This past Sunday, as I watched the Dallas Cowboys gain momentum and come back against the Detroit Lions, I was more than distracted by what I recently learned about how the NFL teams treat their cheerleaders. These women cheer for their team during games, practice for hours in the days leading up to games, attend public appearances, and maintain their bodies in incredible, physical shape. However, despite their significant value to the team they cheer for, the amount they are paid for their talent is often pathetic, bordering on abusive.
In September 2014, the Raiderette’s settled their lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders for violations of wage and hour laws. Prior to the lawsuit, the cheerleaders were earning less than minimum wage, were not paid overtime, and were required to use their own money to pay for expensive uniforms. The cheerleaders’ wages were even withheld until the end of the season! As a result of the lawsuit, back wages were paid and new requirements were imposed for how and what the team will pay the cheerleaders in the future. Some other teams’ cheerleaders have lawsuits pending against their team for similar unfair treatment. And still other teams continue to undervalue their cheerleaders with no consequences.
These cheerleaders work really, really hard and their wages should reflect the respect that they deserve. At a minimum, they are entitled under the law to certain basic protections when it comes to their wages.
First, employees must be paid at least the minimum hourly wage rate. As of January 1, 2015 in New Jersey, the minimum wage is $8.38 per hour. (The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, but employers are required to comply with the State’s law and pay the higher minimum wage.) Employees must be told how much they will be paid at the time of hiring and notified in advance if this amount changes.
Second, employees must be paid 1 ½ times their regular hourly wage for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week.
Third, the New Jersey Wage Payment Law requires that every employer pay their employees all of what is owed to them at least twice during every calendar month. Pay days must be designated and told to employees at the time of hiring and employees must be notified in advance if this date changes.
Fourth, no money can be withheld from paychecks other than those allowed or required by State or federal law (i.e., State and federal tax, social security, Medicare) or those that fall under one of these permissible withholdings.
Like any area of the law, there are exceptions to wage and hour laws, so it is important to contact an attorney if you think you are being treated illegally in how much or the way you are being paid for the work you do. You and the work you do are valuable. Learn what your rights in the workplaces are and fight for them.