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Child Labor Laws: What Managers Should Know

Is lack of manager training the root problem behind recent upticks in child labor violations? What we can learn from these infractions.

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Are your managers familiar with child labor laws? 

According to the Department of Labor (DOL), 2022 saw a 37% increase in child labor violations from the previous year. Additionally, minors working with hazardous equipment increased by 26%, including young teens who were allowed to operate ovens, meat slicers, meat grinders/choppers, commercial mixers, and/or clean any such hazardous machinery.  

“Employers who choose to hire young workers have a legal responsibility to know and abide by the federal laws that govern their employment,” said Jessica Looman, Principal Deputy Wage and Hour Division Administrator. “These obligations include eliminating all exposures to hazardous occupations and prohibited equipment and preventing young workers from suffering serious injuries or worse.” 

In that most 2022 child labor law violators were franchised restaurants and grocery stores, there seems to be a gap with educated managers trained on child labor laws. For example:  

Schlotzsky’s: After a 16-yr-old had a thumb injury, it was discovered that minors were allowed to clean and operate a deli meat slicer, which is considered hazardous. This restaurant also employed youth that worked later than allowed on a school night. 

Super 1 Foods: This operator of 16 grocery stores in 3 states allowed minors to operate power-driven trash compactors and box balers. Youth workers also worked longer and later than federal law allows (see federal hour law restrictions below) and did not pay for minors’ meal breaks of less than 20 minutes. 

McDonald’s: 101 workers at 13 McDonald’s locations allowed minors to work longer and later than legally allowed on both school and non-school days. The investigation also found one youth worker allowed to operate a deep fryer that did not automatically lower and raise baskets, which is deemed hazardous. 

Crumbl Cookies: 45 minors in 6 states working for franchised Crumbl locations had teens working longer and later than legally allowed, as well as minors operating dangerous ovens and machinery. 

If you own a business that employs youth under the age of 18, it is critical you train your managers on legal duties and workable hours for teen workers. 

What are the federal laws surrounding teen workers? 

As a quick summary, here is what teen workers can and cannot do for employment, based on federal laws: 

  • Youth under 14 are extremely limited to work any job if the company is not owned by their parents, such as deliver newspapers, babysit, perform as an actor, gather evergreens, and make evergreen wreaths.
  • Youth ages 14-15 have a list of specific jobs they can do, such as retail, some food services, yard cleanup, and more (see approved industries here). Note: these youth are not allowed to operate power-driven mowers, cutters, edgers, trimmers, or anything else deemed hazardous.

Restricted work hours for youth ages 14-15  

  • During the school year, youth ages 14-15: 
    • Cannot work more than 3 hours a day or 18 hours per week 
    • Can only work between 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. 
      (If these workers are home schooled, a “school week” is based on the public-school schedule where they live) 
  • Restricted work hours for youth ages 14-15 during the summer (June 1 through Labor Day):
    • Cannot work more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours per week
    • Can only work between 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Restricted work hours for youth ages 16-17 

Please note that some states have more restrictive laws than the federal standard. Any time there are both state and federal laws regarding employment, the law that provides the most protection to the worker is what must be followed. 

How do I train my managers and staff about federal child labor laws? 

The DOL has put together a toolkit called the “Seven Child Labor Best Practices for Employers.” In this toolkit, you will find fact sheets to train your managers, resources to distribute and educate your staff, and best practices to ensure youth workers are not inadvertently put into a hazardous or illegal situation. 

Problems often arise because both the teen workers and their scheduling managers are unaware of restrictions. For help with administering a training program for your staff, please contact your certified HR expert. 

Need help with implementing a training program for your managers and staff? Book a free consultation and our team will contact you shortly. 

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