Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Child Labor Law Information from the DOL Amid the Wal-mart Rhubarb

That is rhubarb of the heated dispute, not vegetable variety. Since everyone else has been covering the alleged sweetheart deal between the Department of Labor and Wal-mart, with more heat than light I would say, and since I have not had a chance to review either the agreement or the full context, I am withholding any substantive comments. I must say however that the one interview of Representative George Miller (with Wolf Blitzer) who seems to have designated himself as the point person against the deal, was not encouraging that light really is the purpose of the discussion. His frequent mention of "filing of grievances" with the DOL, among other things, left me wondering whether he really understood exactly what the Department of Labor does with respect to the enforcement of the FLSA. And it somehow seems strange to be so bent out of shape about prior notice to the employer, when the EEOC is required by the Congressionally passed Title VII to give an employer 10 days notice when a charge of discrimination is filed. It also is not clear to me that Representative Miller was aware that an employee is not required to file a charge with the DOL before pursuing a claim under the wage and hour laws. But maybe I expect too much of those sitting on the committees responsible for oversight of such legislation.

Notwithstanding all of that, the child labor laws are obviously important and one that a lot of employers may unwittingly violate. Basically the law sets up a matrix of certain jobs that can only be done by individuals of a certain age, and restrictions on the times and hours that 14 and 15 years old may work any jobs. Perhaps some good will come out of this controversy as more people become aware of just what those restrictions are. In a positive vein, the DOL has issued a press release highlighting the laws and included a new section on Child Labor Laws on their elaws advisory system which provides information in an understandable format. If you have employees under 18 you should check them out to make sure you are in compliance.

While on the whole they make sense, there are no doubt sons and daughters on ranches and farms whose loving parents regularly assign them chores that would violate the child labor laws if they were applicable. And as someone whose first job was as a delivery boy for a pharmacy when I was 15 (having got my driver's license at 14), a clear violation of the child labor laws as they exist today, I don't immediately assign ill will and malice to someone who may not be aware of all the restrictions.


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