Every summer, we beat the drum about the moral mandate of keeping young workers safe. But as with many things, the morale mandate all too often speaks to employers in a soft voice while money shouts in a big voice. So if "doing the right thing" isn't enough of a reason to keep kids safe, there's also a big economic incentive in the form of penalty avoidance for employers to toe the line when it comes to safety and strict adherence to youth labor laws: if a young worker is injured, the employer may be subject to steep additional penalties if labor law violations are present. These penalties are "uninsurable" - that is, they will be out-of-pocket for the employer since the insurer is not on the hook for penalties related to an employer's labor law violations.
In Denmark v. Industrial Manufacturing Specialists, Inc., the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals recently upheld double compensation for an injured 16 year old worker due to the employer's child labor laws violations. The youth was a part-time worker who was working with a coworker to load a 1,300-pound metal bar stock onto a table so that it could be cut by a band saw when the load fell on the youth, crushing him and causing internal injuries and a fractured ankle. Even though the youth was not actually engaged in the prohibited activity (use of the band saw), "The court found a nexus between the task the worker was performing at the time of the accident and the manufacturer's violation of the child labor laws. Therefore, the worker was entitled to double compensation for his injury."
Before employing minors, it is essential to know and obey child labor laws, particularly in regards to prohibited work. Employers who fail in this charge may wind up paying double compensation and/or fines if an injury occurs. There are federal laws governing the employment of minors in both non-farm work and in agricultural work, but employers need to know the governing state law because the Department of Labor states that, "Where state law differs from federal law on child labor, the law with the more rigorous standard applies."
Laws cover such matters as minimum age, prohibited work by age cohort, whether work permits are needed, and restrictions on the hours of work allowed. Here are some compliance resources for employers. As with most laws, ignorance of the law is not a defense.
Federal Laws - Hiring Youth & Compliance Assistance
The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) administers and enforces the federal child labor laws. Generally speaking, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the minimum age for employment (14 years for non-agricultural jobs), restricts the hours youth under the age of 16 may work, and prohibits youth under the age of 18 from being employed in hazardous occupations. In addition, the FLSA establishes subminimum wage standards for certain employees who are less than 20 years of age, full-time students, student learners, apprentices, and workers with disabilities. Employers generally must have authorization from WHD in order to pay sub-minimum wage rates.
Among the FLSA penalties, DOL says that:
Employers are subject to a civil money penalty of up to $11,000 per worker for each violation of the child labor provisions. In addition, employers are subject to a civil money penalty of $50,000 for each violation occurring after May 21, 2008 that causes the death or serious injury of any minor employee - such penalty may be doubled, up to $100,000, when the violations are determined to be willful or repeated.
See more at the Deparment of Labor's Youth & Labor topic page
Many states offer double compensation or other penalties related to an injured youth when there are labor violations. In some instances, penalties can be imposed even when the labor violations aren't directly related to the injury.
Compliance with labor laws is only one part of the employer's responsibility: the other is ensuring a safe environment. Young workers are green workers who don't have the experience, judgement, and work hardening that older workers have. That heightens their risk of injury. It's important to provide task-specific training with an emphasis on safety. We also encourage the idea of pairing a young worker up with a more experienced mentor. The article Preventing Young Worker Fatalities offers a good list of tips. Also, see our prior posts about young workers for more tips.