Thanks to Thursday Bram for bringing this story to my attention.
I don't think it's any secret that I despise oDesk. Why? Because they not only allow, but encourage, clients to cross the employer / client line with their software that lets clients actually watch you work, while you're working from your own machine in your own home, etc. I'm not going to get into the problem with that here. I suggest if you're a U.S. freelancer you spend some time learning your rights and doing some research with the IRS as to what clients can and cannot do without taking on the increased burdens of becoming actual employers.
Today there's a new problem. oDesk is apparently pushing the idea that they're offering health insurance to freelancers (oh, how original). But before you get excited, read carefully. It has absolutely nothing to do with insurance for freelancers. Instead, their new oDesk Staffing will give freelancers the opportunity to work as employees instead. What's wrong with that? Not a damn thing if you don't want to be a freelancer.
OK. So what's the problem? Well, you see, there's a little catch. Actually, there are several:
- To be eligible for the benefits you have to work for them 30 hours a week. No biggie.
- To be eligible you have to work for hourly pay. If you get paid per word, per piece, etc. (typical in freelance writing as well as some other freelance fields), you're not eligible for the benefits because it's all based on your hourly commitment.
- Wait now, here's the kicker. Want W-2 employee status? You have to pay them for it! Can you believe that crap? You PAY for the "privilege" of giving up your freedom as a freelancer. You PAY for the privilege of having a job. That my friends is complete and utter bullshit. Why do they charge 20%? To cover their "services" of course! What services you might ask? Oh, just the little things they'd be required to do the moment they choose to take people on as employees instead of having them work as contractors -- things like tax withholdings. Say it with me now - "Bull. F*ing. Shit."
This is really getting ridiculous (and of course, yet again, we have a program being promoted before the company's releasing all of the details). Folks, look. If you don't want to be freelancing, then by all means stop freelancing and take an employee job somewhere. But if you freelance, take responsibility for yourself. Get your own health insurance. Get your own benefits of every variety. That's a part of being self-employed. If you can't afford those things, then you're not earning enough and either you need to rethink your rates or you need to rethink your marketing strategy because something isn't working.
Just do me a favor, please. Don't get sucked into these promises and "deals" without looking at them thoroughly and critically first. And don't get your hopes up about anything a company isn't willing to be completely transparent about up front. If they weren't ready to release the details, they probably should have kept their mouths shut. And how about some truth in advertising please? From their oDesk Staffing page:
"Access benefits previously unavailable to freelancers, such as group health insurance and 401(k) retirement plans"
Newsflash: those benefits are STILL unavailable to freelancers. If you take on W-2 status in order to be eligible for the benefits, you will not be a freelancer. You will be an employee. Alright. I'm going shut up because if I think about this anymore my head might explode.