Thursday, September 16, 2010

What the Biz Rep Has Learned #10

Sometimes studios are concerned about breaking rules, labor regulations and laws. And sometimes not.

Two quick stories.

Story the first: Several years back, at a large animation studio making theatrical features, a production manager was exploiting young animators by working them extra hours for no additional pay. (You're shocked, I know.) An employee tipped me off, I went through the facility late one night, asking the animators if they were being paid for their work. To my surprise, several said "No." (Usually I get tight smiles and "Yes, of course.")

I immediately called Labor Relations, and filed a Step One grievance. The lawyer there immediately checked into the problem, found the allegations to be true, and the company paid all the animators' overtime in full.

Story the second: At a different animation house, the studio had lots of personal service contracts that forbade employees "from sharing any information in this agreement." All the contracts were pretty much the same except for wages. I went to a Vice-President in Labor Relations and asked if the prohibition against "sharing information" included the sharing of wage info. He said it did. I told him that employees had the right under law to share salary information with anyone, and that the clause was illegal. He replied:

"Well, as long as nobody takes us to court over it, we're okay. We're keeping it in."

I kept complaining about the clause. Eventually a corporate lawyer agreed to take the language out of the contracts. But for years afterward, human resource people informed employees in contract meetings that the company didn't want them sharing wage information.

In the years I've been doing this, a recurring corporate strategy is "plausible deniability." Employees might be in their cubes working at ten at night, but managers mostly claim to have no idea that uncompensated o.t. is going on. (My problem: I can go through a facility late at night and find artists at their desks -- as happened two weeks ago -- but if everyone tells me they're receiving o.t., I have to assume I'm being told the truth ... even if I suspect otherwise.)

Unenforced laws and regulations are like no laws and regulations. Strange how that works.


Anonymous said...

"Well, as long as nobody takes us to court over it, we're okay. We're keeping it in."

Well, you don't have to take them to court over it. Any artist can file a complaint or wage claim (in California) with the state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

Here is a link to their FAQ page:

Specifically relevant to Steve's post, are these Q&A's:

2. Q. If an employee works unauthorized overtime is the employer obligated to pay for it?

Yes, California law requires that employers pay overtime, whether authorized or not, at the rate of one and one-half times the employee's regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of eight up to an including 12 hours in any workday, and for the first eight hours of work on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek, and double the employee's regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 12 in any workday and for all hours worked in excess of eight on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek.

An employer can discipline an employee if he or she violates the employer's policy of working overtime without the required authorization. However, California's wage and hour laws require that the employee be compensated for any hours he or she is "suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so." California case law holds that "suffer or permit" means work the employer knew or should have known about. Thus, an employee cannot deliberately prevent the employer from obtaining knowledge of the unauthorized overtime worked, and come back later to claim recovery. The employer must have the opportunity to obey the law.

10. Q. Can an employee waive his or her right to overtime compensation?

A. No, California law requires that an employee be paid all overtime compensation notwithstanding any agreement to work for a lesser wage. Consequently, such an agreement or "waiver" will not prevent an employee from recovering the difference between the wages paid the employee and the overtime compensation he or she is entitled to receive. Labor Code Section 1194

The next time some lawyer, or producer, or production manager, etc. says something so stupid, get them to commit it in writing to you and watch them back down. By law, people who engage in these types of illegal business practices can be held personally and criminally liable. Let THEM know that YOU know the law. Print it out. Put it on their desk.


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