GILFORD — A U.S. Department of Labor inspector has questioned Gunstock Mountain Resort’s practice of allowing teen ski instructors to assist students onto ski lifts, maintaining that by lowering the safety bar, the instructors are effectively “operating” the lift.
Becky LaPense, the resort’s human resources director, said this interpretation of the Fair Labor Standard Act’s prohibition of youths “tending” motorized equipment could have a widespread impact on ski areas.
The inspector also questioned the practice of allowing 14- to 15-year-old employees to ride the lift unaccompanied.
LaPense said it is not clear what prompted the review, and Gunstock is working with legal counsel to draft a response. No formal report or citations have been issued, she said.
“The concern is obviously this is an unprecedented interpretation of Department of Labor standards,” Jessyca Keeler, president of Ski NH, said Wednesday.
The statewide association represents 33 alpine and cross-country ski resorts.
Child Labor Regulations prohibit 14- and 15-year-old workers from “operating” or “tending” any “power-driven machinery,” except office machines. But the regulations contain a specific exemption for chair-lifts at ski resorts and pneumatic lifts used to raise vehicles in service stations.
Earlier this week, LaPense told the Gunstock Area Commission that the inspector’s position is contrary to any standard applied throughout the ski industry. Gunstock is county-owned, and the commission meets monthly to review operations.
The inspection focused on youth employment, the Family and Medical Leave Act and classification of exempt/non-exempt employees, LaPense said.
In a written report submitted to the commission Monday, LaPense touched on other labor-related issues. She said the resort will need “more impactful recruitment strategies” to attract ski and snowboard instructors, lift operators, ski patrollers, buildings and grounds workers and line cooks.
She expects the challenges for summer position recruitment to remain, in spite of recent increases in base pay rates. LaPense said she had begun contacting agencies that specialize in international recruitment for H-2B visas.
Her report said that to seriously consider this option, the resort will have to address the need for employee housing and transportation for foreign visa employees.
“We are very early in this process but looking to lay the groundwork to begin international recruitment for the summer season 2021,” she told the commission.