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Can Amusement Park Workers Be Paid Less Than Minimum Wage? I Need The Best Wage Lawyer!

| Jul 1, 2015 | minimum wage violation |

Best Ohio Wage And Hour Attorney Answer: What kind of lawyer do I need to sue my job for not paying me right? What is the difference between Ohio’s minimum wage laws and federal minimum wage laws? Who is exempt from Ohio’s minimum wage requirements?

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I was recently at a local amusement park when I encountered a park employee wearing a nametag that said “volunteer.” The wage theft attorney gears began to turn in my head as I thought “wait a second…why would someone volunteer for a private, for-profit business?” So, I asked the employee, and he told me that he and 30 other members of his fraternity had agreed to work about 20 hours each at the amusement park over the weekend without pay, in exchange for the amusement park’s agreement to donate about $5,000 to his fraternity. At this point, the gears in my head were at full speed. Can they do that?

Back in 2006, Ohio voters approved an Amendment to the Ohio Constitution that increased the minimum wage and tied it to inflation. The Amendment also states that while the Ohio legislator may pass laws that increase the minimum wage and expand coverage, it may not pass laws that restrict coverage:

Laws may be passed to implement [the Amendment’s] provisions and create additional remedies, increase the minimum wage rate and extend the coverage of the section, but in no manner restricting any provision of the [Amendment]…

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Nonetheless, months after voters approved the Constitutional Amendment (known as Section 34a), the Ohio Legislature passed legislation that created R.C § 4111.14, parts of which limited the reach of the Amendment. Specifically, R.C § 4111.14(B)(1) states that certain exemptions to who is entitled to a minimum wage under the federal minimum wage law, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), would also apply to Ohio law.

As critics pointed out at the time, this part of R.C § 4111.14(B)(1) conflicted with the Amendment, which defines the terms “employee” as having the same meaning as the FLSA, but then limits exemptions to who is entitled to minimum wage to “[o]nly the exemptions set forth in this section.” Thus, the Ohio Legislator unlawfully grafted on additional exemptions to the Amendment.

So what does this have to do with the amusement park I was talking about earlier? As it turns out, the exemptions the Ohio legislator added to the Amendment specifically excludes the employees of seasonal amusement parks from Ohio’s minimum wage requirements:

(a) Minimum wage and maximum hour requirements

The provisions of sections 206 (except subsection (d) in the case of paragraph (1) of this subsection) and 207 of this title shall not apply with respect to—

(3) any employee employed by an establishment which is an amusement or recreational establishment, organized camp, or religious or non-profit educational conference center, if

(A) it does not operate for more than seven months in any calendar year

Thus, technically, the amusement park could compensate this “volunteer” and the other students in his fraternity with a donation to the fraternity, because they are exempt from having to pay their seasonal employees a minimum wage under the FLSA, and thanks to R.C § 4111.14(B)(1), under Ohio law.

But hold on a minute, didn’t I just say that R.C § 4111.14(B)(1) conflicts with the Amendment? How can the amusement park take advantage of an unconstitutional law?

This was the exact question that the Second District Court of Appeals was faced with in its recent decision in Haight v. Cheap Escape Co. In Haught, the plaintiffs, two advertising salespeople, sued their employer, Cheap Escape, alleging that Cheap Escape failed to pay the them a minimum wage in conformity with Ohio Law when they were only paid commissions. Cheap Escape argued that because the FLSA exempts outside sale persons from minimum wage requirements, they did not have to pay the plaintiffs a minimum wage pursuant to R.C § 4111.14(B)(1). Plaintiffs responded to this argument by filing a motion for a “declaratory judgment,” in which they asked the trial court to find that R.C § 4111.14(B)(1) was unconstitutional. When the trial court disagreed, the plaintiffs appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, finding that:

Any deliberate or inadvertent narrowing of the definition of an employee covered by Section 34a violates its express intent that legislative provisions implementing Section 34a may in no manner restrict its applicability. To the extent that R.C. 4111.14(B)(1) narrowed the definition of an employee and, thus, the scope of Section 34a, such action must be viewed as an impermissible restriction or modification – rather than a permissible “implementation” –of the constitutional provision.

Having found that there is a clear conflict between the definition of an employee in R.C. 4111.14(B)(1) and the definition of an employee in Section 34a, we must conclude that the legislative enactment is invalid.

We conclude that the legislature exceeded its authority to implement Section 34a when it defined “employee” differently, and more narrowly, than that term is defined in Section 34a or in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

As a result, the Ohio legislator’s attempt to exclude several categories of workers from Ohio’s minimum wages laws, which include the employees of amusement and recreational establishments, Fishing operations, Agricultural employees, and small newspapers, and employees who fit into other exemptions under the FLSA, such as employees who fit into the executive exemption, administrative exemption, computer employee exemption, and professional employee exemption is unlawful under the plain language of section 34a of the Ohio Constitution.

This decision could have far reaching implications for more employers than just the amusement park that I began this blog with. While certain employees would still be considered exempt from the FLSA’s minimum wage requirements, they would not be exempt from Ohio’s minimum wage requirements.

Cheap Escape never appealed the Haight Court’s ruling, so for now the Supreme Court of Ohio has yet to weigh in on the constitutionality of R.C § 4111.14(B)(1). As a result, Haight will remain as solid authority for the proposition that certain employees who are exempt from the minimum wage under federal law are still entitled to a minimum wage under Ohio law.

If you believe that your employer is not paying you all of your wages, paying you less than minimum wage, unlawfully deducting money from your paycheck, not paying you time and a half for overtime, or is otherwise cheating you out of wages requires contact the minimum wage violation lawyers and overtime claim attorneys at The Spitz Law Firm today for a free and confidential initial consultation. You may have a claim under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act or Ohio Fair Labor Standards Act. The wage and hour lawyers at The Spitz Law Firm will provide you with the best options for your wage and hour pay dispute situation. If you even think that you may be entitled to overtime pay that you are not being paid, call (216) 291-4744.

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