Editor’s Note: The author is the Editor in Chief of Sued, where the story was originally published.
LOS ANGELES (CNNMoney) — L’Officiel Magazine was the target of an audit by New York City for allegedly failing to pay freelancers for work done on its website.
The audit was given to the Conde Nast-owned magazine in March, but only recently came to light. CNNMoney has learned it may be the first public example of a large media outlet failing to pay freelancers for web-based work.
“We are investigating and responding to the audit and cannot comment further at this time,” a Conde Nast spokesperson said. “No staff member has been found to have committed any violation.”
According to New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs, the report found the magazine failed to pay 15 unpaid interns for the five months they worked for the publication between September and November 2014. L’Officiel has reported no problems with minimum wage.
The allegations echo those of former Skift journalist Tanya Leggio, who alleged last year that Conde Nast Entertainment failed to pay her or any of her coworkers while they worked on the small screen adaptation of one of Conde Nast’s magazines. Conde Nast Entertainment says it “takes these accusations seriously” and that it has “agreed to settle this matter.”
Papers on L’Officiel Magazine’s website show numerous openings for freelance writers, photographers, production assistants and editors.
In a letter obtained by CNNMoney, Patricia Lynch, New York City’s Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, tells Conde Nast “your failure to pay interns well after their initial position was completed or the existence of a ‘gig economy’ contract does not excuse your failure to pay.”
Lynch said Conde Nast is required to use the same email address and payment method as for all of its freelancers. Conde Nast must not pay their freelancers less than the minimum wage, she said.
L’Officiel faced similar allegations in 2015.
There’s no rule saying that internships for large media companies are exempt from the rules, but the rules are weak on freelancers.
Large media companies are required to pay interns a certain amount of money, and they can even be considered employees, but not all freelancers qualify. Many federal and state regulations even keep them out of the minimum wage.
CNNMoney found several recent examples of freelance freelancers at large media companies receiving wage statements from their employers and then learning that the wages were below minimum wage.
(For most of these examples, we used company names, email addresses and emails from different email address.)
For instance, CNNMoney’s sister network, CNN, filed a wage notice in June for an unpaid internship that a single-listed source said lasted two months.
The intern went on to estimate that she was only paid $200 for the internship. CNN declined to comment further on its internship policies.
Representatives from Fox News and The New York Times did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A Time Inc. spokesperson told CNNMoney it is “in the process of updating its policies.”
The other organizations CNNMoney checked, such as CNNMoney, scored on a scale of zero to 10 on the US Small Business Administration’s Freelancers Union “599 Credit Score.”
More than 46 million people make a living selling their work through independent contractors.
CNNMoney made a list of 20 websites and platforms where potential freelancers can figure out what sorts of gigs are available. We found nine media properties who don’t require payment until after completion of an internship.