What You Don’t Know About Child Labor Laws Can Hurt You

Underage workers – typically high-school kids working after-school, evening or weekend hours – can be a real boon to your business;  they can be just the thing to fill in those little gaps or help out in overload situations, without having to add full-time/permanent staff with all their attendant overhead.

The only caution is that underage workers are a uniquely protected species, guarded by a sizable body of Federal and state law.  So right up there with on-the-job training and assigning a mentor should be reviewing the child labor laws.  And as those of us following the “Jon & Kate + 8” saga are discovering, they even apply to employees who happen to be your children.

For starters, there are child labor provisions in the Federal  Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which applies broadly (with certain exemptions) to most businesses with annual revenue of $500,000 or more.  The Act establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record-keeping and other rules affecting full- and part-time workers in the private sector.  The rules vary depending upon the age of the young worker and the specific occupation involved.  The Labor Department has kindly provided an online “Advisor” to guide you through the FLSA thicket, and even a self-assessment tool which you can use to gauge your level of compliance.

As if this weren’t enough, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) gets into the act as well.  OSHA prescribes and enforces general workplace safety rules for a broad spectrum of US companies, and some of these are specially tailored to protect younger workers.

In view of the variability across states, it would be unwise to generalize here at a detailed level;  however, you may expect the child labor laws to affect such things as…

  • permissible types of employment:  e.g., bars, liquor stores and overly hazardous jobs (among others) may be off limits
  • maximum number of hours that may be worked (per day and week)
  • minimum mandatory rest periods after consecutive hours worked
  • specific times of day that may be worked
  • minimum wages
  • work permit requirements

Do your homework.

What you’ll need to do is either study up on the laws that apply to your work location(s), or seek counsel from a labor-law attorney.  Supporting the self-study approach are a couple of very useful government websites:

www.osha.gov/smallbusiness is a good resource on OSHA’s rules, and includes an excellent list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

www.youthrules.dol.gov from the Labor Department, providing almost everything you need to know about both federal and state rules

What you definitely don’t want to do is to take the ostrich approach and risk getting caught by a state or Federal audit, whether random or triggered by a concerned parent of one of your teen workers.  The cost to your business may be considerable;  and so will be the chagrin of living with the realization that it was a readily preventable cost.

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