I Called The Cops About Spec Work

I hate spec work, as defined as “professional custom work completed by many for the slight chance of non noteworthy payment.” Basically it is a scam done behind the drop shadow of a website that profits on a bunch of people doing free work. It is used by a lot of people, including Gary Vaynerchuk.

So I decided to see why the labor department wasn’t stepping in. It may be clear looking at the contest from the outside, but there are some complex questions around minimum wage and overall fairness that should be adressed.

I verified the age of a participant at 13 (they posted links to their myspace page) and wanted to see where child labor laws applied.

I googled for a phone number, called them up. Astonishing what could have happened next.

Me: “Hi, I noticed a local business owner was hiring underage workers online to do work for them. They didn’t really ask for someone of that age, but they opened up a contest in which many entries were made by kids. Are there any laws that apply around this issue?”

Nice labor department representative: “Does the contest owner have children?”

Me: “What does that have to do with what laws are that apply to this issue?”

Nice labor department representative: “We have a zero tolerance policy with underage employment, and need to make sure that if there are children in the house, that they are in a safe environment.”

Jaw on the floor. I hate spec more than most, but a blanket anonymous report could end up with the state taking someones kids?  This can’t be right. I ended the phone call, deciding not to pursue this at all. I’m still in shock from it. I still don’t know the laws that apply here, or how the startups profiting on this work handle these situations. I found a great post discussing the complexities and showing screenshots from underage designers at 99designs.

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