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Suing for Unpaid Overtime

Steve writes in:

I am an executive assistant working for a production company. I am paid hourly, fixed at 44 hours/week, whether I work 40, 44, or 70 hours. Basically, I am trapped in the office until my boss leaves at night. Through my employment, I have been shorted about $10k in overtime, lunches, and PTO.

From day one, they told me if I didn’t like it, quit! I know I have a case with the Labor department if I quit or was fired. The company can’t fight paying, only disputing the amount I claim to be shorted. Is it in my best interests to file a claim against the company after my employment? I really need the money, but am wary of stirring the pot.

I have a rule: I never do anything just for the money.

Obviously, I need money. We live in a capitalist society,1 and money is how I pay for gas, Netflix, and peanuts.

Everything I know I learned from the Simpsons.
Ohhhhh… now I get it.

I don’t work for free if I can avoid it. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to intern. But I also don’t get paid nearly enough to put up with some of the shit I get in this job. If I wanted, I could do the same job in a corporate office, make twice the money and work fewer hours.

So why do I do this? I’m not going to be a PA forever. I’m going to make connections, get promoted, sell my script, all that good stuff. PAing is the first rung of a very tall ladder.

Plus, it’s fun. I enjoy being on set (especially when I’m an office PA, and nobody expects me to do any actual work). Back in school, I worked a few summer jobs in the real world, and I never once met the kind of big personalities you run into in Hollywood. I don’t mean actors and celebrities; just about anybody on the crew could be crazy.

You don’t get stories like this in the real world.

What does this have to do with Steve’s question? Well, you probably wouldn’t consider suing your employer unless it was all about the money in the first place.

And it sounds like they were up front with Steve from the beginning. Granted, he may not have fully understood what he was in for when he signed up, but if he really is owed $10,000 in overtime, he must’ve worked there at least six months (or was getting a massive hourly rate).

That’s probably a good time to decide the job isn’t for you. You need to consider not just the tangible benefits (such as pay), but the intangibles, like connections, fun, etc. That math just isn’t working out for Steve.

It’s definitely time to quit. But should he sue? That’s a much more difficult question.

Steve agreed to these terms up front. Suing after the fact is kind of a dick move. But they sound like dicks, so return dickery unto dickery, right? Hang on.

While it’s true that “You’ll never work in this town again” is an idle (and frankly silly) threat, you’re still burning a lot of bridges when you sue someone. Not just with them, but anyone they know. And believe me, if they’re being sued, they will tell everyone they know.

Is that worth $10,000?2 I have no idea.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Which is a good thing.
  2. Minus lawyer fees and your time, of course.
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2 Responses

  1. I know more people in this industry who are simply filing complaints with the Labor Board for violations, not paying an employee for his/her time, or not paying an employee in a timely manner. As a result of those grievance filings, production companies are forced to pay up. Apparently, it is easier to file a complaint with the Labor Board rather than considering a lawsuit that involves time and hefty expense. Two totally different things and the Labor Board comes to a decision very quickly resulting in people getting paid. I know people who claimed they’ve been blackballed by people in the industry, but they’re working in the industry today. Blackballing power is elusive. No one can be blackballed forever. That’s the rare thing about this industry: turnover is constant. People forget… there are people who have served time in jail for murders and other violent crimes who work in this industry. If that can be forgiven, anything can. Things don’t follow people forever. And it’s a forgiving industry if you’re good at your job! Have talent? Show profit? You won’t be blackballed.

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