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Not obeying child labor laws can result in penalties.

Child Labor Laws: What You Need to Know to Avoid Penalties

The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division recently found that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) and Paragon Contractors Corp. illegally employed young children to harvest pecans. The DOL is seeking $1.9 million in penalties for child labor violations.

There are laws specific to employing people under 18 years old. They are more strict than the laws surrounding adult employment. If you wish to employ children, it is important for you to follow the laws so you are not faced with penalties from the DOL.

Who makes child labor laws?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the basic standards for child labor laws. The child labor provisions in the FLSA are vague, so the DOL sets more specific laws based on the FLSA guidelines. The DOL is also responsible for enforcing child labor laws.

Individual states can also make child labor laws. When there are differing state and federal child labor laws, you should follow the laws that are more protective of the child employee.

What jobs can children do?

A child’s job opportunities varies depending on age. However, no child is permitted to do a job declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. Some of the things declared hazardous include driving a motor vehicle, using power-driven tools or machines, and demolition.

The DOL provides resources on specific jobs children can and cannot do. These resources include information on industry specific rules, like farm, grocery store, and cooking jobs.

Examples of jobs children can do, by age:

  • Under age 14: newspaper delivery, babysitting, work as an actor or performer, work for their parents’ business
  • Ages 14 or 15: retail work, tutoring, delivery work (by foot, bicycle or public transportation), dish washing, yard work (but cannot use power-driven mowers, cutters, etc.), stocking items
  • Ages 16 or 17: any job not declared hazardous
  • Ages 18 and older: any job, including those declared hazardous

What hours can children work?

The hours a child can work varies depending on the child’s age and if school is in session.

Under the FLSA, children ages 14 or 15 can work:

  • Three hours max on a school day
  • 18 hours max a week when school is in session; 23 hours max if the child is in a work experience program
  • Eight hours max a day when school is not in session
  • 40 hours max a week when school is not in session
  • Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (except for summer months); between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. (June 1 through Labor Day)

Children ages 16 or 17 can work unlimited hours. However, there may be state laws restricting the hours children can work.

How much do I have to pay children?

You should pay minimum wage to all children you employ. The minimum wage you follow will either be the federal, state, or local minimum wage—whichever is greater.

The FLSA also permits a youth minimum wage. The current federal youth minimum wage is $4.25 an hour for employees under 20 years of age. The youth minimum wage only applies to the first 90 calendar days of employment. After 90 days, the child must be paid at least minimum wage. You can use the youth minimum wage if you are covered by FLSA, and you are not restricted by state or local law.

What other requirements are there?

Before you hire a child, you should verify that they are legally able to work in the United States. Some states also require children to obtain a work permit. These can generally be obtained from the child’s school or from the state labor department.

The FLSA does not require rest or meal periods, but individual states may. Some states also have laws regarding rest periods specific for child employees.

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