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No. 3

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Christopher Klicka
Child Labor Laws

As summer approaches, the thoughts of many young people turn to summer jobs. A job is a great way for homeschoolers to get valuable training and experience—but parents and their teens should be aware that young people under 18 are subject to child labor laws restricting when, where, and for how long they may work.

Labor Departments Deny Jobs to Homeschoolers

Home School Legal Defense Association has received many calls over the years concerning homeschooled high schoolers working during school hours. The situation of one Michigan family who contacted us for help was not unique.

This family's 15-year-old daughter’s proficiency in sign language prompted the local public school to offer her a job working all day Fridays with deaf students. However, when school officials checked with the Michigan Labor Department, they were told they could not employ the girl.

According to Michigan’s labor laws, which are based on federal labor laws, a 15-year-old may not work during typical school hours. When HSLDA Senior Counsel Christopher J. Klicka asked for a waiver or exception for the student, stating that her flexible homeschool schedule allowed her to complete her studies during the first four days of the week so she could be at the public school on Friday, the answer was still no. The labor department authorities inflexibly maintained that there was no room under the law to grant any kind of waiver.

In another instance, a 12-year-old homeschooler in Illinois was manning the cash register for his family’s business after his morning schoolwork was done. He enjoyed the opportunity to earn a little money, and his parents knew that it helped him hone his math skills. Unfortunately, a customer did not feel the same way. She turned the family in to the Illinois Labor Department. After looking into the matter, the department prohibited the boy from working during school hours.

The History of Labor Laws in America

Labor laws in America originated in the Industrial Revolution of the early to mid-1800s, as humanitarians became increasingly concerned about the terrible conditions under which even very young children were forced to work in factories and mines—sometimes for 14 hours a day. The first child labor law was passed in Massachusetts in 1836.

Subsequent laws passed by Congress created the Federal Department of Labor, which added to the monitoring and regulations already in place at the state level.

Although labor laws and related agencies have achieved an extremely important goal—bringing an end to the abuse of children in the workplace—many labor laws are now out of date.

Federal Reform is on the Way

HSLDA is working with Congress to ensure that the next reauthorization of key federal labor laws will include certain exceptions for homeschoolers. Already, HSLDA has placed reform language into the Homeschool Non-Discrimination Act, which has been introduced into the Senate and is currently in committee.

Know Your Labor Laws

Although child labor laws vary from state to state, most place higher restrictions on children 16 and under. Children under 14 are considered “under age” (below the federal minimum age for employment) and therefore must abide by additional regulations. Here are key regulations to keep in mind.*

  • No child under 16 may work during school hours, which are defined as public school hours (typically 8:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m., depending on the state). The child is limited to 3 hours of work per day during a school week, or 18 hours a week. He may not work before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. except from June 1 to Labor Day, when evening hours are extended to 9:00 p.m.
  • When the public school is not in session (such as during the summertime), children under 16 may work up to 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week.
  • An underage child (13 or under) is permitted to deliver newspapers; babysit; work as an actor or performer in motion pictures, television, theater, or radio; work in a business solely owned or operated by his parents or parental guardian; and work on a farm owned or operated by his parents or parental guardian. The job must not interfere with the child's “schooling” or “health and well-being.”
  • In addition to the above occupations, children who are 14 or 15 may work in offices, retail stores, restaurants, amusement parks, movie theaters, and service stations.
  • No child under 16 may be involved in any hazardous work or in areas of manufacturing or mining.
  • As stated above, an underage child may be employed “by his parent or person standing in place of the parent.” He can also work on a farm owned or operated by the parent or guardian. However, he cannot be involved in operating any machinery (such as a milking machine) because this is considered dangerous to the child's health or well-being. He also may not work during school hours.
  • Children may perform agricultural jobs for employers who have filed a waiver with the federal secretary of labor for exemption from the work hours and minimum age requirements for those particular jobs.
  • A child may only work during school hours if he is not getting paid. An example of such a situation is a school “work study” program, in which children gain work experience for educational purposes.

Suppose your 14-year-old is interested in carpentry. Because he is homeschooled, he has the time and flexibility to learn the trade when most children are sitting in a public school classroom. To abide by the above restrictions, his typical weekday might begin with spending the morning hours completing his homeschool assignments. In the early afternoon, he might apprentice with a local carpenter—as long as he receives high school credit and is not paid for those afternoon hours. If his carpentry work continues past traditional public school hours into the late afternoon or early evening, he must be paid—but he may not work for pay for more than three hours per day.

Pertaining to 17-Year-Olds

According to the National Consumers League, “Federal law prohibits driving as an occupation for minors under age 18.” Seventeen-year-olds may engage in “incidental and occasional” driving, which is interpreted as a maximum of one third of the work time in any work day and no more than 20 percent of the work time in any work week. Delivery jobs and service calls which require driving to customers’ homes are prohibited, as is being an “outside helper“ on a motor vehicle.

Other prohibited occupations for 17-year-olds include the following:*

  • Manufacturing or storing explosives
  • Any kind of mining
  • Logging and sawmilling
  • Working with these types of power-driven equipment: wood-working machines; hoistingequipment; metal-forming, pun-ching, and shearing machines; bakery machines;
  • paper-products machines; circular saws, band saws, and guillotine shears
  • Working near radioactive substances and ionizing radiations
  • Meat packing or processing (including power-driven meat slicing machines)
  • Manufacturing brick, tile, and related products
  • Wrecking, demolition, and ship-breaking operations
  • Roofing operations
  • Excavation operations

Aside from these occupations, 17-year-olds are under no restrictions on the hours they can work or the jobs they can accept.

About Entrepreneurship

What about a student who wants to start his or her own business? Young people can spend as long as they like writing a book, filming a video, programming a website, painting a picture, or in any other creative endeavor, as long as they are not being paid. If the student is 16 or younger and being paid, he or she is subject to child labor laws.

Typical entrepreneurial activities, such as shoveling snow or babysitting, theoretically count as “working for” an employer—i.e., your neighbor. Restrictions on hours and types of work still apply.

Rules for employers

Federal labor laws require that employers keep special records for employees under age 19. These records must include the employee's birth date, daily times and hours of work, and occupations.

For more information about child labor laws, please visit the following websites:

* List Based on weblinks contained in sidebar, “Rule for Employers.”

About the author

Christopher J. Klicka is senior counsel of Home School Legal Defense Association. He also helps draft federal legislation and lobbies on Capitol Hill. Chris is author of the popular Home Schooling: The Right Choice and several other books. He and his wife, Tracy, homeschool their seven children in Northern Virginia.