The Young and the Hirable

Putting a teen on the payroll? Get familiar with child labor laws first.

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Rage Against the Machine

Child labor laws were created in response to a time when there were no restrictions on what kinds of jobs children could do or limitations on how many hours they could work. In the late 1700s in the U.S., there was a proliferation of factories that housed various kinds of power-driven machinery that did not require an adult level of strength to operate. Children were used as a source of cheap labor to operate this dangerous machinery. This unconscionable situation reached a peak the mid-1800s, with kids working up to 18 hours per day in stifling hot or freezing cold environments.

Today, thanks to child labor laws, children are prohibited from operating dangerous machinery such as power-driven metal-forming, punching and shearing machines; most forms of wood-working machines; and power-driven meat processing machinery.  

What does this have to do with spa owner Margie and her 16-year-old new hire? It isn’t like Margie asked Denise to operate any dangerous machines, right? Wrong, says the U.S. Department of Labor. Studies have shown that the most dangerous machine a child operates in the work environment today is the automobile. The fact that Denise has a driver’s license from the State of Tennessee means virtually nothing in a child labor context. Here we are dealing with federal law, and that law is clear: No employee under the age of 17 can drive an automobile as part of his or her job if that job falls under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  

How can Margie know if she as an employer is subject to the FLSA? She needs to ask herself two questions: 1) “Does my spa business generate $500,000 or more in annual dollar volume?” and, 2) “Am I involved in interstate commerce?”

For Margie, the answer to the first question was yes. As for the second question, it would seem to be another yes, because Margie operates businesses in two different states. So she’s an easy example for this article, right? Not so fast. Yes, Margie is involved in interstate commerce—but not necessarily because she has spas in two states. The truth is, almost every spa owner is involved in interstate commerce—even the single-location owner who doesn’t even have a website.