Child Labor Law Primer
© Bob E. Lype, 2002
In the season of summer jobs, employers should be mindful of both federal and state child labor law requirements.
In the good old summertime, many school-age young people look for jobs, and many employers need summer help. But whether an employer hires young workers on a seasonal basis or year-round, there are numerous rules to be considered.
There are both federal and state laws governing child labor, and whichever law provides the stricter or more specific standards applies. The applicable federal law is part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and like nearly all other states, Tennessee has its own Child Labor Act.
Children under age 14. With limited exceptions, neither the FLSA nor Tennessee law permits an employer to employ children under age 14. The exceptions include work in the home, at the parent's business, newspaper sales and deliveries, and certain agricultural work and entertainment work.
Children ages 14-15. Children ages 14 and 15 may work, but generally only outside school hours and in nonhazardous jobs. These children may only work up to a maximum of eight hours per day or forty hours per week during non-school time. When school is in session, they may only work three hours on any school day and up to eighteen hours per week. If the next day is a school day, children ages 14-15 may not work between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., and even when the next day is not a school day they may not work after 9 p.m. or before 6 a.m.
Children ages 16-17. If they are enrolled in school, children ages 16-17 cannot work during school hours. Whereas the FLSA does not contain restrictions as to the hours or days of the week when 16-17 year olds can work, under Tennessee state law they may not work after 10 p.m. or before 6 a.m. on any Sunday through Thursday which precedes a school day. Under Tennessee law, they may work between 10 p.m. and midnight, even if the next day is a school day, if the employer receives and files a written parental consent.
Work prohibitions. Apart from the above-referenced rules related to work hours, both federal and state law prohibit minors under 18 from working in certain hazardous occupations, including jobs involving: mining, use of explosives, logging and sawmilling, various power-driven machines, punch presses, meat packing, roofing, wrecking and demolition, and some other activities. Under Tennessee law, it is also unlawful for a minor under 18 to work in a place of business which derives at least 25% of its gross income from the sale of alcoholic beverages. While federal law would permit minors age 17 or older to drive motor vehicles as part of their employment under limited circumstances, Tennessee law does not allow driving by minors as part of their job duties, unless a limited special exception is sought and granted.
Other provision. Employers should also bear in mind that both federal and state law require that child labor notices be posted in the workplace. Tennessee law requires employers of minors to obtain age verification, which can include a copy of a birth certificate, driver's license or passport. Tennessee law also requires employers of minors to keep separate personnel files for each minor which include copies of an application, age verification documents, and accurate records of hours worked.
Finally, the penalties for violations of these child labor laws can be severe, and they include both civil and criminal penalties. Under the FLSA, a willful violation can result in fines of up to $10,000. Civil penalties of up to $11,000 for each violation, for each child, can be assessed if a serious injury to the minor occurs. Under Tennessee law, violations can result in civil penalties ranging from $150-1,000 per violation, and each day worked is a separate violation. If children under age 14 are employed in violation of the Tennessee Act, then the penalties can be $1,000-10,000 per each separate violation.
Many business are dependent upon employing minors, who typically command a lower wage and may be willing to work less desirable hours. Even businesses which do not typically employ minors may choose to do so on a temporary, seasonal basis. As with all employment laws, it certainly helps to know the rules of the game before you begin playing, and this includes child labor laws.