Overtime for Journalists

Are reporters entitled to overtime pay? Will they write about it more if they are?

Even with the well- documented decline of print media, there are certainly enough reporters left on the job for this to be an ongoing issue. And reporters facing layoffs will certainly have any number of questions that could be directed to an employment attorney.

The issues are on a fine enough line that each communications media employee’s situation will need to be treated on a case-by-case basis. In fact, if you have recently been let go by a newspaper or magazine, or are on the edge, and are looking for some legal advice, you may very well run into questions of unpaid overtime, depending on how your job can been classified.

There is an overtime exemption under the FMLA that can be applied specifically to journalists, and often is by employers in the print media, but it is the very general category of the “creative professional”. This exemption applies (no overtime paid) if, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Fact Sheet 17Q, the employee’s primary duty is work requiring invention, imagination, originality or talent in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor (e.g., the fields of music, acting, writing and the graphic arts), as opposed to routine mental, manual, mechanical or physical work.

So what would be routine when it comes to reporting? Well, says the DOL, work that can be produced by a person with general manual or intellectual ability and training is not exempt as creative. The requirement of creativity distinguishes the work of a creative professional from work that primarily depends on intelligence, diligence and accuracy.

Journalistic work can be non-exempt (overtime will be paid) if the employees only collect, organize and record information that is routine or already public, or if they do not contribute a unique interpretation or analysis to a news product (including writing press releases and some other specific activity).

If you are a professional journalist, especially if you are in the Atlanta area, a visit to an employee law attorney may help sort out exactly how you fit or don’t fit into this exemption.