Friday, May 29, 2009

Jon & Kate Plus Child Labor Violations?

Jon& Kate For those unaware of the "Jon & Kate Plus 8" phenomenon (as I was until recently), it's a reality TV show following the life of a Pennsylvania married couple and their eight children (8-year old twins and 5-year old sextuplets).  Apparently, a complaint was made to the state labor department alleging child labor violations.  The state is investigating, but has made no findings.  The AP story has some interesting background on the possible legal issues involved:

Child actors and other young performers are protected by Pennsylvania labor law, but it's not clear whether the law applies to reality TV. Investigators will have to decide whether the Gosselins' house in southeastern Pennsylvania is essentially a TV set where producers direct much of the action — in which case the law may apply — or if it's a home where the kids aren't really working but are simply living their lives, albeit in front of the cameras. . . .

Child labor laws vary by state. Pennsylvania law permits kids who are at least 7 to work in the entertainment industry, as long as a permit is obtained and certain rules are followed. Kids can't generally work after 11:30 p.m., for example, or perform any place that serves alcohol.

The law allows performers younger than 7 to have "temporary employment ... in the production of a motion picture," and spend up to eight hours a day and 44 hours a week on set as long as their "educational instruction, supervision, health and welfare" needs are being met. In contrast, California has more elaborate rules governing the work of child performers, establishing working hours by age group (20 minutes a day for infants, up to six hours for older kids) and requiring a teacher to be on the set.

"Jon & Kate Plus 8" tapes off and on throughout the year, averaging two to three hours a day, two to three days a week, [a show producer] said.

George Voegele, a labor lawyer at Cozen O'Connor in Philadelphia, said the state Labor Department might well decide it doesn't have jurisdiction over the show, especially if investigators determine the cameras are there to document the kids, not direct them. "The fundamental question I see here is whether or not they're employees, whether they're working, and whether the Pennsylvania child labor law provisions would even apply to this situation," he said.

The Pennsylvania investigation recalls a 2007 controversy surrounding "Kid Nation," a CBS reality show about 40 children given the task of organizing and running their own lives in New Mexico. The Screen Actors Guild and others suggested the children were being exploited and one trade magazine said the show was skirting New Mexico labor laws by declaring the production a "summer camp." Producers denied the accusations; the show lasted 13 episodes.


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