My initial reaction to Kirsty Lang’s tale of her treatment at the hands of the BBC touched a nerve. I was saddened to hear of her cancer and how the Beeb “made” her work during her recovery. Surely not a humane thing to do.
As the story revealed itself my attitude changed. Of course I empathised with Ms Lang – I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone – but the details of the story changed my view. Ms Lang was a freelancer, two years into a Personal Service Company arrangement with the BBC, which they’d moved quite a few of their talent pool onto for various reasons.
I’m a freelancer and a contractor, so the story she told struck a chord. There have been times when I’ve been unable to work because of illness (thankfully few and far between). There have been times when I’ve had to make a decision between getting some much needed income and having a holiday.
That’s the life of a freelancer.
We’re not employees. We’re business people. We run small companies where our product is our time, effort and talent. No one pays us just for existing, we have to work.
And yes, freelancing can be a harsh mistress.
Ms Lang’s tale is a sad one and should be seen as a warning. Frankly though, anyone listening to it who is a freelancer or hires them should have been rolling their eyes and hoping the right lessons are being learnt. Sadly, I suspect they won’t be.
So here’s the real takeaways from that session that are going to be ignored.
First and foremost, as a freelancer you are not an employee. If you don’t work you don’t get paid, it’s as simple as that. The only sick and holiday pay you get is what you pay yourself.
Second, HMRC shifted the responsibility for assessing whether someone is a freelancer or employee onto the client. So yes, a client can suddenly decide you’re an employee and ask you to become one. If you refuse you may lose your contract (remember, you’re not an employee).
Third, there are ways of protecting your income if you can’t work because of illness. It’s called “Protection Insurance” and comes in various forms and flavours. Your best bet is to talk to an Insurance Broker or Financial Adviser about it.
Finally – and this is the most important part – as a freelancer it is you who runs your business, not your client. If you’re expecting your client to provide anything (from sick pay to kit) you’re doing it wrong.
So yes, my empathy for Ms Lang’s illness is absolute and unwavering. My sympathy for some of her complaints not so.