This Work Isn’t Child’s Play

Young Girl Working At Bakery

Coming into the spring and summer many businesses in multiple industries begin looking for potential employees to help fill seasonal positions within their companies. While younger workers will soon be available due to summer vacations, employers must be aware of the laws regarding child labor.

While restrictions around hazardous locations like roofs and machinery like circular saws may seem obvious, there are many less obvious ones like bakery machines. There are also many restrictions around motor-vehicles, which include length, number and timing of driving trips.

Previous to the mid-20th century it was expected that children would enter the workforce as soon as possible to help feed and clothe the family.  Small young children could be expected to work in textile manufacturing as their little frames made it easier to access machinery for maintenance and repairing of very dangerous, and unguarded, equipment. Many young people were seriously injured and even killed performing these very hazardous jobs.

It wasn’t until 1938 that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) set a minimum age for children both during and after school hours. As altruistic as this sounds, the main reason for the law was that the government felt that too many jobs were being taken by children that could have been done by adults.

Over the next fifty years the FSLA was updated to include businesses that were initially exempted from the 1938 version and to further clarify what types employment children were legally allowed to perform. These changes have led to the listing of the 17 Hazardous Operations that are not to be performed by Children under the age of 18, click here to access the complete list including definitions and exemptions (which affect the agriculture, manufacturing and forestry industry among others).  It is also important to understand the specific labor laws surrounding workers of specific ages.  14 and 15 year olds will have different restrictions than 17 year olds.

Additionally, states may require work permits, limit available hours, or restrict types of work that can be performed. Young workers are often hired seasonally in industries such as agricultural and food service; however, these industries can present the most significant hazards to workers.  Harsh weather, difficult manual labor, heavy machinery, cooking oils, and hot ovens to name a few.  The bottom line is children have to be protected from hazardous conditions that may cause serious injuries. Information regarding these state regulations can be accessed through various state websites.  Below are links to a few of those sites- these may be labor posters, state statute summaries, or frequently asked questions.  If your state isn’t listed below a quick internet search for “(your state) young worker labor laws” should yield results. 

Maine                         New York

New Hampshire         New Jersey

Vermont                     Pennsylvania

Massachusetts           Maryland

Virginia                       Florida

OSHA also has an extensive resource covering the rights and responsibilities surrounding the employment of young workers.  Check out these tools on the OSHA Young Workers page.  We also have previous blogs which address questions parents should ask their working teens and questions employers should ask themselves.

As we enter spring and start hiring our youth, please keep these issues at the forefront.  With youth comes enthusiasm and energy, but also inexperience and susceptibility to injury.  Enjoy the summer and keep ‘em safe! 

By Stephen Badger