Massachusetts Court Provides Guidance on Whether Employees in Seasonal Businesses or Amusement Parks are Entitled to Overtime
According to the Massachusetts Overtime Act, employers must pay employees overtime, at a rate of one and one-half times their regular rate of pay, to all non-exempt employees who work more than forty hours in a workweek.
Am I entitled to Overtime in Massachusetts Even if I Work in an Amusement Park or for a Seasonal Business?
The Massachusetts Overtime Act contains twenty specific exemptions, including the following two that apply to seasonal-type business. If you work in one of these, you are not entitled to overtime.
(9). in a business or specified operation of a business which is carried on during a period or accumulated periods not in excess of one hundred and twenty days in any year, and determined by the commissioner to be seasonal in nature;
(20) in an amusement park containing a permanent aggregation of amusement devices, games, shows, and other attractions operated during a period or accumulated periods not in excess of one hundred and fifty days in any one year.
These exemptions seem straightforward enough in that they specify the maximum number of days a seasonal business / amusement park can be open for business in order to be exempt from paying overtime. Unfortunately, courts have rarely interpreted these provisions, which means employees who work in an amusement park or for a seasonal business have little guidance when evaluating whether they should be paid overtime. Thankfully, a recent Massachusetts superior court judge analyzed the amusement park exemption and in doing so answered some important questions.
I Work in an Amusement Park or for a Seasonal Business . . . Should I Be Paid Overtime?
Dakota Hickman and Matthew D’Agostino work at the Six Flags New England amusement park. They claim that the park’s owner, Riverside Park Enterprises, Inc., violated Massachusetts law by not paying them overtime for hours worked over forty in a workweek. The overtime claims focus primarily on whether or not the park was open for more than 150 days during a year.
The court held that the park satisfied the exemption for 2013 and 2014. In doing so, the court held that a one-day media event should not be counted toward the 150. The court held that days the employees worked when none of the park’s attractions were operating should not count toward the 150 because the exemption counted days the park was opened, not days the employees worked. Lastly, the court held that the days the park rented out parking lots to a third-party for a car show do not count because none of the attractions were operated during those days.
The court held that the park failed the exemption for 2015 because it was open to the public and operated attractions on 152 different days during that year. In doing so, the court rejected the park’s argument that days on which the park was opened on a reduced schedule should not count as full days.
The court held that the park satisfied the exemption in 2016 because it operated attractions for exactly 150 days during that year. In doing so, the court held that a one-day road race did not count toward the 150 because the park did not operate any of its attractions that day. Also, the court did not count two days on which the media were invited to the park for promotional purposes, even though the media were allowed to test new rides on those days. On that point, the court stressed that none of the park’s other rides were available for use on those days and that limited use did not constitute operation of the park’s attractions.
The court held that the park failed the exemption for 2017 and 2018. Those years were unique because the park operated a “Holiday in the Park” event during those years. The court, however, held that the employees were not entitled to overtime for those limited days because the park applied for and received a section 9 seasonal exemption for that period. The court did, however, count those days toward the 150 calculation for the section 20 amusement park exemption and, as a result, held that the park failed the exemption. In doing so, the court stated the following regarding the amusement park exemption:
The Court must apply the statute as written, and also must construe and apply the amusement park exemption narrowly. That provision exempts amusement park operations from the overtime statute for a given calendar year if and only if the park’s attractions are operated for no more than 150 days during that year. It does not say days when operation of an amusement park qualify for the seasonal exemption should be disregarded when totaling up operating days for the purpose of applying the separate amusement park exemption.
The amusement park and seasonal exemptions to the Massachusetts Overtime Act are narrow. As a result, most employees who work in amusement parks or seasonal businesses likely qualify for overtime. Do you work in an amusement park or a seasonal business? Do you have questions about whether you are entitled to overtime? Contact us to learn more.