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Updated Child Labor Regulations: Is Your Organization Keeping Up with the Kids?

by The Human Equation, Inc. on 9/15/2010
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On July 19, 2010, the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Final Rule pertaining to child labor regulations became effective. The Final Rule, which is described by the DOL to include the most ambitious and far-reaching revisions to the child labor regulations in the last thirty years, is designed to protect working children from hazards in the workplace while also recognizing the value of safe work to children and their families.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that 160,000 American children suffer occupational injuries every year, with approximately 55,000 of these injuries requiring emergency room treatment. As a result, the Final Rule reflects the DOL’s continued commitment to helping young workers (those under 18 years of age) find those positive and early employment experiences that can be important to their development, while adhering to the ultimate goal of keeping the children safe.

The youth employment provisions are found in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employers are generally subject to these provisions under the same coverage criteria established for other provisions of the FLSA. These provisions operate to establish the minimum level of protection for minors in the workplace. If a state has enacted a stricter standard, then the applicable state law controls.

Before discussing the requirements of the child labor regulations, it is helpful to establish what these federal provisions do not require. The federal regulations do not: require minors to obtain working papers/permits, restrict the number of hours or times of day that workers 16 years of age and older may be employed, apply where no FLSA employment relationship exists, or regulate or require such things as breaks, meal periods, and fringe benefits. It is, however, important to note that many states have enacted child labor laws that require precisely these things.

When it comes to applying the federal child labor provisions, the two most significant factors are age and type of work. The regulations generally classify minors as being less than 14 years old, 14-15 year olds, 16-17 year olds, and those 18 years old and older. The regulations also generally classify types of work as being farm work, nonagricultural occupations, and hazardous occupations. Once the age and the specific occupation are ascertained, determining eligibility and limitations is a matter of identifying how the regulations govern such a situation.

Although the manner in which the regulations, specifically those identifying hazardous occupations, apply in any given situation is highly fact specific, there are some general standards which should be understood by all employers who employ, or who are considering the employment of minors. These standards include:

18 or Older

  • Once an individual reaches 18 years of age, he or she is no longer subject to the Federal youth employment provisions.

16 – 17 Year Olds

  • Sixteen is the basic minimum age for employment.
  • May be employed for unlimited hours in any occupation other than those declared hazardous by the DOL.
  • The DOL has identified 17 categories of hazardous occupations, including: manufacturing/storing explosives, coal mining, power-driven woodworking machines, exposure to radioactive substances, power-driven metal-forming machines, working with bakery machines, and trenching and excavation operations. Sixteen and 17 year olds may not work in any occupation deemed hazardous by the DOL.

14 – 15 Year Olds

  • May be employed outside school hours in a variety of non-manufacturing and non-hazardous jobs for limited periods of time and under specific conditions as set forth by the DOL.
  • Cannot work more than 3 hours on a school day or 18 hours in a school week.
  • Cannot work more than 8 hours on a non-school day or 40 hours on a non-school week.
  • May not begin work before 7 a.m. or work after 7 p.m., except form June 1 through Labor Day, when they can work until 9 p.m.

Under 14

  • May not be employed in non-agricultural occupations covered by the FLSA.
  • Permissible employment is limited to work that is exempt from the FLSA (such as delivering newspapers and acting), and work that is not covered by the FLSA (such as completing minor chores around the house or casual babysitting.

While most of these requirements were already in existence for quite some time, the Final Rule clarified some of the provisions and modified others in an effort to modernize some of the regulations. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Final Rule is that it serves as confirmation that the child labor provisions are a focus of the DOL, which often means an increase in policing and enforcement.

Employers may be subject to a civil money penalty of up to $11,000 per worker for each violation of the child labor provisions. Additionally, employers may be subject to a civil money penalty of $50,000 for each violation that causes the death or serious injury of any minor employee. In cases involving willful or repeated violations, the penalty may be doubled up to $100,000.

Protecting the safety and welfare of minors in the workplace should be a primary goal of every organization. Understanding the law’s requirements, including any applicable state laws which may contain greater restrictions, is necessary to minimize the risks associated with employing minors. Given the potential consequences of violating all applicable child labor laws, employers should proceed cautiously and consult a licensed professional if there are any doubts.

If you would like more information about the FLSA’s requirements, pleasecontact us.

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