Child Labor Laws

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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Federal and state legislation that protects children by restricting the type and hours of work they perform.

The specific purpose of child labor laws is to safeguard children against harm generally associated with child labor, such as exposure to hazardous, unsanitary, or immoral conditions, and overwork. Child labor legislation primarily applies to business enterprises, but in some states nonprofit activities are within the purview of the law.

The federal law controlling child labor is the FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT of 1938 (FLSA) 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et. seq., administratively regulated through 29 C.F.R. Part 570 et seq. The law is enforced by the U.S. Labor Department's Wage & Hour Division. Federal law provides the basic structural framework for certain prohibitions or restrictions placed on the employment of children. Regulations further delineate minimum requirements to include age restrictions, MINIMUM WAGE provisions, occupational restrictions, hours of work restrictions, and certain prohibited fields or occupations (e.g., hazardous occupations, liquor and lottery sales, or occupations involving moving vehicles or power-driven machinery). Moreover, all states and the federal government require that children have work permits on file with their employers that certify their ages. (29 C.F.R. § 570.9)

Two young boys at work in a textile mill. Before child labor laws went into effect, many companies employed young people at low wages, often exposing them to overwork, as well as hazardous and unsanitary conditions.

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Each state also has its own set of child labor laws that may further prohibit or restrict employment of children. The laws vary in detail from state to state, particularly for those states where seasonal or agricultural employment is high. However, federal law preempts state law, and so all state laws must comply with all federal minimum requirements.

Specific provisions of the particular child labor law govern the age of majority. Some laws permit minors to be employed in certain activities if their parents satisfy stated conditions concerning supervision, control, and approval. The state has the right to prohibit parents from binding a minor to an employment contract based upon the theory that parents cannot diminish benefits that the law confers to children.

Cursory directions to subordinates are not sufficient to fulfill the employer's duty to...

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