UPDATED with statement from Sharp Entertainment, 2:57 PM: New York’s Attorney General said today that the state has settled with Sharp Entertainment over the reality producer’s failure to pay overtime to dozens of workers. Eric Schneiderman said the company behind Man v. Food, 90 Day Fiancé and many other shows agreed to pay $226,000 in restitution to employees and to reform their business practices.
“Employees deserve fair pay for their work – period,” he said. “Our overtime laws are meant to guarantee that employees are fairly compensated for their long hours. To date we’ve already won back over $630,000 for TV production workers in New York – and my office will continue to act to protect workers’ fundamental rights.”
A Sharp representative sent a statement to Deadline on the company behalf this afternoon:
Over the last 15 years, Sharp Entertainment has employed thousands of employees in creating dozens of hit television shows. Every one of these employees has been paid fairly, competitively, and legally, and has received industry-leading health insurance benefits, vacation leave, holiday pay and other benefits. Several years ago, the New York State Attorney General began looking at an industry-wide practice of paying certain production employees a weekly wage based on their status as “creative employees.” Producers like Sharp paid such employees a weekly amount not to save money, but to ensure each employee received a regular weekly pay check well in excess of the minimum wage, despite uncertain production schedules. The Attorney General, however, concluded that a small number of these employees are not “creative” enough to be paid weekly. Needless to say, knowing what its employees do to create original television series, Sharp disagrees; and no court or governmental agency has ever come to the same conclusion as the Attorney General. Nevertheless, several years ago, Sharp began paying these employees on an hourly basis, which did not materially impact their overall compensation because they previously had been paid a substantial and very competitive weekly amount. In light of this change, rather than continue our disagreement with the Attorney General over whether certain employees are “creative,” Sharp agreed to resolve the investigation amicably to enable all of its valued employees to concentrate fully on producing quality television shows.
The settlement funds will be distributed to production assistants, associate producers and workers who performed equivalent tasks, the AG said.
The investigation found that, beginning in January 2009, Sharp Entertainment misclassified employees — including production assistants and associate producers — as exempt from overtime pay. As a result, many of these workers were entitled to OT pay but never received it. Sharp also did not keep adequate records listing the full amount of hours employees worked and did not provide employees with accurate statements of the hours they worked during each pay period.
Schneiderman noted that, along with the restitution, Sharp has agreed to several reforms:
Notifying all Production Assistants and Associate Producers in writing that they are classified and will be treated as overtime-eligible, non-exempt employees that are entitled to be paid at one and one-half times their regular rates for hours worked in excess of 40 in any work week.
Giving all employees true and accurate wage statements listing the amount of regular and overtime hours worked by employees.
Updating their employee handbook to include information about overtime pay eligibility.
Training current and newly hired human resources staff, including the payroll department, as well as all of its supervisory personnel, who have substantial input or control over employees’ classification as overtime exempt and the handling of their pay records.
The AG also said that Sharp Entertainment now must analyze the job duties of workers with the job title “producer” who earn below a certain amount to determine whether the workers are entitled to overtime.