California AB5 and the Case for Independent Contractors: What You Need to Know

Many windows on the side of an office building showing independent contractors working

Anyone familiar with the language services industry knows how important independent contractors are in the work we do. Choosing to be an independent contractor allows interpreters and translators the freedom to make their own schedules, accept assignments on their own terms, and work with multiple language service providers (LSPs).

In the state of California, these rights are now in danger because of a recently passed bill known as AB5. This new bill will make it difficult for companies to label workers as independent contractors, instead forcing businesses to classify them as employees.

Some background on California’s AB5

The bill expands on a groundbreaking California Supreme Court decision last year in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles. In the Dynamex case, delivery drivers working for the company argued for employee status, stating they were required to wear uniforms with the company’s logo, provide their own vehicles, and pay for the costs associated with the deliveries. In the end, the court found that Dynamex had misclassified its workers as independent contractors.

The goal of AB5 is to protect workers in the gig economy who may be exploited by services (such as Uber and Lyft) who take a large cut of profits, but do not pay wages or provide benefits. While the spirit of the bill is commendable in that it protects workers’ rights, the downside is that it applies to independent contractors across the board. A few professions are exempt, including physicians, attorneys, dentists, and architects, but there are several other professions, including interpreters and translators, that were left out in the cold.

Related: New Section 1557 Revisions in the Works That Could Affect Language Access

Where the language service industry stands

Many in the language service industry believe that professional translators and interpreters should also be exempt from forced classification.

As quoted in Slator, professional conference interpreter Michèle Stevens told the California State legislative committee that “we are not the ‘gig economy’ workers AB5 is designed to protect, but rather highly trained and skilled professionals with established professional standards to adequately perform our work. We have been working as independent contractors in our industry for 50+ years.”

Without an exemption from the bill, freelance interpreters and translators will be improperly classified as employees when they have deliberately chosen to be contractors. The problem is that the majority of professional interpreters and translators work with multiple clients because few LSPs have sufficient work to hire individual employees for every language on the market.

The American Translators Association supports the exemption, stating, “With the current wording of AB5, those companies would have to work with translators and interpreters based outside of California, thereby hurting the very people that this bill has proposed to help, as well as potentially limiting language access for Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals living in California.”

Many LSPs work with independent contractors in California. If no exemption is in place for interpreters and translators, those LSPs might have to terminate business agreements with all California-based independent contractors, which would have a drastic effect on the livelihood of hundreds if not thousands of people living in the state.

CLI believes that professional interpreters and translators should be exempt from AB5, should they choose to work as independent contractors.

The California State Legislature has added AB5 to its “suspense file,” where it will be held until each House can evaluate the fiscal impact of the bill. According to the Association of Independent Judicial Interpreters in California (AIJIC), the state senate is scheduled to vote on all suspense files between August 30 and September 12.

You can sign the petition to exempt professional interpreters and translators from the Dynamex ruling here.

CLI is following this bill closely, and we hope you are, too. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us!

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