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January 05, 2011
DOL Revises Final Child Labor Regulations; Do You Comply with State and Federal Laws on Minor Workers?

Employers have long relied on workers under the age of 18 to keep their businesses up and running. Although minor workers often provide numerous benefits, they're also subject to a wide variety of restrictions and prohibitions.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) this past spring issued a final rule that updates its regulations for nonagricultural child labor with what it describes as "the most ambitious and far-reaching revisions to the child labor regulations in the last 30 years." The rule became effective on July 19, 2010, and many of its provisions apply to California employers, so now is a good time to review your child labor practices and ensure you're complying with the law.

Changes for 14- and 15-Year-Old Workers

California previously adopted the federal standards for 14- and 15-year-olds—including any changes that may be made in the standards in the future—so the DOL's new regulations for these workers apply to California employers.

The final rule expands the tasks that 14- and 15-year-old workers can perform by removing a 40-year-old provision that generally limited them to jobs in food service, retail, and gasoline service establishments. These workers can now perform:

  • office work

  • work of an intellectual or artistically creative nature

  • most restaurant tasks, including cashiering, stock work, and cleanup

  • errand and delivery by foot, bike, or public transportation (in California, though, workers of this age can't deliver messages or packages in cities with more than 15,000 people)

  • work in advertising, teaching, banking, or information technology

  • under certain conditions, work inside and outside of places that use power-driven machinery to process work products

Fifteen-year-olds can now be lifeguards and swimming instructors at swimming pools and water parks; previously, workers had to be 16.

Note that the DOL's final rule states that 14- and 15-year-olds can only perform work allowed by the DOL. If a task is not specifically permitted, it is prohibited. The rule also bars 14- and 15-year-old workers from door-to-door sales, noncharitable peddling, poultry catching and cooping, and promotional activity like sign waving unless performed directly outside the employer's establishment. Also, state law prohibits 14- and 15-year-old gas station employees from dispensing gas and oil, performing courtesy service, or cleaning, washing, or polishing cars. Minors must be at least 16 to perform these activities.

Practice Tip

Both state and federal law grant exemptions from some of the prohibitions and restrictions to students enrolled in work experience educational programs if certain conditions are met.

Changes for All Workers Under Age 18

Besides the federal standards for 14- and 15-year-old workers, California has adopted the federal standards for hazardous occupations for all minors under 18, including any updates. The revised federal regulations for minors expand the prohibitions related to the following hazardous occupations and equipment:

  • logging and sawmilling

  • power-driven hoisting equipment

  • meat processing and power-driven meat-processing plants

  • balers, compactors, and paper-processing machines

  • band saws, circular saws, and guillotine shears

To stay on the safe side, avoid using minor workers for any jobs involving the above tasks and equipment.

The final rule now allows minors to operate portable countertop mixers similar to those used in private homes and certain pizza-dough rollers.

State Prohibitions for 16- and 17-Year-Old Workers

In situations in which state law is more restrictive than the federal child labor law, state law takes precedence. Under California law, 16- and 17-year-old workers may not be employed:

  • in any work in gas stations that involves using pits, racks, or lifting apparatuses or inflating a tire mounted on a rim with a removable retaining ring

  • in or on a part of an establishment primarily designed for on-site consumption of alcohol

  • to sell alcoholic beverages for off-site consumption unless constantly supervised by a person who is 21 or older

  • to sell lottery tickets unless constantly supervised by a person who is 21 or older

Driving on the Job

Under federal and state law, you clearly cannot employ minors for the sole purpose of driving a motor vehicle on the highways or streets--for example, as a cab or truck driver. But 17-year-olds are permitted to perform some on-the-job driving of automobiles and trucks on public roadways if certain conditions are met. Subscribers can access a "Job-Related Driving Checklist for Minors" in our website's Online Exclusive section.

Protect Minors, Protect Yourself

Remember that it's the employer's responsibility to verify the age of every minor and obtain work permits from their schools, even when school isn't in session. You must keep work permits on file for the length of the minor's employment, and permits must be renewed each school year. Permits may be more restrictive than the minimum legal standards. California law also requires employers to keep on file for three years records showing the names, dates of birth, addresses, and time and payroll records for all minors.

In light of the new regulations, you should review your records as soon as possible to determine which of your workers are minors. Make sure that none work in any of the hazardous occupations and that 14- and 15-year-olds work only in jobs specifically permitted.

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