COVID-19 Employment and Benefit Questions
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, the WGAE is here to assist members with employment and benefit related issues arising from this global health crisis. If you have a question that is not answered here, contact Ann Burdick, General Counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Geoff Betts, Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits, at email@example.com.
(Please note that Federal and State laws are being amended to provide additional benefits and programs. We will update this page when new information is available.)
My writers’ room has gone virtual; will I still get paid my weekly compensation?
Yes, if you are employed as an Article 13 staff writer or Article 14 writer-producer and are continuing to work in a “virtual room” from your home, the Company must continue to pay your weekly compensation under the MBA. If this is not the case, please contact the Guild as soon as possible.
Our writers’ room closed, but I’ve been asked to write a script. Will I get paid for that script?
Yes. If you were asked to write a script and you wrote and delivered the script, you are owed compensation under the MBA. Payment is due within seven days of delivery. If payment is late, you are entitled to interest. Please contact the Guild so we can investigate and pursue payment.
If our writers’ room closes for a few weeks during the crisis, will I be paid for those weeks?
If the room is truly on a “hiatus”—in other words, if no writer is providing writing services during those weeks—then the Company may be able to suspend payment of the weekly minimums during that hiatus. On the other hand, if anyone is still writing or there is a “virtual room,” then the Company must continue to pay all writers their weekly minimums.
If the writers’ room ends after 10 weeks but I was “guaranteed” 20 weeks, must the Company pay me for the remaining weeks?
If the room is suspended and never reconvenes, the Company may be required to pay out certain guaranteed compensation on a “pay or play” basis. This depends on the language of a writer’s individual contract. If you have a question regarding what compensation you might be due and when it is owed, the Guild will look at your contract and let you know.
Can my employer invoke “force majeure” and refuse to pay out the rest of my contract?
The legal doctrine of “force majeure” is commonly included in all types of contracts. Essentially, the provision allows a party to avoid a contractual obligation because of an unforeseen event that makes performance impossible. It is possible that COVID-19, and the extreme measures being taken to address it, may qualify under many contracts as a force majeure event. Ultimately, it comes down to the definition of force majeure in a writer’s individual contract, which sometimes appears in the standard terms and conditions. Of course, in this particular health crisis, a lot of writing can be completed in compliance with the contract.
The MBA does not have a definition of force majeure; it does, however, contain certain protections regarding the length of time a suspension can continue. Article 26 of the MBA provides that if any suspension continues for five weeks or more, the writer has the right to terminate his employment.
If a Company is invoking force majeure to avoid payment obligations in your writing services agreement, please contact the Guild immediately.
Our show has been put on hiatus and we are not being told when we will come back. How long can the company hold me in this position?
If the Company invokes a force majeure provision in your contract, the MBA limits the number of weeks the Company can hold you. In addition, the MBA provision regarding options and exclusivity (MBA Article 67) will apply to some writers. Because the facts of each case are unique, please forward your questions and a copy of your contract to the Guild so we can investigate.
Our writing room has closed and I was paid my weekly compensation, but not my producer fees. My contract says that I receive my overscale episodic quote for “episodes produced.” Am I entitled to my overscale compensation?
Based on the language in many writers’ contracts, an Article 14 writer’s full episodic fee may be due only when an episode is actually produced. When your writing room closed, episodes may have been in varying stages of production. Please contact the Guild if you would like us to look into whether you are entitled to your full episodic fee(s).
I’m unable to work due to medical quarantine or illness related to COVID-19. What benefits might I be entitled to?
State disability insurance pays short-term disability benefits to eligible individuals certified by a medical provider. If you have a full or partial loss of wages due to a non-work-related illness or injury, please file on the New York State Workers Compensation Board website.
If you are outside New York, contact the Guild and we will help you investigate the benefits available in your state.
I’m unable to work because I am caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19. What benefits might I be entitled to?
You may be entitled to up paid time off if you have a full or partial loss of wages because you need time off work to care for a seriously ill family member. To see if you qualify, access additional information on the New York State Paid Family Leave website.
I’m sick or my family member is sick (or quarantined). Am I entitled to sick pay?
The MBA does not provide for sick pay. Some writers may be covered by sick leave plans adopted by their employers. Such sick leave policies may be contained in your employment agreement or in a company’s personnel policy.
Some states and cities have enacted paid sick leave benefits. In New York, you are entitled to use Paid Sick Days if you are missing work because of illness. To see if you qualify, access additional information on the New York State Paid Family Leave website.
If you need to miss work for more than a week, you may also be eligible for Disability Benefits to replace some of the income you lose while you are not working. To see if you qualify, access additional information on the New York State Workers Compensation Board website.
Finally, starting April 2, under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“Act”), as long as your employer has fewer than 500 employees, you should be able to access 2 weeks of additional Paid Sick Days. If your employer has fewer than 50 employees, it may seek an exemption. The Guild will add more information as the Act is fully implemented.
I’ve lost my job because of COVID-19 and I want to know if I’m entitled to unemployment insurance. I’ve heard that writers are independent contractors, not employees, so we can’t qualify.
Individual writers who work under the MBA are employees. This is true even for most writers who are paid through loanout corporations.
In New York State, qualification for unemployment benefits depends on whether you have earned enough wages during the base period set by the state to establish a claim. You must also be totally or partially unemployed through no fault of your own and physically able to work and available for work. NYS is waiving the 7-Day waiting period for Unemployment Insurance benefits for people who are out of work due to COVID-19 closures or quarantines.
Claims may be made on the New York State Department of Labor website.
I continue to work at a job site and I have concerns about my health and safety. What protections are available to me?
You are entitled to healthy and safe workplace. If you have concerns about the safety of your workplace, please contact the Guild immediately for assistance.
Please note that Federal and State laws are being amended to provide additional benefits and programs. We will update this page when new information is available.