Employment Law Report

Child Labor- What Employers Need to Know Before Hiring Minor Employees

By: Alexa J. Elder

With COVID-19 restrictions decreasing and summer right around the corner, many employers are struggling to find workers to keep up with increasing demands.  Because many young people seek employment during the summer months while they are out of school, it may be tempting for businesses to take advantage of this readily available source of labor. However, before hiring employees under the age of 18, employers should be aware of the various restrictions that federal and state laws place on the employment of minors.

In the United States, child labor is regulated by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and applicable state laws. When there is conflict between the FLSA and state law, the law affording the most protection to minor employees prevails.  It can be difficult for employers to navigate child labor laws due to the sheer number of regulations, restrictions and exceptions. But compliance is a must.  Businesses who violate these laws, even unintentionally, can face steep fines. In 2020, Chipotle Mexican Grill was fined nearly $1.4 million over accusations that it routinely allowed minors to work too late into the evening and excessive hours per shift in violation of Massachusetts law. 

More recently, several restaurant chains in South Carolina were fined by the Department of Labor (DOL) for engaging in similar violations. According to a statement from the DOL last month, operators at some South Carolina Subway, Burger King, Popeyes and Frodo’s Pizza restaurants were fined for violating child labor laws relating to how late minors can work, the maximum hours minors can work per week, and the tasks minors can and cannot perform in their employment. 

Federal and state laws limit when minors can work.

Under the FLSA, as well as Kentucky and Indiana state law, 14- and 15-year-olds cannot work prior to 7 a.m., or past 7 p.m., during non-summer months.  They cannot work past 9 p.m. during the summer months.  Kentucky and Indiana also limit the times 16- and 17-year-old employees can work.  Under Kentucky law, during the months when school is in session, employees ages 16 and 17 cannot work before 6 a.m. and/or past 10:30 p.m. on school nights and 1 a.m. on non-school nights.  In Indiana, this age group is prohibited from working before 6 a.m. and after 10 p.m. year round. Both states recognize exceptions which allow 16- and 17-year olds to work later under certain circumstances provided the employer obtains written permission from the minor’s parent.

Federal and state laws limit how many hours minors can work per week.

Under the FLSA as well as Kentucky and Indiana state laws,  4- and 15-year-old employees can work a maximum of 18 hours per week when school is in session and no more than 40 hours per week when school is not in session. Although Kentucky does not restrict the number of hours 16- and 17-year old employees can work when school is not in session, during the school year this age group may work a maximum of 30 hours per week.  Indiana limits the number of hours 16- and 17-year-olds can work to 30 hours per week throughout the year. Again, both states recognize some exceptions under which 16- and 17-year old employees can work more hours per week with written parental permission. 

Federal and state laws limit the tasks minors can perform as employees.

The DOL fined a Frodo’s Pizza and two Subway restaurants in South Carolina for allowing minor employees to engage in prohibited tasks.  According to the DOL, Subway allowed four 15-year-old employees to engage in “prohibited baking activities,” and Frodo’s Pizza allowed three 16-year-old employees to work as delivery drivers in violation of the FLSA.

The FLSA imposes numerous restrictions on the tasks minor employees can perform in the course of their employment.  Under the FLSA, employees ages 14 and 15 cannot bake food, remove items from the oven or place products on cooling trays. A list detailing the tasks minors are prohibited from performing under federal law can be reviewed here.

Federal law also prohibits employees 16 years of age and under from driving motor vehicles on public roads as part of their jobs. Employees who are 17-years-old can drive in connection with their job but only under very limited circumstances (pizza delivery not included) and only when several additional requirements are satisfied. Employers can review the restrictions and requirements for teen driving on the job here.

The tasks minor employees can perform may be further limited under Kentucky and Indiana state law.  To review the full list of restrictions, employers should review the relevant links below:

https://labor.ky.gov/Documents/KY%20Child%20Labor%20Poster%20English.pdf

https://www.in.gov/dol/youth-employment/prohibited-and-hazardous-occupations-for-minors/

Employers should be aware of the heightened responsibilities that come with hiring minor employees. While this article addresses some of the more prevalent child labor issues, employers should be aware that the law imposes numerous restrictions on the employment of minors which are not addressed herein, including rules governing the number of hours minors can work per day, background checks on minor employees, work permits, posting of laws requirements, and meal/rest periods.  Employers considering hiring workers under the age of 18 are encouraged to consult with knowledgeable employment law counsel to ensure their policies and practices comply with all relevant child labor laws.

Alexa J. Elder
Alexa Elder is a member of the firm’s Litigation & Dispute Resolution team. She assists with the representation of a broad range of clients in a variety of cases, including appellate practice, constitutional law and commercial litigation. Read More