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Teen work: Heed strict limits on hours, conditions

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

THE LAW. Teens are a great source of labor, especially during the summer. But the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets strict limits on the hours they can work and the jobs they can perform, and those limits are different during school months and non-school months. Some states also have their own laws.

WHAT'S NEW? Your risks of running afoul of the law have increased, and penalties can be harsh. In 2001, the amount of time federal wage and hour investigators spent on child labor cases reached a five-year high. And the number of child labor violations they found last year jumped to 2,099, a 14 percent increase over the previous year.

Because youth employment swells in summer, many enforcement efforts are aimed at amusement parks, restaurants and retail shops. But the U.S. Labor Department is using other tactics.

Example: Its "Safe Child" initiative asks school districts to identify local companies that hire lots of teens. Then the agency works with the companies, and keeps a watchful eye, to make sure they comply. Also, the Labor Department has just launched a new Web site, www.youthrules.dol.gov, that aims to educate your potential hires and their parents about child labor rules.

HOW TO COMPLY. In most cases, children ages 13 and under are off-limits to employers. They're not allowed to work except in odd jobs or in special circumstances, including delivering newspapers, baby-sitting, doing chores around a private home, performing in radio, TV, movies or theater productions or working for their parents' solely owned business.

Youths ages 14 and 15 may work outside of school hours in various jobs (except manufacturing, mining and hazardous positions), but the hours they work are limited to:

  • 8 hours on a nonschool day, and 40 hours in a nonschool week.
  • 3 hours on a school day, and 18 hours in a school week.
  • Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (except from June 1 through Labor Day, when nighttime work hours are extended to 9 p.m.).

Under a special provision, 14- and 15-year-olds enrolled in an approved Work Experience and Career Explora-tion Program may be employed for up to 23 hours during a school week and three hours on each school day.

Once workers reach 16, the employment picture gets less restrictive. The FLSA says 16- and 17-year-olds can work unlimited hours. However, they still can't perform certain hazardous duties.

Once workers reach age 18, they can work any job for unlimited hours, regardless of whether it's considered "hazardous."

State restrictions. Many states also have their own child labor laws. They often mirror the FLSA, but some are more restrictive. For example, unlike the FLSA, more than half of states regulate the daily or weekly number of hours that 16- and 17-year-olds can work.

Rule of thumb: In situations where the federal and state laws differ, employers must follow the stricter of the two. Check state laws by visiting www.dol.gov/esa and clicking on "State Labor Laws."

Permits/certification. Federal law doesn't require work permits or proof-of-age certificates for a minor to be employed. But many states do require permits for workers of certain ages. Contact your state labor department or local high school guidance counselors to find out if permits or proof-of-age certificates are required.

These certificates are one of your best forms of protection from prosecution for employing an underage worker. To find out what your state law requires, go to www.dol.gov/esa/programs/whd/ state/certification.htm.

 

Resources: Teen labor

  • U.S. Labor Department Youth & Labor Web site, www.dol.gov/dol/topic/ youthlabor, which offers advice on all aspects of federal child labor law, plus links to state laws. Or call the department's Child Labor hotline at (202) 693-0072. 
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which offers safety advice on teen workers. Go to www.cdc.gov/niosh/adolespg.html or call NIOSH at (800) 356-4674.

 

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