When you work as a stand-in, you may wonder, When should I receive my check?
Afterward, you are expecting it in the mail and may have wondered, Is it late? And whom do I call to find out where it is?
This article outlines the rules regarding payment for union stand-ins working on film and television productions in the New York and Los Angeles work zones. It also offers advice about what to do and what not to do when you believe your check is late.
The Printed Rules
The SAG-AFTRA Background Actors 2014 Theatrical and Television Contracts Digest (published for both New York and Los Angeles) is a publication that summarizes the collective bargaining agreement language for background actors and thereby stand-ins. With respect to payments, the digests both say:
The Background Actor will be paid by check to be postmarked by the Thursday following the week of employment.
Late payment damages will be assessed at $3.00 per day (excluding Saturdays, Sundays & Holidays) not to exceed twenty five (25) days or $75.00.
To clarify, your check should be postmarked the Thursday after the week that you worked. For example, if the production shoots Monday to Friday and you work any one or more of those days, the checks for that week should be postmarked by the Thursday of the next week.
It is important to note the word “postmarked.” A postmark is the postal marking made on the envelope indicating the day it was received by the post office for mailing. This is the date you need to pay attention to if you receive a check that you think may have been mailed out late.
Because checks to stand-ins are sent out via the USPS, this is a big factor that can cause your check to arrive late. How long it takes to get to you also depends on where it was mailed from. For many New York productions, checks are sent from payroll companies based in California, so it takes several days for checks to reach you via mail.
If you look at the postmark and it is dated the following Thursday after the week you worked (or earlier than that Thursday), the check is not late and you are not entitled to late fees.
If you look at the postmark and it is dated after the following Thursday after the week you worked, the check is late and you should be entitled to late fees.
As mentioned in the above passage about payments in the Background Digest, you are entitled to a late fee of $3.00 per business day that the check is late. That would exclude the weekends and holidays.
The passage also mentions a cap of $75.00, which is equivalent to 25 business days that the check is late. There are certain exceptions to this rule, and your local union office can advise you further.
You are not entitled to late fees if the check simply came late in the mail. If it was postmarked on or before the correct date, the payroll company is not at fault and cannot be assessed late fees.
What to Do If You Haven’t Received Your Check
There are a number of reasons why your check could be late. Because you are usually sent an individual check for each day of work, it’s likely that over time you will experience a problem with one of your checks being late.
I have been in this business for almost twelve years and have experienced many different issues with checks and payroll companies. The following is my advice about what steps to take when you believe your check is late. This is based on my personal experiences and is just a guideline.
Understand the Steps toward Your Getting Paid
To better understand the many reasons why your check could be late, you should be aware of the process that occurs for you to be paid.
You will be given a voucher when you report to work to fill out for payment. After you leave set, your voucher is checked by an AD and is sent to the payroll office for the production. This is not to be confused with the payroll company listed on your voucher.
The payroll office for the production processes your voucher and sends the information to the payroll company, who then issues your check and mails it to you. Because there are many steps in the process, there are many possibilities as to why your check may be late.
Save Your Voucher
My biggest piece of advice is to save your voucher.
When you sign out at the end of your work day, you are given a copy of your voucher. This is your proof that you worked, and you may need that to file a claim inquiry if you have not been paid.
You should also save this to compare to your pay stub to make sure you were paid correctly for all the hours you worked and all appropriate additional compensation such as meal penalties, wardrobe, night premiums, etc.
Figure Out If Your Check Is Late
Look at your calendar to doublecheck your work date — and the date by which your check should have been postmarked.
Commonly, it will take about three to four days for a check to get to you if it is mailed from across the country. But it is possible that a check could take a week or more to get to you in the mail. Therefore, I would advise you to wait until more than a week after the check should have been postmarked to consider it late.
For example, if you know the Thursday date your check was supposed to be postmarked by, you’ll probably be wondering at the end of the next week where it is. I’d advise you to still give it a few days and take action if you haven’t received the check by Monday, about 12 days after the date the check was supposed to be postmarked.
It can be difficult to remain patient while waiting for your check. But in my experience, I’ve found that most times that a check was late, it was because it was caught up in the USPS system and arrived eventually.
Call the Payroll Company
After you have determined that your check is late, the first step that I advise union members to take is to call the payroll company that is issuing the check.
Your voucher from the work day will indicate what payroll company handles the payment for that production. There may be a phone number on the voucher, or you can search online for the company’s website to find their contact information. If you do not have your voucher and cannot remember the payroll company for the production, check the production database on the SAG-AFTRA website to try to find out the payroll company, or call your local SAG-AFTRA office.
Many people jump to call their local SAG-AFTRA office and file a claim inquiry when they believe their check is late. I would advise you not to do this. It is a longer process, especially when you first make the call to the union and are waiting for a representative to get back to you.
Calling the payroll company will give you the information you need more immediately, and you can better figure out what your next step should be with that information.
If You Hear Your Check Was Mailed
The payroll company will be able to tell you if the check was sent out already and on what date it was mailed. This will give you a better idea if the check may just be caught up in the postal system, or if it is very late or should be classified as missing. With this information, you have a couple of options:
- Wait a little longer to see if the check arrives.
- Ask the payroll company for details about putting a “stop payment” on your check and getting a new one issued to you.
This option should be carefully considered. Most times, the payroll company will mail or email you a form to fill out to cancel your current check and issue you a new one. But this process takes time, and if your check shows up in the mean time, you will not be able to cash it. That’s why you should not choose this option until your check is very late (two to three weeks after the postmark date).
Sometimes the payroll company can stop payment on your check and reissue you a new one without your having to fill out a stop payment form. Usually each company has a timeline about when they consider a check to be missing in the mail. If according to their timeline the deadline for you to have received your check has passed, they may reissue your check without your having to fill out a stop payment form. These policies vary with each payroll company, so be sure to check with them regarding their specific policies.
If You Hear Your Check Was Not Mailed
If the payroll company informs you that your check was not mailed, they may or may not be able to tell you the reason why. But it is probably for one of two following reasons:
- They did not receive your voucher from production.
- They did not receive the funds from production to pay you.
These are rare occurrences, but they do happen. Both of these issues mean the production is at fault for your not receiving payment. So now what?
Call the Union
At this point, you should call your local SAG-AFTRA office if the payroll company tells you they have not yet issued your check.
The union will direct you to the representative who handles claims for the production from which you are expecting a check. The representative will be able to contact the appropriate people working on the production to find out the root of the problem so you can get your check. If you are entitled to late fees, the SAG-AFTRA representative can include this in your claim.
You may have to fill out a claim inquiry form to begin this process. The representative can advise you about what you need to do, and the representative should be able to answer any questions that you have. You should follow up with the representative regularly (say, every two to three weeks) to see if there is an update on the status of your claim.
If the issue seems to be with production, it could mean other stand-ins and background actors have late checks as well. You may want to reach out to colleagues who have worked on the same production as you, and ideally on the same day(s) you worked. Whether or not they were paid will give you a better idea if the issue is just with you personally or a more widespread issue.
What Not To Do
It is frustrating when you haven’t received your check and you want to figure out why and how to get it as soon as possible. However, there are some things I would advise you not to do.
Do Not Call the Casting Office
You may want to call the casting office that booked you on the job to complain about your late check, but I would advise you not to do this. The casting directors are not involved with this part of the production. It is not their fault that you have not received your check. More importantly, they probably will not help you get your check.
Do Not Call a Crew Member
You may also think to contact a crew member who works on the production to find out whom to blame. You may have the phone number or other contact information of the background PA, an AD, or another crew member and think that person could help you get your check.
Remember that there are many steps that take place to get you paid. Your voucher is signed off on after you leave, then sent to the production payroll office, then processed and sent to the payroll company. There are many places where something could have gone wrong with your payment.
In my experience, a holdup with your check because of production is usually because of an issue in its payroll office and doesn’t directly involve any crew members that work on set. And these crew members usually can’t help you get your check, so I advise you not to contact crew members.
Speaking from my personal experience, in most cases late checks are caught up in the USPS system. Be patient when waiting for your check.
If you determine your check is late, I generally advise you not to jump to call the union. Instead, first call the payroll company listed on your voucher to find out the status of your payment. If the payroll company tells you your check was not issued, then call the union for further help.
And remember – SAVE YOUR VOUCHER!
Have you had experience with late or missing checks. Do you have any more information or advice about handling late check issues? Please comment below!