Are Kids the Key to Solving the Hiring Crisis?

Mathew Moldawer
Mathew Moldawer

Since the beginning of the pandemic, certain industries have been hit hard by employees resigning in search of greener pastures – work/life balance and flexible work.  Quit rates were high in industries including the retail, restaurant, and hospitality.  While some businesses and industries have seen a rebound in hiring, hiring in those industries appear to be stagnant.  While incentives such as signing bonuses have been used to attract new talent, a new demographic is being tapped: children and young adults.

Child labor laws have been around beginning with the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA).  The proliferation of state laws regulating the industries, the amount of time, and how often children and young adults work resulted.  The goal was to protect children from dangerous working conditions and circumstances.  

Of course, laws are broken all the time.  There have been several cases throughout the years that have resulted in citations to businesses for not abiding by state and federal regulations.  Most of these involve retail or food service industries.  For example, Chipotle was fined nearly $1.8 million dollars for 13,000 violations related to Massachusetts child labor laws.  In fact, Massachusetts has dished out several high dollar fines and assessments to businesses recently, including Qdoba, Wendy’s, and Dunkin Donuts.

An egregious violation in Arkansas resulted in $1.5 million in assessments and fines.  Packers Sanitation Service, Inc., Ltd. paid the civil penalties after a Department of Labor probe revealed that 102 children were using hazardous chemicals to clean meat processes equipment, including sharp back saws for approximately three years across several states.  The DOL fear there was more than the 102 children identified.

Not to be deterred, several states have or are attempting to amend their child labor laws to be more lenient, permitting children and young adults to work in more industries, more often and for longer hours.  Minnesota has proposed to permit 16- and 17-year-olds to work construction jobs.  An Ohio bill proposes to extend the work cutoff on school nights to 9:00 PM for 14- and 15-year-olds.  An Iowa bill would permit 14- and 15-year-olds to work in freezers and meat coolers.

The Arkansas Youth Hiring Act has been enacted into law.  The Youth Hiring Act eliminates the requirement that children under the age of 16 have to obtain an employment certificate before getting hired.  Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that protecting children was important, but the child labor laws were obsolete and put unnecessary burdens on parents.

Conversely, there are states that are enacting stricter regulations on child labor.  For instance, Illinois has a bill which would decrease the number of hours a teenager may work.  Colorado has legislation that would permit recovery against an employer for injuries related to child labor violations in addition to workers’ compensation.  

Against this backdrop, and the uptick in child labor violations, the federal government has a new child labor enforcement initiation.  This includes the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services warning that they will increase accountability for companies that directly benefit from exploitation of child labor.  Speculation as to how far down the chain liability may extend continues.  But, in the immediate, it is important for companies to do their due diligence on their practices and those with whom they are doing business.  If not already a part of your template, consider adding contract provisions that the contractor or subcontractor is complying with state and federal child labor laws.

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