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Robert S. Norell, P.A.
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Palm Beach County Golf Course Volunteers

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Currently we are pursuing a case against Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department’s for its practice of filling certain positions with “volunteers.” The case is pending in the United States District Court, Southern District of Florida. A link to the filed complaint can be located here: Golf Course Volunteer Lawsuit. Those positions include cart attendants/bag drop attendants, course rangers, range assistants/range ball pickers, starter assistants, and even some clerical positions. Volunteers are compensated with discounted or free rounds of golf rather than wages. Each of Palm Beach County’s three golf courses (Osprey Point, Park Ridge and Okeeheelee) as well as the John Prince Teaching Center hire volunteers and provide those “volunteers” golf privileges in lieu of wages.

Privately owned courses pay employees to perform the same jobs that Palm Beach fills with volunteers. Private golf courses are required to pay wages by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA requires all employers (including government employers) to pay at least minimum wage to anyone who works for the employer. The FLSA does not prohibit employers from providing benefits (such as free rounds of golf) to employees, but it does not permit employers to substitute those benefits for wages.

The Supreme Court has held that employers may not allow their workers to work for no pay. Allowing employees to “volunteer” their work depresses wages for everyone by depriving the labor market of jobs that are filled by employees who are willing to work for free. Accepting volunteer employment also increases the number of people who depend on public benefits for their support.

Apart from not paying wages, the County treats its volunteers as if they were employees. They are expected to work scheduled shifts and are penalized when they miss shifts. They are required to adhere to work rules. They clock in and out just as paid employees do. The only practical difference between an employee and a volunteer is that the County doesn’t pay wages (including Social Security contributions) to workers it classifies as “volunteers.”

Palm Beach County operates world-class golf courses as profit-making enterprises. Allowing it to accept “volunteers” gives the County a competitive advantage that private golf courses do not enjoy: free labor. This is unfair to the private courses that obey the law and to the County’s “volunteer” workers who are deprived of minimum wage for the hours they work. The vast majority of golf courses throughout the United States treat these types of golf course workers as employees. While we have seen the occasional situation where a golf course has a few unpaid “volunteers” (which is illegal anyway you cut it), we have not seen anything to the degree of Palm Beach County’s program. We estimate that there are as many as 500-600 individuals who have worked for one of Palm Beach County’s four (4) golf facilities over the past five (5) years. Many “volunteers” work a few 8-hour shifts per week. We are aiming to recover minimum wages (currently $8.65/hr) for each hour worked, plus an equal amount for liquidated damages. We estimate and believe that that Palm Beach County’s golf volunteers are entitled to $120-$130 for each shift worked by the individual. Under the Florida Minimum Wage Act, the statute of limitations is 4 years, or 5 years if there is a willful violation. A “volunteer” who worked 1-2 shifts per week over the last 5 years could be entitled to minimum wages and liquidated damages of $30,000 to $60,000. This lawsuit is meant to remedy those injustices, compensate those individuals and level the playing field for South Florida golf courses who comply with the law.

If you have volunteered for Palm Beach County at one of it’s golf facilities as a bag drop attendant, range assistant/range picker, ranger, starter’s assistant, or any other position within the last five (5) years and you are interested in finding out more about your rights, please feel free to call Robert S. Norell at 954-617-6017 or via direct E-Mail at rob@floridawagelaw.com.

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