Note: This Employer’s Advocate column was originally published in the Amarillo Globe-News on Sunday, October 12, 2008.
This newspaper reported last month that the owner and the managers of the nation’s largest kosher meat-packing plant (Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa) were criminally charged with more than 9000 individual counts apiece for employing children younger than 16 to handle dangerous equipment such as power saws and meat grinders. The children were also exposed to hazardous chemicals, according to the charges.
To assure that your business and you personally never get into that kind of criminal trouble, you have to educate yourself on the child labor laws.
A common trap that employers fall into with workers under 18 is to allow them to frequently drive on the job. No employee under 17 may drive a motor vehicle on public roads as part of his job. That means that you can’t use a 16-year-old to even run to the office supply store.
If your employee is 17, she can drive on the job only during daylight hours, only if she has completed a state approved driver’s education course and has no moving violations on her record at the time of hire, always wears a seatbelt and only if she spends no more than 20 percent of her time during any one workweek driving on company business.
There are other traps in the child labor laws, such as restrictions on allowing teens to work in fast-food restaurants near the meat slicers. Also, some states have even stricter laws than the federal law outlined here.
So here are the general child labor laws that you must follow: You cannot hire anyone under 14 years old, with a few exceptions for newspaper carriers, actors, and agriculture.
Fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds are restricted to 3-hour days during the school year (8 hours per day in the summer), cannot work after 7 p.m. on school nights and 9 p.m. on weekends. They can never work in hazardous jobs such as manufacturing, warehouses, loading goods from trucks, and construction, as well as those jobs prohibited for older teens.
They can work in clerical positions, baby-sit, bag and carry out groceries, clean up, prepare food and beverages (without hazardous equipment), run the cash register and wash cars.
Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds are not restricted on their hours of work. But they cannot be involved in any of the following jobs or any other occupation, which the Secretary of Labor decides to declare particularly hazardous:
- Occupations of motor-vehicle driver or outside helper
- Using power-driven meat-processing machinery
- Operating power-driven bakery machines
- Coal mining
- Operating paper-products machines
- Involvement in wrecking, demolition and shipwrecking operations
- Manufacturing brick and tile
- Using other power tools such as circular saws, shears, metal-forming machinery, woodworking tools, and hoisting machines.
- Mining, including sand and gravel operations
- Exposure to radiation
- Exposure to a sexually-oriented commercial activity.
Obviously, an employer also cannot hire a minor to sell, prepare, serve or otherwise handle liquor, or even assist in doing so.
By carefully considering the job duties involved and contacting an attorney before you put a teen into any questionable job, you can avoid steep penalties from the Department of Labor of up to $10,000 for each employee or the kinds of criminal charges that Agriprocessors’ management team faces.