The Young and the Hirable

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

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It’s a New Age

Suppose Margie’s potentially illegal hire, 16-year-old Denise, is about to turn 17? Would Margie be off the hook? Maybe. The law says that a person 17 years of age can drive on the public roadway as part of their employment if:
• The driving is limited to daylight hours;
• The 17-year-old holds a state license valid for the type of driving involved in the job performed;
• The 17-year-old has successfully completed a state-approved driver education course and has no record of any moving violations at the time of hire;
• The automobile or truck does not exceed 6,000 pounds gross vehicle weight;
• The automobile or truck is equipped with a seat belt for the driver and any passengers and the employer has instructed the youth that the seat belts must be used when driving the vehicle; and
• The driving is only occasional and incidental to the 17-year-old’s employment. This means that the youth may spend no more than one-third of his or her workday and no more than 20% of his or her work time in any workweek driving.

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).  

Of course, the “no driving at all” rule is much easier to follow. In Denise’s case, it was unclear as to whether Tennessee even offered the “delivery driver” type of license that Denise would have to have. And Margie didn’t want to have to figure out how much of Denise’s work week was spent driving. So she gave up and moved Denise to the stock room. (This is actually the advice I give my clients. If you need someone to drive, just hire someone who is 18. Yes, it’s the easy way but it’s also the safest way, especially for clients whom I know won’t pay attention to the rules.)

But our story doesn’t end there. On Margie’s instruction, Denise rotated between spa stockrooms in the Tennessee locations and that of the Virginia spa. Things were going so well, that come September, Denise asked if she could work at the spas part-time during the school year. She had a light semester and wanted to keep her weekends free so she asked if she could work Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Happy to have the continued help, Margie agreed, gave Denise a key and the matter was settled.  
Then one day Margie received a visit from a representative of the Tennessee Department of Labor. Turns out that Denise had looked particularly tired one day in class and was asked about it by an attentive teacher. Denise told the teacher about her work schedule at the spas. The teacher, familiar with child labor laws in Tennessee, called the heat.

In Tennessee, 17-year-olds cannot work after 10 p.m. on any Sunday through Thursday evening that precedes a school day. Margie was busted and, much like Roscoe Fillburn, fined. (Fortunately, the state of Tennessee did not require that Denise be destroyed.)

This puts a sharp point on the fact that employers need to understand they operate under both federal and state laws. What would have happened if Denise lived in Virginia and was working only in the Virginia store? Nothing, as it turns out—in Virginia there are no restrictions on the hours that any 16- or 17-year-old may work. And what about federal law? You are safe. Working hours for that age range mirror those of Virginia.

However, the rules regarding working hours change dramatically for 14- and 15-year-olds under both federal and state law. But frankly, if you’re an employer who’s seriously thinking about hiring a 14- or 15-year-old, you need to consult with someone. And I don’t mean a lawyer.

DAYSPA advisory board member Michael L. Antoline is a legal affairs writer and attorney in Champaign, Illinois. Information in this column is general. Seek legal counsel for specific cases.


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