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Understanding Child Labor Laws: A Parent Guide

Updated on September 29, 2012
Federal labor laws protect youth
Federal labor laws protect youth | Source

Understanding child labor laws is important for every parent. It can be a consuming process to know age requirements, what jobs are right for your kid, and, especially, what they will be made to do. But it can never be a hassle to keep your child safe.

For this reason were child labor provisions created as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to ensure that work does not jeopardize a youth’s health, well-being, or education.

Most minors generally acquire a job for personal money or to assist at home. In today’s economy, although jobs are tough to find, the strain on the home is requiring youth to make money just to cover themselves and so keep the home afloat. Nevertheless, parents need to be scrutinizing of their children’s first jobs.

Occupational Health Hazards for Youth

Federal labor laws allow youth of any age to work for parent-owned businesses if the work is not deemed hazardous by the Secretary of Labor or is in the mining or manufacture sectors. Also, minors can deliver newspapers and harvest evergreens. Youth 18 years or older are no longer subject to child labor provisions.

Very many minors take restaurant jobs, which can be very dangerous. FLSA has specific rules concerning this. Youth 16-17 are permitted to do most things in restaurant kitchens but are prohibited from using hazardous machinery, like power-driven meat processing and bakery machines and commercial mixers. In fact, they’re essentially not permitted to touch these machines or any part of them, to setup, adjust, or clean.

Youth 16-17 are able to use lightweight, small, or portable machinery that is comparable to models intended for home use. If working in the pizza industry, they may only operate dough rollers (that have designed safeguards for the hands and clothing)—but nothing more. They may not make time-sensitive deliveries or drive at night, on any job.

Youth 14-15 may perform cooking duties but never over an open flame and only with deep fryers that use automatic basket lowering/raising devices. They may never cook with NEICO broilers, high speed ovens, rapid broilers, fryolators, rotisseries, pressure cookers, or over open flames. No part of the baking process (not even weighing ingredients) can be performed.

This group is allowed to prepare and serve food and beverages, and so is the use of necessary equipment for drinks, popcorn, coffee, and so on. They may not touch or operate any hazardous equipment. They may clean surfaces and non-hazardous equipment if temperatures are below 100-degrees. This also includes the disposal of hot grease (not to exceed 100-degrees.) They may retrieve items from inside a freezer or cooler but never perform lingering work there.

Federal Child Labor Standards at Age Glance

 
Age 18
Ages 16-17
Ages 14-15
14 and Younger
Subject to FLSA?
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Can work mining or manufacture?
Yes
Yes
No
No
Can work a hazardous occupation?
Yes
No
No
No
Can drive or help on vehicle on a public road?
Yes
Limited. No time-sensitive or PM deliveries
No
No
Can bake or cook?
Yes
Limited
Very limited
No
Can prepare or serve food?
Yes
Yes
Yes
If parent-owned business
Can filter or dispose hot oil?
Yes
Yes
100-degrees or less
No
Can work in freezers and coolers?
Yes
Yes
Retrieval only
Retrieval only in parent's business
Federal Child Labor Provisions exist for youth under the Fair Labor Standards Act
Federal Child Labor Provisions exist for youth under the Fair Labor Standards Act | Source

Did You Know?

Restaurants and food businesses with annual gross sales from one or more establishments totaling at least $500,000 are subject to FLSA laws.

Legal Working Hours and Wage Laws

FLSA rules extend to the hours minors can work. For instance, youth 16-17 can work unlimited hours on any non-hazardous job. But rules become stringent for 14-15 year-olds. They may work not more than 3 hours per school day, 18 hours in a school week, 8 hours on a non-school day, or 40 hours in a non-school week. Their work may not begin before 7 a.m. or end after 7 p.m., except from June 1 to Labor Day, when evening hours are extended to 9 p.m.

FLSA allows employers to pay a youth minimum wage of (not less than) $4.25 per hour to employees under 20 years of age during their first 90 consecutive days after initial employment. On jobs where tips are made and a base rate of $2.13 per hour is earned, any overtime made is to be paid at 1½ the general minimum wage and not the base rate ($2.13).

Parents should also know that uniforms that are required by employers are considered a business expense of the employer. Yet employers are permitted to lay the expense on the employee. Should this occur the cost may not reduce one’s wage below the minimum wage or cut into any overtime compensation.

This article has not been exhaustive but has covered what probably applies to a majority of youth employment. I hope that you now see why understanding child labor laws is extremely important for parents and youth.

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    • ithabise profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael S. 

      5 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      Industriousness is a great characteristic to have at so young an age. A strong work ethic will take one far. I like the family-owned aspect of the government's regulations. It makes sense. Thanks for reading, Mom Kat!

    • Mom Kat profile image

      Mom Kat 

      5 years ago from USA

      My 14 year old daughter is just itching to go out and start working... when she visits her dad, she gets to work at the family owned coffee shop/gift store folding shirts & stocking the front shelves with light merchandise. She keeps asking when she can get a job here. I tell her she has to wait, we don't have a family owned shop to work at. Bless her heart, she's such an over achiever!

      Great info ~ up, interesting, & useful!

    • ithabise profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael S. 

      5 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      Safety is indeed the issue. This information concerns non-agricultural occupation and I have yet to examine what the government rules about agricultural work. I suppose it matters greatly in the case of youth of any age being able to work for parents. There's a great YouTube on this and the controversy concerning what kids should and should not be allowed to do. I suppose the rule permits parents to exercise foresight about what their children are ably responsible to do, but you have to question whether there should be stipulations still to protect children's welfare. How would you handle an accident that killed your child that was 9 or 10? Sorry for the ramble, but, like you said, there are things that can be overlooked--and our children's safety always matters.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      5 years ago from sunny Florida

      This is helpful information for those who are about to have children entering the work place. There are a number of things to consider which may not even come to mind. Safety which you have suggested is the most important issue. Being assured before your child does secure a job that safety guidelines will be adhered to is very importat. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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