Sinclair TV Stations' Journalists Face Expensive Penalties If They Quit
After Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. drew widespread criticism for having anchors read a statement taking aim at the integrity of other U.S. media outlets, many wondered why some of the company's journalists didn't just quit.
Short answer: The cost may be too steep. According to copies of two employment contracts reviewed by Bloomberg, some Sinclair employees were subject to a liquidated damages clause for leaving before the term of their agreement was up — one that requires they pay as much as 40% of their annual compensation to the company.
They were also subject to a six-month noncompete clause and forced arbitration. But three current and former Sinclair employees said it was the potential financial penalty that had the greatest impact on those thinking of quitting. Under that clause, there's a specific window of time during which employees can give notice. One current employee who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly said the clause's limitations are the reason he hasn't quit. A former employee who also requested anonymity said both the noncompete and the damages clause dissuaded her at first from looking for work elsewhere.
Multiple employment lawyers said the damages clause wouldn't turn up in most employment contracts. "They are pretty rare — for ordinary workers at least," said Peter Romer-Friedman, an attorney at Outten & Golden LLP, a labor law firm. But they are more common in the broadcast industry, specifically when dealing with on-air talent. The clause serves to protect companies from costs associated with replacing an anchor who suddenly leaves, for example. Yet at Sinclair, at least some employees who never appeared on television were still required to sign such contracts, the former employees said.