The ethics of working with freelancers

By Kaitlin Morrison

Treating freelancers fairly is beneficial for everyone involved: freelancers, publications, and readers. The right way to work with freelancers, though, isn’t always immediately obvious. Publications should think carefully about their relationships to independent contractors they hire to write, edit, and design content.

For publications who aren’t sure where to start, it’s helpful to consider these industry best practices.

Ethics and Compliance
First, let’s consider how freelancers and employees are different. These differences set the tone for how publications should relate to their freelancers. Freelancers are independent contractors and aren’t classified as employees. For the IRS, this is an important distinction.

Here’s how that’s relevant for B2B publications:

  • Pay: While an employee generally has per-hour pay or a salary, freelancers might have a project fee or per-hour compensation. Researching typical industry rates for the project and offering great rates helps you attract competitive freelancers and treat contractors fairly.
  • Contracts: Even if freelancers do a single project, having a contract protects everyone.
  • Scheduling: Generally, a freelancer shouldn’t be expected to always work onsite and report to the office according to a set schedule. Otherwise, the IRS may reclassify the independent contractor as an employee.

These are just the basics. For your own freelancers, it’s worthwhile to have a company-wide policy with guidelines for editorial staff and others.

Managing freelancers ethically
As you manage freelancers, remember that these independent contractors are also professional B2B journalists. Treating freelancers as you would want to be treated builds positive morale and helps with recruiting. It’s also the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, some organizations harm journalism’s reputation by mistreating freelancers. These practices should be avoided by ethical publications:

  • Unclear expectations: Be as clear as possible about what you expect from your freelancers, and you’ll increase the likelihood of a successful relationship.
  • Workplace “ghosting:” On the rise among some businesses and freelancers, the practice of abruptly ending contact permanently without notifying the other party, is both unprofessional and unethical. The same goes for freelancers who ghost their clients. In every case, honesty is the best policy. It’s perfectly acceptable not to respond to every work inquiry, but “breaking up” an active professional relationship by ignoring communications is not a best practice.
  • Underpaying: With the rise of low-cost freelancer marketplaces and large numbers of professionals becoming freelancers, some publications are slashing rates. It’s true that there may be good business reasons for reducing hiring costs, but it’s also important to be mindful of independent contractors’ time and need for professional respect. The old adage “you get what you pay for” often applies. That $5 feature article is probably not high-quality journalism, anyway.

Mutual respect should be the foundation of your freelancer relationships. Whether you’re an editor or a freelance professional, it’s important to let professionalism guide how you treat others.

Kaitlin Morrison is a freelance writer based in Moses Lake, WA, who writes regularly about technology. She serves as an ASBPE board member.

Next story: When an advertiser invites you to speak at their event

Please share this page with your friends and colleagues.