting attendance requirement of freelance writers!

With today’s technology, there is no reason whatsoever that any freelancer should be forced to attend an in-person meeting in order to keep getting assignments. Furthermore, they should be paying you at least an hourly rate plus mileage if you are required to attend meetings in order to keep writing for them. You should be paid to attend virtual meetings as well!

It’s been my experience that people requiring their freelancers or contractors to show up for meetings are usually full of themselves. They simply like having a live audience. When they’re surrounded by underlings, and in control of the meeting, it feeds their ego. In addition, their requirements are likely violating federal labor laws. If they are controlling when (scheduled meetings) and how (in-person attendance) you work, the federal government may very well consider you an employee. If that is the case, you may be entitled to back-pay by this firm.

Start charging them to attend the meetings. Even if you CAN get them to let you attend virtually, you should still charge by the hour because that’s  time you’re working for them and not somebody else! If they hem and haw, you might want to let them know that they may be violating federal labor laws. They might then quickly change their minds. Or, they might “fire” you. If they do, you might want to consider contacting the Internal Revenue Service.

According to the I.R.S. –

Need for on-site services. Requiring someone to work on company premises—particularly if the work can be performed elsewhere—indicates a possible employment relationship.

Flexibility of schedule. People whose hours or days of work are dictated by a company are apt to qualify as its employees

If they “fire” you for refusing to attend the meetings, this might also come into play:

Control over discharge. A company’s unilateral right to discharge a worker suggests an employment relationship. In contrast, a company’s ability to terminate independent contractor relationships generally depends on contract terms.

I know having a long-term client when freelancing is a plus but don’t let your clients take advantage of you in this manner. If you add up the number of hours you’re writing for them per month, plus your travel expenses, AND your time spent sitting through meetings, you might just find that you’re earning less than minimum wage. Even if you aren’t, you’re still earning far less than you deserve, and far less than what you budgeted when you first agreed to write for them.

READERS: Please chime in using the comments box below! 🙂

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2 Responses to "“Can a magazine force freelancers to attend regular, on-site meetings?”"

  1. lgwriter@telus.net  August 2, 2018 at 9:16 am

    I would refuse and if they fire me, fine. Then I give them free publicity.

  2. literary2@gmail.com  July 31, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    As a former IT contractor, no retired, my first thought was about the onsite dictated hours indicative of an employee relationship instead of a contractor. You should definitely be paid for your time, either by the hour or via a monthly retainer fee paid at the start of each month to cover those “incidentals.”
    Clients sometimes don’t understand that time is $ for contractors. The first time I billed a client for the time spent on the phone walking them through a problem. They questioned the bill because I had not “done anything.”
    Have you asked any of the other contractors who attend how they feel about the monthly command performances?