Carrie Mason-Draffen Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen

Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.

Help Wanted is going to summer camp this week. Today's column focuses on camp counselors and minimum-wage laws.

DEAR CARRIE: My 18-year-old daughter accepted a job as a counselor at a children's day camp. The next day, the camp emailed her a contract. It states she will work five days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for eight weeks and receive a flat fee of $800, plus any tips. That's 280 hours, or 40, seven-hour days. Barring any tips, that works out to $2.86 an hour, far below the $7.25-an-hour minimum wage. Even if you factor in an unpaid, half-hour lunch break, the rate still falls way below minimum wage. To make matters worse, she may have to work some nights and weekends. How does the day camp circumvent the minimum-wage laws? -- Confused Parent

DEAR CONFUSED: You're not alone in your concern. The U.S. Labor Department's Long Island office gets many inquiries like yours this time of year, said Irv Miljoner, who heads the Westbury office.

If the camp meets certain criteria, it can legally forgo paying minimum wage or even overtime when your daughter works more than 40 hours a week.

The camps can legally pay below minimum wage if they meet one of two tests for a seasonal business: They can't operate for more than seven months in a calendar year. Or if they are open longer, the monthly average receipts for the six slower months cannot be more than 33 1/3 percent of the monthly average for the six busier months when receipts are the highest. The months don't have to be consecutive.

"Many summer camps do indeed meet the tests for the exemption," Miljoner said.

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The businesses covered by these rules include amusement parks, organized camps and religious or nonprofit educational conference centers.

If you have any doubts, call the U.S. Labor Department at 516-338-1890.

Miljoner also receives lots of inquiries about minimum wage and overtime from people who staff municipal facilities such as summer camps, golf courses, swimming pools and ice rinks.


Here is what federal regulations say about exemption from minimum wage and overtime:

"Employees who work solely at a separate and distinct amusement or recreational facility operated by a municipality . . . qualify for the exemption if the seasonal amusement or recreational establishment tests are met."


DEAR CARRIE: With the summer season upon us, and my 18-year-old daughter working for a camp, I thought it would be a great time to inquire about wages for counselors, because I'm sure other parents out there are wondering about the low wages the counselors receive. My daughter said the facility will pay her $900 for the summer plus tips, which the camp expects to be $600, for a total of $1,500. The counselors are scheduled to work eight hours a day for eight weeks. My daughter also had 20 to 25 hours of mandatory training.

Even including tips, this works out to far less than the $7.25 an hour minimum wage, which I think would be a violation based on what I have read. But I'm no expert. Is this legal? -- S'More Wages?

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DEAR S'MORE: As in the question above, the below-minimum pay is legal as long as the business meets the criteria mentioned above.

As for the training, if the camp meets the exemption criteria, it doesn't have to pay your daughter for those extra hours. Normally, hourly workers would have to be paid at least the minimum wage for those mandatory hours, and overtime if the extra time took them over 40 hours a week.

For more on seasonal businesses and the minimum wage, go to