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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

Yes, it’s legal for a summer camp to pay $3.50 an hour

Many summer camps are considered seasonal businesses and

Many summer camps are considered seasonal businesses and do not need to meet overtime or minimum wage requirements for their employees. Photo Credit: iStockphoto by Getty Images

DEAR CARRIE: I have been looking for information on adult wages in seasonal jobs, after receiving a call from a summer day camp asking if I would be willing to return this summer for a third year. Last summer I was paid $1,150 for the whole summer, which came out to about $3.50 per hour, pretax. I turned 18 during the summer last year and was concerned about how little I was being paid and the legality of such low wages. I have done some research about the subject, but most results ended up being about minors. Can you help me? Is it legal for an adult to be paid so little?— Wages of Summer

DEAR WAGES: You are right to wonder whether a camp can legally pay you such a low wage since you are an adult and since the hourly amount equaled far less than the minimum wage in New York, which is currently $9 an hour. But no matter your age, the camp can legally pay you below minimum wage and doesn’t have to pay you overtime if it is a seasonal amusement or recreational business.

It can’t just declare itself seasonal. Instead, it has to meet one of two federal criteria, or tests. The first test requires the business to operate for no more than seven months in a calendar year. It can use the remaining months of the year for housekeeping and other maintenance-related chores without being considered open.

“If an establishment engages only in such activities as maintenance operations or ordering supplies during the off season, it is not considered to be operating for purposes of the exemption,” a U.S. Labor Department fact sheet says.

If a business doesn’t meet that test, then it would have to meet a financial test. During the preceding calendar year, the monthly average of receipts for the establishment’s slowest six-month period must not total more than 33 1⁄3 percent, or roughly a third, of the monthly average sales for the busiest six months of the year. So if the monthly average in the busy season is $50,000 and that drops to $15,000 during the off-season, that business could be considered seasonal because the smaller amount does not exceed 33 1⁄3 percent of the higher amount.

Camps, of course, have the option to pay more, and some do. So either try to negotiate a higher salary with the current camp or look around for one that pays more.

DEAR CARRIE: Do employees need to be paid for the time it takes to fill out their daily time sheets? At our jobsite, this process usually takes less than five minutes per employee. But depending on how many people are in the small room assigned to the crew, the wait to fill out a time sheet can easily take 10 to 15 minutes beyond the time the workers were told to punch out. — Filling Time

DEAR FILLING: If the workers are required to complete the time sheets on the premises, that’s considered work time and should be paid, said Irv Miljoner, who heads the U.S. Labor Department’s Long Island office. But read on, because there is a big exception. When the process takes less than five minutes, an employee wouldn’t have to be paid for that time because it is considered “de minimis,” or minimal, Miljoner said.

“That could reasonably be excluded from hours worked,” he said.

On the other hand, when it takes 10 to 15 minutes to fill out time sheets, that time has to be paid, Miljoner said.

“Fifteen minutes is more than a de minimis amount of time,” he said. “So they should be paid for that time worked.”

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