Special Wage and Hour Laws for Summer Employees: Are Lifeguards and Camp Counselors Exempt?

CATEGORY: Blog Posts
CLIENT TYPE: Public Employers
PUBLICATION: California Public Agency Labor & Employment Blog
DATE: Jun 02, 2022

Many schools, colleges, and municipalities operate special programs and camps during the summer months.  Staffing these programs and camps frequently involves hiring temporary or “seasonal” personnel, such as lifeguards, camp counselors, swim instructors and boathouse attendants.  In recognition that many seasonal employees’ work days differ from that of the full-time, permanent employee, the law provides employers of such employees some exemptions to state and federal overtime and minimum wage requirements, if one of the following exemptions apply:

California’s Organized Camp Exemption

If you operate what California law defines as an “organized camp,” your camp counselors may qualify for the “organized camp” exception to the California state minimum wage requirement.  This exception is set forth in California Labor Code section 1182.4.  To qualify as an “organized camp,” the camp must be accredited by or otherwise meet the minimum standards of the American Camping Association.  In addition, the camp’s programs and facilities must have been established for the primary purpose of providing an “outdoor group living experience with social, spiritual, educational, or recreational objectives, for five days or more during one or more seasons of the year.”  (Cal. Health & Safety Code §18897.)  If these requirements are met, full-time camp or program counselors need only make a weekly salary of 85% of the state minimum wage for a forty-hour week, regardless of the number of hours worked.  Counselors who work less than 40 hours per week may be paid 85% of the state minimum hourly wage for each hour worked.  This exemption may be especially relevant for schools or municipalities with outdoor recreation facilities such as campgrounds or ranches.

The FLSA’s Seasonal Recreational Establishment Exemption

In addition, employees employed by an establishment that is an amusement or recreational establishment, organized camp, or a religious or non-profit educational conference center may be exempt from the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  (29 U.S.C. §213(a)(3).) To qualify for the exemption, the establishment must be seasonal, which means it must not operate for more than seven months in any calendar year, or the establishment’s average receipts for any six months of the preceding calendar year cannot be more than one third of its average receipts for the other six months of the year.  (Id.) The term “establishment” means a “distinct physical place.”   Examples of amusement or recreational establishments include summer camps, golf courses, fairgrounds, recreation areas, and swimming pools.  An entity with no fixed location besides an administrative office is unlikely to be an establishment for purposes of the FLSA’s recreational establishment exemption.