Skip to Main Content

April 1, 2011

Don’t be surprised if you hear a public service announcement on workplace safety the next time you go to the cinema. In March, the U.S. Department of Labor assessed civil penalties of over $275,000 against three movie theater companies with operations in Illinois, Wisconsin, and seven other states for allowing minors to perform hazardous jobs like operating trash compactors, using power driven dough mixers, and baking. The movie theater industry has a high rate of non-compliance with child labor laws. With the advent of dine-in movie theaters, increasing numbers of minors are being asked to operate power-driven bakery machines and to do baking work.

The operation of power-driven bakery machines is one of 17 “particularly hazardous” non-farm jobs which the U.S. Secretary of Labor says is a no-no for teens below the age of 18. The Secretary also prohibits 14 and 15-year old employees from baking or cooking, with the exception of cooking with electric or gas grills which do not involve working over an open flame or cooking with deep fryers equipped with a device which automatically lowers and raises the baskets into and from the hot oil. In addition to paying financial penalties, the affected companies agreed to implement comprehensive internal compliance and training programs for managers and to make public service announcements about child labor safety on the big screen.

Child labor is work that harms children or keeps them from attending school. “Harm” comes in many forms, including losing an eye to a nail gun or being sexually exploited while working as a hotel maid. Federal and state child labor laws dictate what workers under 18 years of age can do and how many and what hours in a day or week they can work. Many employers will hire high school students for the summer. Now is the time to conduct a self-audit of what work you need performed and when and what age groups can legally perform the work to be done. This will guide you in making appropriate hiring decisions.

Do you need workers to do tasks which are declared “hazardous” by the Secretary of Labor, like driving a car or truck, using power-driven wood-working, metal-forming, or bakery machines? If so, then don’t hire anyone under age 18.

Do you need workers to stand at busy intersections as “sign wavers” to hawk your latest promotion or store relocation? If so, then don’t hire anyone under age 16, as federal law prohibits this employment unless performed directly in front of your establishment.

Do you need workers to vacuum carpets and use floor waxers? If so, you are free to hire 14 and 15-year olds and their mothers will thank you.

Do you need workers to rent shoes at your bowling alley? If the bowling alley is in Illinois, then anyone under age 16 is off limits.

Will you be asking teens to work unlimited hours or hours beyond 9 p.m.? Teens 16 and 17 years old may perform any nonhazardous job for unlimited hours. Teens 14 and 15 years old may work outside of school hours in certain jobs up to three hours on a school day and 18 hours during a school week, and eight hours on a non-school day and 40 hours during a non-school week. Work must be performed between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., except from June 1 through Labor Day, when evening hours are extended to 9 p.m.

No matter what job the teen is performing, stress safety and proper training to the teen and the supervisor. Supervisors have the greatest opportunity to influence teen work habits and prevent work injuries.

Historical Fact: The first state child labor law passed in 1836 when Massachusetts required children under age 15 working in factories to attend school at least 3 months per year. Six years later, Massachusetts limited children’s work days to 10 hours.