COVID-19 Resources

COVID-19 Employment and Benefit Questions

Updated August 14, 2020

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 aburdick@wgaeast.org, or Geoff Betts, Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits, at gbetts@wgaeast.org.

Index of Questions

I. COMPENSATION

Returning to the Writers’ Room

II. BENEFITS

Applying for Unemployment Insurance

III. SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION ASSISTANCE


I. COMPENSATION

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 you are working in a writers’ room remotely and not getting your weekly compensation, please contact the Guild’s Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits, Geoff Betts, at gbetts@wgaeast.org as soon as possible.

Now that I’m writing remotely, I’m having to buy things I need to do my job, like a monitor and a printer. Can I get reimbursed for those expenses?

We suggest you ask your direct supervisor or showrunner and get approval before purchasing what you need. If you would like the Guild’s help in making or supporting your request, contact the Guild’s Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits, Geoff Betts, at gbetts@wgaeast.org.

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. Contact the Guild’s Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits, Geoff Betts, at gbetts@wgaeast.org if you need us to 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 specific language of a writer’s individual contract. If you have a question regarding what compensation you might be due and when it is owed, Guild lawyers will look at your contract and let you know. Please forward your questions and contracts to the Guild’s Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits, Geoff Betts, at gbetts@wgaeast.org.

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 continue and there may not be a basis on which to invoke force majeure at all.

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’s Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits, Geoff Betts, at gbetts@wgaeast.org.

My employer suspended our writers’ room and invoked the force majeure clause in our contracts, but has asked us to continue writing scripts during the room closure. Is this permitted?

If any writing continues during the period of suspension, the Company must continue to pay all writers their weekly minimums, in addition to script fees. Contact the Guild’s Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits, Geoff Betts, at gbetts@wgaeast.org if this is happening to you.

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 and suspends your employment, the MBA limits the period you can be held without pay to five weeks, after which you can terminate your employment by giving written notice. 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 to the Guild’s Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits, Geoff Betts, at gbetts@wgaeast.org so the Guild 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’s Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits, Geoff Betts, at gbetts@wgaeast.org if you would like us to look into whether you are entitled to your full episodic fees. To avoid this issue, when negotiating a deal your reps can include language that translates your episodic fee into an overscale weekly rate.


Returning to the Writers’ Room

My employer has asked me to return to the writers’ room or on set. Will it be safe for me to do so?

New York and many other state and local guidelines currently require employees who can, to work remotely NY’s order says: Responsible Parties must limit in-person employee, cast, and crew gatherings (e.g., production meetings, casting, scouting, editing) to the greatest extent possible and use other methods such as video or teleconferencing whenever possible, per CDC guidance “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).”

Studio guidelines the WGAE has reviewed also require that writers’ rooms remain remote. Once these orders are lifted, if you are asked to return to the writing room you are entitled to return to a healthy and safe workplace. Here are the NY state guidelines related to COVID-19 for office workspaces.

If you’re asked to return to an in-person writers’ room before it’s deemed safe, please contact the Guild’s Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits, Geoff Betts, at gbetts@wgaeast.org.

As of June 30th , NY state is allowing film and television production to resume. Each individual production will need to determine when it can do so while adhering to strict safety guidelines agreed upon by labor and management. When a production resumes, you may be asked to provide services on set. You should first ask for a copy of the production’s safety protocol.

If you have concerns about a particular set of protocols or your health or safety on set, you should contact the Guild’s Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits, Geoff Betts, at gbetts@wgaeast.org or discuss your concerns with your employer directly. We encourage all members to provide copies of such protocols to the Guild so that we may comprehensively monitor employer practices in this area.

I’ve been asked to return to the writers’ room and my employer gave me a waiver to sign. Should I sign it?

No. Your employer is required by law to provide a safe and healthy workplace. You shouldn’t sign anything that seeks to shift that responsibility onto your shoulders, or otherwise attempts to protect the employer from liability. Most such waivers are void as a matter of law.

If you have any concerns or questions about your workplace safety or if you are asked to sign any waiver of your rights, contact the Guild’s Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits, Geoff Betts, at gbetts@wgaeast.org.


II. BENEFITS

For a detailed guide to the various benefits available under the CARES Act, please read the CARES Act Guide & FAQ.

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. Here is the link for the NY state guidelines related to COVID-19 for office workspaces.

If you have concerns about the safety of your workplace, or you if you need help navigating this or any other website linked here or have additional questions, please contact the Guild’s Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits, Geoff Betts, at gbetts@wgaeast.org. A business representative or attorney will respond to your inquiry.

If you are a CBS news writer with these concerns, please contact Broadcast Business Agent Michael Isaac at misaac@wgaeast.org.


III. SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION ASSISTANCE

I learned about the Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans mentioned on the website, and am wondering if my loanout company is eligible to apply?

Your loanout company may have been eligible for the Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan if it is an LLC, C-Corp or S-Corp. However, as of May 4, the program’s funding has run out and the program is only accepting applications from agricultural businesses. Continue to check this page to find out if new loans will be available.

Can I apply for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) if I have a loanout company?

Your loanout company may be eligible for a Small Business Administration PPP loan. PPP can be used to cover payroll costs, group health care benefits, interest on a mortgage obligation, rent, under lease agreements in force before February 15, 2020, utilities, for which service began before February 15, 2020 or interest on any debt incurred before February 15, 2020. PPP provides an advance of 2.5 times monthly payroll for small businesses, sole proprietors, independent contractors and self-employed individuals. However, the deadline to apply for a PPP loan was Saturday, August 8. Congress has yet to renew the program.

Can I apply for a Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan and a Paycheck Protection Payment Loan?

Yes, you can apply for both types of loans, but you will only receive both loans if you are using the funds to cover different expenses. However, the deadline to apply for a PPP loan was Saturday, August 8, 2020. Congress has yet to renew the program.

This is a continuously evolving situation. We will update this page when new information is available.

Last updated August 13, 2020 at 2:45pm E.T.

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