The Summer Job Rush Is On: But Is Change Coming in Child Labor Laws?

Teen employment is highly regulated under child labor laws. Those laws may be changing. Here’s what you need to know.

June is the month when most schools close for the summer. That means it’s also the time that thousands of American teenagers look for summer jobs.

At any given time, according to the Department of Labor, some 7 million youngsters under the age of 18 are employed. It’s a practice deeply embedded in American culture, and the legend of the newspaper delivery kid who grew up to be president is true … at least in the case of major corporations. Warren Buffet, Ross Perot, and the late Walt Disney all tossed papers at lawns as part of their introduction to work.

The world of teen work is changing, however. Such jobs as newspaper delivery are now done more efficiently by professional services. And other jobs teens have depended on, such as food service or retail sales, are going to new classes of workers. “Employers are hiring immigrants instead of kids,” says Andrew Sum, a labor market expert at Northeastern University, in a Knowledge@Wharton report. “And if you walk into a mall or grocery store, you’ll see large numbers of older people working at jobs teens used to have.”

Learn how your state’s child labor law differs from the federal. Examine your state’s edition of BLR’s What to Do About Personnel Problems in [Your State] for 30 days at no cost and no risk. Read more.

That’s unfortunate, say other experts. Because besides providing labor for current needs, working teens are also building an ethic for their later lives. “Working as a team, completing tasks and taking responsibility. Kids learn these skills through employment,” says Ian Charner of the National Institute for Work and Learning, a workforce development group.

Others point out that in providing jobs for teens today, business is helping ensure a viable labor force for the future. “Hiring and training from the local teen workforce is a strategic business solution,” says Donna Sinnery, a staffing executive at Boston’s State Street Corporation, which hires 175 teens each summer. “We are attracting talent, increasing retention and branding ourselves as an employer of choice,” all advantages in a tightly competitive labor market.

If you hire teens at your organization, be aware of these factors:

Child labor is regulated at both the state and federal levels. DOL authorizes only a few jobs for 14 and15- year -olds, and outlaws hazardous work for any age up to the age of 18. The agency recently posted its intent to strengthen these regulations by forbidding such practices as riding on forklifts or operating certain types of industrial machinery. At the same time, it signaled its willingness to open additional opportunities for younger teens in such jobs as banking and information technology. Be sure to research both federal and state rules on what young workers can and can’t do, and restrictions on hours they can work. State laws, by the way, are usually more restrictive than federal, and in conflicts, the stricter statute rules.

Child labor law may be changing. Find out how in a special BLR 90-minute audio conference. Read more.

–Young people are frequently targets of sexual harassment in the workplace. One study by University of Southern Maine professor Susan Fineran found that 43 percent of teens who’d worked had experienced such harassment, a situation that’s getting increasing play in the media. Be certain to train both the teens and those they work for and with on your harassment policy, including the right to complain to management without fear of retaliation.

“Today’s teens are very savvy in fashion, technology, and pop culture,” explains Lisa Schnall, an attorney who advises EEOC. “But they’re a lot less savvy about their rights on the job.”

FLSA and Teen Workers!
The FLSA has a lot to say about teen workers. Let BLR brief you on today’s regulations and also the DOL’s recently proposed changes, in a special June 20, 90-minute audio conference on child labor law. Can’t make it? Pre-order the CD! Read more.