|Harsh Reality: Study Exposes Widespread Wage and Hour Violations in Reality TV
LOS ANGELES -- Nearly all reality television writers are misclassified as exempt employees and they overwhelmingly work long hours without receiving overtime pay, health insurance, and other benefits, according to a new study commissioned by the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW).
Entitled “Harsh Reality - Working Conditions for Reality TV Writers,” the study finds that reality television producers routinely violate California wage and hour laws by denying overtime and meal breaks, and failing to maintain accurate records for the writers who work on their shows.
Coming just weeks after the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) ruled that a reality TV story producer was improperly classified as an exempt employee and should have been paid overtime, the results of the study “indicate that the total overtime liability for employers could reach almost $100 million. Such liability is likely to be the shared responsibility of multiple entities - production companies, networks and payroll companies - which may be deemed to be 'joint employers' under applicable wage and hour standards.”
According to the study, “most reality TV writers do not meet the requirements of the salary or job duty tests to be classified as exempt salaried employees and should be instead classified as non-exempt hourly employees entitled to overtime pay.”
Conducted by the independent firm Goodwin Simon Victoria Research, the survey of over 300 reality TV writers found that reality production companies and payroll companies routinely and improperly classified writers as exempt from state and federal overtime pay requirements, depriving them of at least $30 million a year in lost income. "Both the solid response rate for the survey, and the consistency of the results, suggest that the survey findings reflect the pervasive conditions under which reality TV is written: long hours, low pay, no benefits," said principal researcher Paul Goodwin.
“This study calls attention to some of the most disturbing information about entertainment industry employments practices I've ever seen,” commented WGAW President Patric M. Verrone. “It clearly demonstrates the gigantic problems in reality TV production and the magnitude of the liability faced by the companies. The WGAW is committed to changing the working conditions in reality TV.”
Key findings of the study include:
- 91% of reality TV writers receive no overtime pay.
- 88% of reality TV writers work more than 40 hours per week.
- On average, writers worked 16 hours of unpaid overtime per week, with most writers reporting working 50 to 70 hours per week.
- 86% of reality TV writers were not offered health insurance by their employer.
- Only 5% of reality TV writers were offered a 401K package - and only 1% offered a pension plan.
- 73% of reality TV writers work through their meal break at least once a week.
- Only 43% of reality TV writers always receive a meal break of at least 30 minutes.
- 86% of reality TV writers fill out timecards, but 59% say their timecards never accurately reflect hours they worked.
- 65% of reality TV writers handing in timecards say they've been asked to turn in a card that simply says “worked.”
- 57% of reality TV writers reported having been asked to turn in timecards early.
The new study is the latest effort by the WGAW to secure fair wages and benefits for more than 1,000 writers who currently work in the so-called “reality” TV genre. In 2005, the WGAW filed class action lawsuits against several major reality TV production companies and broadcast networks for wage and hour violations. Those cases are currently pending. In addition, over the past two years, the WGAW has helped writers file nearly two dozen labor complaints against various reality TV producers via California's Labor Commissioner Office.
The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) represents writers in the motion picture, broadcast, cable, and new media industries in both entertainment and news. For more information, please visit: www.wga.org.
Harsh Reality white paper (.pdf)
DLSE ruling (.pdf)