Increases in child labor violations, young workers’ injuries prompts enhanced outreach, strong enforcement by US Department of Labor
WASHINGTON – In the summer months, many employers hire young workers to meet increased demand. Across the nation in 2022, millions of teenagers are working in the agriculture, food services, retail, recreation and construction industries. At the same time, increases in child labor violations has the U.S. Department of Labor stepping up employer outreach and enforcement actions to help employers prevent young workers’ jobs from jeopardizing their safety, health or educational opportunities.
Since 2015, the department’s Wage and Hour Division has seen increases in child labor investigations and violations. In fiscal year 2021, the division found 2,819 minors employed in violation of the law and assessed employers with nearly $3.4 million in civil money penalties.
Tragically, the division also investigates the deaths of young workers, including three in 2021, and a May 2022 fatality where a 16-year-old worker doing construction fell more than 160 feet to the ground after trying to jump from a roof to a nearby powered lift in Nashville, Tennessee.
“The safety of young workers and significant reductions in child labor violations are top priorities for the U.S. Department of Labor,” said Principal Deputy Wage and Hour Division Administrator Jessica Looman. “Employers who choose to hire young workers have a legal responsibility to know and abide by the federal laws that govern their employment. These obligations include eliminating all exposures to hazardous occupations and prohibited equipment, and preventing young workers from suffering serious injuries or worse.”
“In recent years, we have seen increases in child labor violations, and the Wage and Hour Division is determined to significantly reduce child labor injuries and violations,” Looman added. “We encourage employers, young workers and their parents, and educators to take advantage of our YouthRules! initiative that promotes positive and safe work experiences for young workers.”
In the months leading up to July, when employment of workers between ages 16 and 19 typically peaks, the division has taken strong enforcement actions, including these examples:
- In Memphis, Tennessee, where a 16-year-old worker sustained a thumb injury and the division found the operator of a Schlotzsky’s restaurant allowed six 16- and 17-year-old workers to clean and operate a deli meat slicer on a daily basis, prohibited by child labor law as a hazardous occupation. The division assessed the employer with $17,818 in civil penalties.
- In Post Falls, Idaho, where a Super 1 Foods store permitted minor employees to operate power-driven trash compactors and box balers. The employer also allowed 14- and 15-year-old workers to work beyond the number of hours federal law permits. The violations led the division to assess $154,831 in civil penalties.
- At three Oregon store locations in The Dalles, Happy Valley and Oregon City, Fred Meyer, a Portland-based subsidiary of Kroger Co. allowed minor-aged workers to regularly load power-driven box balers, for which the division cited the employer in 2007 and 2008 for similar violations. The division assessed $55,440 in civil penalties given the willful nature of the employer’s violations.
These cases illustrate the types of child labor violations most commonly cited by investigators. Since October 2017, five hazardous occupations – as defined by child labor law – accounted for approximately 90 percent of non-agricultural hazardous occupations’ violations and approximately 61 percent of non-agricultural child labor injuries. These hazardous occupations are as follows:
- Driving a motor vehicle or work as an outside helper on motor vehicles.
- Power-driven hoisting apparatus occupations, including the operation of forklifts.
- Occupations that involve power-driven meat-processing machines (including meat slicers and other food slicers), slaughtering and meat packing plants.
- Operating power-driven bakery machines, including vertical dough or batter mixers.
- Power-driven paper-products machine occupations, including the operation of compactors and balers.
To assist businesses that employ child labor, the division recently launched a web site providing Seven Child Labor Best Practices for Employers that focuses on the importance of training, sharing information and using practical tools to identify the hazardous occupations young workers must avoid.
“In 2022, the Wage and Hour Division has worked directly with employers operating well-known fast-food franchises to help them make changes in operations to enhance working conditions for young workers,” Looman explained. “These successes include a South Carolina Bojangles franchisee who used our best practices to make sweeping changes at their 93 locations in six states, and Pennsylvania Wendy’s franchisee whose corrective actions will benefit young workers at 83 restaurants in three states.”
For more information about young workers’ rights and other employee rights enforced by the division, contact the toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.
Download the agency’s Timesheet App, now available for Android devices, to ensure hours and pay are accurate.
Learn more about the Fair Labor Standards Act’s child labor provisions.