The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced that it will update the federal child labor laws for the 21st century.
Employers should keep in mind that any changes under this plan will apply to the federal laws, not the Connecticut child labor laws.
In April, the U.S. Department of Labor published a proposal to update the portion of the FLSA concerning teenaged workers. The proposed changes are expected to provide additional protection for young workers.
The federal child labor laws are part of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Passed in 1932, the FLSA was the first comprehensive federal law to protect young workers. Prior to its passage, it was common for children as young as 8 years old to be employed for 10 to 12 hours per day in mills and factories. They frequently operated dangerous machinery, and sometimes worked all day without a meal break. The FLSA is the same law that established a federal minimum wage, and governs overtime pay for those who work more than 40 hours per week.
Key new provisions under these changes will prohibit young people ages 14 and 15 from participating in door-to-door sales, also known as youth peddling activities. It’s important to note that young people would still be allowed to sell candy, magazines, cookies and similar items for their school or favorite charity. The law simply prohibits employers from hiring young people for such activities.
Under the current federal and Connecticut child labor laws, young people are prohibited from a number of hazardous occupations. Youngsters currently can’t operate a bulldozer at work or be in charge of foundry equipment. However, the proposed changes would expand those restrictions. Young people would be prohibited from working at poultry slaughtering plants, and fighting forest fires, under the new regulations. The updated regulations also preclude youths from operating balers and compactors, except those that strictly work with paper products. Young people are currently prohibited from operating forklifts, but the new regulations would prevent youngsters from riding as passengers on forklifts.
This is just the latest round of changes to the federal child labor laws. In December 2004, the Department of Labor issued final regulations that made a number of changes to existing child labor laws. In particular, young people were protected from working in the roofing industry, and in restaurant cooking. Those changes were made based on a 2002 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health review of hazards in child labor.
A new year brings new laws, including tougher new Connecticut child labor laws. These new child labor laws have teeth. According to experts, the new guidelines will better protect the state’s youth. This new legislation, which went into effect January 1, 2007, criminalizes child labor law violations by imposing up to five years’ in prison for each violation. In addition, violators face fines of fines of $2,000 to $5,000 for each offense. The civil penalties will double from $300 to $600 per violation.
According to Governor Rell, it’s high time for new Connecticut child labor laws. “This new legislation goes a long way toward protecting our young workers just entering employment,” Governor Rell said. “While we have an obligation to protect all workers, the safety of our children is paramount. For too long Connecticut’s child labor laws have not carried enough teeth.”
Federal and state child labor laws protect workers under the age of 18 from dangerous work. They also spell out what type of work minors may perform and what hours young people may work.
Governor Rell requested the tougher Connecticut child labor laws after Labor Department inspectors found 11 violations at Wal-Mart stores in Hartford, Norwalk and Putnam in 2005. The most serious situations occurred at the Putnam location, where three violations of minors using hazardous equipment were found. At the time, Governor Rell noted that a fine of just $300 for each violation was not a strong enough deterrent for a major corporation.
“Although the majority of Connecticut employers comply with our laws, it is of vital importance that we protect our youth in the workplace and legislation that I proposed earlier this year will put employers on notice that child labor laws need to be taken very seriously,” Governor Rell noted.
Unfortunately, under the old laws, some companies simply decided to break the law and pay the $300 if they were caught. Because there were no criminal charges involved, employers who violated the laws had no fear of jail or hefty fines.
Some employers have a lot to answer for, under the tough new Connecticut child labor laws. Over the course of a typical year, approximately 800 cases involving minors in the workplace are investigated by the Connecticut Department of Labor’s Wage and Workplace Division.
Unfortunately, in the past, employers who violated the Connecticut child labor laws were subject to a mere $300 fine. Some irresponsible employers seem to have made a financial decision to violate the law, hoping that they would not be caught. Even if they were, the financial advantages of exploiting a minor often outweighed the fine.
According to the Wage and Workplace Division Director Gary Pechie, two of the most serious incidents took place during the summer of 2006. Two separate accidents occurred within a week of each other, seriously injuring two minors and resulting in arrest warrants for two local business owners.
“Keeping young workers better protected is a major goal of DOL’s wage and workplace division, and this new legislation will help us in our efforts to ensure companies do not put minors in harm’s way,” Pechie said.
“I have confidence that these new and tougher child labor laws will go a long way toward better protecting the state’s youth,” said Governor Rell. “Connecticut has a long history of statutes protecting minors in employment, yet both companies allowed a worker under the age of 18 to either climb ladders or engage in a hazardous activity. As a result of this new legislation, genuine penalties will carry more weight and ultimately better protect our young workers.”
In the first incident in August, a 15-year-old working for a Glastonbury landscaping company was injured when a Bobcat tractor used to clear brush and debris ran him over. In the other incident, a 16-year-old fell 18 feet from a roof while working for a roofing company based in Monroe. Under current law, it is illegal for minors to work in dangerous occupations, including working with heavy equipment and roofing. Both company owners ignored the law and employed people they knew were under 18 for dangerous occupations.
Following the Labor Department’s investigation of the landscaping accident, company owner T.Q. was charged by Glastonbury police with risk of injury to a minor. His case is pending. The Wage and Workplace Division issued an arrest warrant for C. S. owner of the roofing company and charged him with the hazardous employment of a minor.
Under the old Connecticut child labor law, roofing company owner C.S. was fined just $200. Both companies also were charged with failure to have a certificate of age on file for minors, which is required under state statute. Many Connecticut residents were shocked that an action resulting in critical injuries would carry such a small fine. Under the current law, the violation would carry up to 5 years in jail, plus a fine up to $5,000.