Sweeping New Child Labor Law Reforms Take Effect July 19

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The most sweeping reform of U.S. laws concerning child labor in three decades will go into effect on July 19.  The new regulations  spell out more precisely what jobs and hours youths under 16 may work and for the first time allows youths as young as 14 to perform “intellectual” and “artistic” work such as computer programming, drawing or teaching.

The new regulations also raise fines to a maximum of $11,000 per violation, and $50,000 for any violation resulting in serious injury or death, which in certain circumstances can be doubled. Willful violators may also be subject to criminal penalties: a $10,000 fine for the second violation and the same fine plus six months in prison for any subsequent violations.

In announcing the new regulations, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said in a news release,  “Protecting our youngest workers is one of this department's top priorities.”

 "Work is not child's play,” she said. “When children do work, that work must be age appropriate, safe and positive, and, it must not interfere with their schooling.”

The new regulations cover youths working for commercial businesses; new regulations regarding children working agricultural jobs are being considered.

Jeffery Newman, executive director of the National Child Labor Committee, said he supports the changes, but is skeptical about enforcement. “Having more guts to the laws is always more valuable, but it’s only as good as those who enforce it,” he said.

While years ago “states enforced the rules on their own,” Newman said, today “almost no states” do so.

Under the new rules, any work for a youth under 16 that is not specifically approved, is prohibited. And for the first time, 14- and 15-year-olds will not be limited to retail, food service and gasoline service businesses, permitting them to perform “safe tasks” in other businesses. It also permits 15-year-olds to serve as lifeguards, if they are otherwise properly trained and certified. Previously the minimum age was 16.

Some activities now prohibited under the new laws for youths under 16 include “catching and cooping” chickens for slaughter and serving as placard or sandwich board wavers – unless performed directly in front of an establishment. In addition, the new rules ban youths under the age of 16 from door-to-door peddling for non-charitable groups.

The new rules enumerate a long list of hazardous conditions that youths under 18 cannot be involved with, from working in meat coolers to working on or repairing complex machinery such as elevators and scrap baling machines.

As part of a new trend of teaching students skills as they complete college preparation academic courses, the new child labor regulations permit 14- and 15-year-olds to engage in work-study programs.

The rules also spell out specifically the hours that 14- and 15-year-olds youths can work:

--  No more than 40 hours a week if school is out of session.

--  No more than 18 hours a week when school is in session.

--  No more than eight hours a day when school is in session.

--  No more than three hours a day – including on Fridays – when school is in session.

--  No work during school hours (except for the work-study exception); between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. in a day, except from June 1 to Labor Day, when the latest one can work is extended to 9 p.m.

The final rules were published in the Federal Register on May 20.  More information is available at www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/childlbr.htm.

Diana Elbasha contributed to this report.