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Film Labor Laws: What Moviemakers Should Know

Film Labor Laws: What Moviemakers Should Know

Labor Law Legal Advice

Cinema Law

OSHA Safety Laws

Filmmaking is inherently dangerous. When safety laws are not followed, tragedy can result. Every producer must make safety a primary concern and be fully aware of what state and federal safety laws require. The 1st A.D. on a set is primarily responsible for ensuring compliance. But as the saying goes, “Safety is everybody’s business.”

The federal Occupational Safety & Health Act (“OSHA”) requires employers with 10 or more employees to maintain OSHA records consisting of a daily log of occupational injuries and illnesses and supplementary information on the incident. Information must be posted in the log within six working days after the employer receives notice of an incident. There are a multitude of other record-keeping requirements under OSHA that a production company should discuss with production counsel prior to hiring employees. Employers must report to the Area Director of OSHA any work-related accident requiring five or more employees to go to the hospital within 48 hours. Employers must also report to the Area Director of OSHA any work- related death within 48 hours.

Twenty-one states have state OSHA agencies that may impose requirements above and beyond those established by Federal OSHA. California is one such state. Cal-OSHA requires production companies to have an Illness & Injury Prevention Program and to have regular safety meetings of 10 minutes in duration for crew members. Significant fines, in addition to criminal liability, can be imposed if a serious accident occurs on the set and the production company is found to not have a written Illness & Injury Prevention Program, even if all other proper safety protocols were followed.

Also read: Two Words Cinematographer’s Guide to Shooting on Analog Video

The producer should speak with an attorney that understands both OSHA requirements and the unique aspects of motion-picture production before production begins. Qualified production counsel can draft an appropriate Illness & Injury Prevention Program for your company and they—along with adept 1st A.D.s, insurance brokers, and other risk advisors—can provide guidance to help avoid accidents.


The Immigration Reform & Control Act (IRCA) requires all employees to complete an “I-9” employment eligibility form. I-9 forms must be completed before a new-hire commences work. An employer has three days to verify the information and sign the verification portion of the I-9 form. The employer is required to maintain the I-9 form for the duration of the employee’s employment, plus one full year after the employee’s termination, but for at least three years.

Motion picture performers who are citizens of other countries must obtain special work visas to lawfully permit them to work on a motion picture in the United States. Generally, the visa that is utilized is known
as a Form “O-1” Visa. But there are other potential visas that may be applicable to a particular situation. The petition process for visas on behalf of a performer is the responsibility of the production company and can often take a substantial period of time. A skilled immigration law attorney familiar with entertainment industry visas should be used to help navigate through the maze of red tape associated with the process.

Plan accordingly to permit yourself time to obtain this visa. If the U.S. government learns of a performer working on a film illegally (something easily demonstrated by the performer’s work being captured on film and presented in a theater near you), the performer can be prohibited from ever again working in the United States. The production company will also face penalties. These rules have always existed. However, under the current environment in our country, these labor laws are being enforced with a robust, new vigor. But you kind of knew that already, right?

Discrimination and Harassment Laws

Production companies, like all companies, are subject to federal and state discrimination and harassment laws. Many states also have specific requirements that all employers must distribute written no-harassment policies, and conduct supervisor and employee anti-harassment training.

A workplace free of harassment applies not just in regard to sexual harassment, but harassment against any protected class, based on race, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, and disability. An entire article could be devoted to these issues. Every producer must be fully well-versed, ever-mindful, and vigilant in preserving a workforce in which all employees are treated equally and fairly and are free from toxic behaviors. Again: These rules have always existed. But under the current environment in our country, these labor laws are being enforced with a robust, new vigor. But you kind of knew that already, right?

David Albert Pierce, Esq. is the managing partner of Pierce Law Group LLP in Beverly Hills, California. Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

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