At the beginning, tweet seemed so promising.
“I have an amazing job for a food writer who is at the beginning of her/his career,” it read. “Here are the details …”
But as more details emerged in the post offered by David Tamarkin, director of Conde Nast recipe site Epicurious.com, the job seemed … off.
“This is a full-time freelance position based in New York City,” he tweeted, outlining the duties: Write the site’s daily newsletter, pitch and write two to three articles and two to three galleries a week, update several articles and galleries a week so the site can stay competitive on search, build 30 recipes a month — “our most important editorial resource” — and complete “various administrative tasks.”
It was a lot of duties — some later pointed out it was like three jobs in one — but the terms that raised the biggest red flag? “Full-time freelance.”
Legally, that doesn’t exist. You could be a full-time freelancer and cobble together work like many do in today’s gig economy. But you can’t work full-time for a company that calls the shots on how you spend your time and still be classified as an independent contractor — in other words, a person who works on a project basis and gets no benefits.
As Doree Shafrir, podcast host and author of the novel Startup, put it:
“Some signs you might be an employee & not a freelancer: if your employer requires you to come into an office, dictates your hours, requires you to go to meetings, won’t allow you to work for competitors, and requires prior permission for absences.”
She added: “Your employer doesn’t get to arbitrarily decide if you’re an employee or freelance. If you’re paid as a freelancer and you’re sitting in a meeting at your office and you don’t get to leave until 6 or later, etc., you might want to place an anonymous call to the state Dept of Labor.”
Shafrir’s talking about a hot, if wonky-sounding, labor issue right now called employee misclassification, as more companies choose to hire independent contractors for work once reserved for employees — i.e., handling a company’s “most important editorial resource.” On-demand tech companies like Uber and Caviar run their businesses by employing masses of independent contractors.
Independent contractors don’t get benefits, though some advocacy groups have been developing ways to get contractors benefits such as paid time off, overtime, and protection from sexual harassment.
Uber drivers and other kinds of gig workers have been fighting misclassification battles in court.
As for the Epicurious case, that was heard in the court of Twitter. Media Twitter promptly raged at Tamarkin, as well as reported his post to the New York Department of Labor. The DOL replied, via Twitter, that it was looking into the matter.
And fewer than two days after Tamarkin posted the job, he tweeted about some changes to the description.
“Some clarification on the EA job I tweeted about yesterday: This job will in fact be eligible for benefits, including health insurance, 401k, and sick leave. Also, ‘building 30 recipes a month’ refers to a data entry task — it is not recipe development.”
The incident feels like a sign of the times. To be sure, Conde Nast and Epicurious are not the first companies to create job descriptions that appear to break the employee-classification law, but that labor issues such as these are drawing attention and criticism from the masses is noteworthy. (One might argue that there’s more awareness because this kind of misclassification is so common.) It’s not hard to imagine a time when a job description like this might not have turned any heads.
Now, some are using it as a strategy to get journalists on board with the wave of unionization that has swept media organizations.
“If you work at epicurious and would like to hear about the unionization process or be put in touch with digital organizers, dm me,” tweeted Rafi Letzter, a staff writer at Live Science.
Tamarkin did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.