Pay Your People, NOW

If you are working in California and use crew (including models/cast) of any kind, you need to pay your crew before they leave on the last day of the project. UPDATE: As of September 5, 2019, you have up to the next REGULAR payday after the end of the project. Still, don’t screw it up. 

No, I am not kidding.

California’s labor laws are some of the most complex in the USA, but you probably already knew that. Maybe you’ve heard that some of those laws state that when you dismiss an employee, that employee must be paid in full on the day of the dismissal (that includes things like accrued vacation time, by the way). What you likely did not know is that when you hire a model or a stylist or an assistant (etc.) for a project, be that for 2 hours or 2 weeks, or 6 months, when that project ends, you are “dismissing” the person for the purposes of the applicable laws; that means that you must pay the person everything s/he is owed, on that very day. There is a minor exemption for motion pictures (it gives a little leeway) but, trust me, you don’t qualify for it.

I already know what you’re thinking: I’ll just have in my agreement with any crew that they will be paid within Xdays. Bzzz! No.Thank you for playing. The laws specifically prohibit contracting around this requirement.

This is a sneaky requirement and one that can cost you a pile of buckos (considerably more than the Benjis above), especially because there are often layers of players. For example, maybe you are contracted by an ad agency for an end client… you could end up holding the bag. The penalties are very steep–including having to pay the person’s wages for every day you haven’t paid, for up to 30 days, plus the employee can get attorneys’ fees. So, for example, you hire a stylist for $1500 a day, for a one-day shoot; then, you don’t cut the check for two weeks. You now could be on the hook for (on top of the original $1500 you’ve already paid) $1500 x 14 = $21,000, plus attorneys’ fees!

Apparently, models in particular are catching onto this and they are suing or threatening to sue photographers and their clients for these claims. To be clear, you are not out of the woods if you go through a modeling agency whichyou pay later, or a producer, or any agency. Also, trying to claim that someone is an independent contractor will also likely not save you–in California, you should assume that any individual working for you on a creative project under your direction is an employee under these laws (and others, like the workers comp laws).

Now, even if you aren’t in California, your state may have similar laws. It’s something you should definitely check on.

So, what can you do? Your best action is to pay your cast and crew on the final day of anyproject. If you are using an agency or a producer who will be paying others, still pay on the final day and have that person/entity indemnify you against any claims related to these laws (talk to your lawyer about this). Have your payroll company on notice that you need to pay on that day. Maybe arrange to pay electronically, on that final day.

In short, pay now,because you sure don’t want to have to pay later.Besides, it’s just good to pay your people immediately; stringing people on (even if you get strung by your client) is, in my opinion, a petty, nasty practice. Don’t do it. If you pay immediately, sure, you may be a bit cash-poor until you get paid but, in the end, you’re doing the right thing.