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Freelance TV workers claim unpaid overtime, unfair compensation

New Jersey residents have likely heard a number of complaints regarding employee compensation throughout the years. Many times, there are fairly obvious rules about minimum payment amounts and how employees should be compensated for things like overtime. In the world of freelance work, however, those rules become grayer, letting companies create budget-friendly work situations that aren't always positive for workers.

The reality television industry has come under fire from freelance workers for issues associated with unpaid overtime. Television channels hire production companies to put together reality series, which are high-profit endeavors for the companies. According to the executive director of the America East Writer's Guild, the companies use freelancers to lower production budgets.

One freelance associate producer said she worked as many as 15 hours each day on a National Geographic television show. Her duties included creating schedules and call sheets, booking guests, arranging lunch and assisting in the setup of experiments for the program. She claims that she made between $850 and $1,000 for her work, which could total as much as 75 hours each week. As a freelancer, she was not paid overtime.

The Writers Guild surveyed around 1,200 freelance writers and producers working in reality television. The Guild says the survey found that workers were each being underpaid by an average of around $30,000 per year when nonexistent overtime and benefits were considered. Reportedly, the freelancers do not receive things such as paid time off or health insurance options.

Such pay discrepancies for a W-2 employee would likely result in regulatory action or lawsuits. However, in a freelance environment, workers aren't necessarily entitled to overtime or benefits. Several organizations within the industry are working to change those requirements through legislation or unionizing workers. Either way, it's important for workers to understand their rights under current wage and hour laws.

New York Daily News, "Freelance TV writers and producers work long hours without OT pay or benefits; city is investigating," Corinne Lestch, June 23, 2014

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