State pushes for longer hours for child workers

But DOL calls loosening of protections 'irresponsible'

State pushes for longer hours for child workers

As Congress starts probing the exploitation of unaccompanied illegal migrant children following a number of prosecutions by the Department of Labor, at least one state is pushing to allow American children to work more.

Iowa's Senate has passed a bill SF 542 that would allow children to work longer hours and in jobs that are currently prohibited, such as serving alcohol.

The bill still needs to be passed by the House before being sent to the governor for her signature.

Irresponsible move?

Supporters of the bill argue that it will modernize Iowa's laws and teach children valuable skills through workforce training programs.

They also claim that having a job will give youth the opportunity to save for important expenses such as a car, prom dress, summer camp, or a date.

However, opponents of the bill, including all the state’s Democrat lawmakers, two Republicans and labor unions, argue that it increases the risk of workplace accidents and exposes inexperienced kids to more dangerous work environments.

They have tried to amend the bill to provide additional workers' compensation benefits for teenagers who get injured on the job.

"You don’t like it being branded as a bill about child labor, but yet your bill talks about kids getting injured in the workplace," said Sen. Nate Boulton. "So let’s make it about taking care of kids who are injured working in these jobs, because it will happen.”

The U.S. Department of Labor has criticized bills like this, calling it "irresponsible for states to consider loosening child labor protections."

When is it legal for minors to work?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes rules for wage, hours worked, and safety requirements for minors (individuals under the age of 18) employed in jobs covered by the statute. The FLSA has different rules for minors based on their age and the type of job they perform.

Generally, the FLSA requires a minimum age of 14 for employment and limits the number of hours worked by minors under 16 years old.

The FLSA generally prohibits employing minors in hazardous work. Examples include excavation, driving, and operating power-driven equipment. The FLSA also has specific requirements for certain jobs such as agricultural work and motor vehicle operation.

There are also exceptions to the general rules, such as work done by minors for their parents. Additionally, each state has its own employment laws, including laws related to minors' employment. When state law and the FLSA overlap, the law that provides greater protection for the minor takes precedence.

Child Labor cases on the rise

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently reported a concerning trend in the number of minors who are working in violation of child labor laws. In fiscal year 2022, there was a 37% increase in the number of minors employed in violation of these laws, compared to FY2021. This represents a staggering 283% increase from FY2015, as shown in Figure A.

Moreover, the number of minors employed in hazardous occupations also increased, with a 26% increase from FY2021 and a 94% increase from FY2015, according to DOL WHD 2022.

The DOL has been actively investigating these violations, with 14 separate investigations conducted in the six months leading up to March 2023. As of February 2023, the DOL was investigating over 600 child labor cases, as per DOL OSEC 2023.

However, these numbers only represent a small portion of the actual violations, as many incidents go unreported and uninvestigated. As a business, it's crucial to ensure compliance with child labor laws and take proactive measures to prevent any violations.

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