Wisconsin teenagers are important members of the local workforce. These young boys and girls often fill low-paid, less desired positions that older, more skilled workers are less likely to seek out. Unfortunately, some companies use the fact that teenagers are typically less experienced and knowledgeable about their rights to have them work unpaid overtime, violating employment law. An out-of-state school was recently hit with $47,578 in fines and ordered to shell out $635,269 in unpaid overtime.
According to the Department of Labor, from July 2015 to July 2017 the school made 97 summer counselors aged 14 to 15 work longer than 40 hours per week during the summers. Federal law caps the number of hours teenagers of this age can work at 40 hours in a single week. However, summer camp counselors are sometimes considered exempt from this mandate under Section 13(a)(3) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This means that certain camp counselors are exempt from federal minimum wage and overtime laws.
The school claims that its camp counselors were exempt and therefore could legally work the longer hours without overtime pay. The Department of Labor disagreed, stating that the teenage workers did not qualify for that specific exemption. They also pointed out that the summer counselors had to attend 16 hours worth of unpaid training before camp started, did not clock out for lunch breaks and attended weekly unpaid meetings.
The school released a statement saying that it will pay the back overtime wages, but that it also intends to appeal the fine. However, additional fines like these are an effective way to force Wisconsin businesses to acknowledge their employment law violations by hitting them where they hurt — in their profits. Victims who have been denied just wages can accomplish something similar by pursuing compensation through a civil suit, which will benefit not only them, but also potentially protect future workers.