Challenges of Hiring Underage Employees in the US

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“The most beautiful sight that we see is the child at labor. As early as he may get at labor the beautiful, the more useful does his life get to be.” This was a statement by Asa G. Candler, founder of the Coca-Cola Co. (cited in Levine 1).

This reality can be viewed by many on the positive side, but as we go on to read Levine’s book, just in the portion of the Overview, there is more to what meets the eyes. We may resort to frustrations as we read the brutality of man to children – “there were as young as 5 year olds in the looms of South Carolina’s textile mills” (1). The book talks of the past that could link to our present day realities in the workplace – in factories, in agricultural areas, in restaurants and supermarkets.

Across the United States, and more so in many parts of the world especially the developing nations, we hear news and witness this inhumanity to our children. But what do we get in our backyard? There are as many working children as there are in the developing nations. The figures are no exaggeration.

Felton says that “the poorest and most vulnerable start working before other children start kindergarten”. They are those children who live a world apart from many of our children in America. In a report by Associated Press (cited by Felton), 165 children are working illegally in 16 states, 290,200 children were employed illegally, 59,600 of them were under 14 years old, and 13,000 worked in factories with labor violations. Employers got the prize of employing them because they earned up to $155 million in wages by hiring children.

Levine states

A presidential task force has called for a worldwide ban on child-labor and sweatshop conditions in overseas factories operated by American companies in the apparel industry. However, Western critics forget that child labor was common the United States and Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 1890 more than 1.5 million children between the ages of 10 and 14 were gainfully employed, despite the reluctance of parents to admit to the census takers at that time that they were violating laws against child labor in many states” (2).

However, the reality is demographics in the business world have changed dramatically, and businesses need the young. But, minors need laws to protect them and keep their workplace conducive to their health. The government has been closely monitoring these kinds of activities, but – sad to say – there seems not enough that has been enough to get the impression that we really our children who are working hard to live as normally as they can.

There are concerned organizations also keeping watch over the malpractices of employers, and there have been measures and countermeasures done to protect our children. Laws and regulations are being enforced, but what should happen is that all of us must be able to keep vigilant so that our children are safe and sound, even if they are doing their work to earn, or to support themselves and their families.

How young are the children accepted in factories, restaurants or groceries nowadays? What are the regulations and laws on hiring underage employees? This paper will find out the circumstances and the underlying reasons for teenagers who are working in agricultural lands, and supermarkets and factories across the United States, the laws and regulations being implemented on child labor, and what are being done to protect our children from exploitation. In short, are minors safe and their health safeguarded in the workplace?


Reasons seem obvious why our children have to work. Economic reasons and the young’s desire to be self-supporting are some of the logical reasons. Young people view work positively. They regard work as part of growing up, or an initiation, somewhat, of becoming a full member of the business community, or a world where business seems to be the only way to reach the top.

Tahmincioglu says that the youth need summer jobs (or part-time jobs) because “there’s more to a summer job than just cash”. Jeylan Mortimer (cited in Tahmincioglu), a University of Minnesota professor of sociology, conducted a study and revealed that “students who worked built more confidence and responsibility than kids who didn’t”.

There’s positive result of the young working in our businesses and agricultural lands. Aside from helping themselves and their families, it helps much in their growing up years, in their development as independent individuals, and to be successful entrepreneurs someday.

Nonetheless, some of our children or minors could be products of broken homes, or they could have parents who don’t care what would happen to them. And so they have to go out of their homes and work, one would say. On the other hand, there are parents who give full support to their minors to work part-time or full time if the situation permits, in fast foods, restaurants, or supermarkets, and agricultural places. It is a part of their training as students or young individuals in the business world, or it could transform the experience into a training ground for their young life.

Question is do they want to keep long in their jobs? Are they safe and protected, and not being abused in the workplace? Chapman says that our young employees want to stay in their jobs if they are treated well, if they received the right wages and are not being abused. They want to be treated fairly for them to stay in their current jobs.

Businesses which have focused on strategic planning focused on employee retention. They conducted surveys and found out that young employees wanted to be treated fairly. This treatment issue could persuade them to stay in their jobs for a long time. And businesses could keep their young employees. Businesses and organizations need our young workers with their young minds and imaginations that can multiply profits.

Levine state that “executives in industries buffeted by the demands of the international marketplace and the changing demographics of the labor force contend that child-labor laws are often outdated and enforced mostly for publicity” (2). They don’t deny the need for regulations and laws to protect the young and for businesses to institute measures to safeguard minors from the hazards of industries, but the laws should be straightened up.

These executives view minors as workers who can help in their organization, but sometimes there are laws that are not anymore helpful in the relationship of the organization and the young employee.

In this age of computer and high-technology, some work doesn’t seem work for the young, or the teenagers. Most of the young are experts when handling their computers and laptops that accepting a job to work on a computer will not give them a hard time.

There are jobs which accept underage workers or employees who are below 18 years, or which are suited for the young to man the counters, the stores and restaurants. These are part-time jobs or summer jobs for working students, though some are really full time jobs. Fast-food stalls and small shops employ young workers, and there’s a reason for employers to do so – it’s part-time so it doesn’t require much qualifications, and the process requires less expenses on the part of the employers. Moreover, applicants and eventual employees are college students or educated minors who can really help in the success of the business.

The recession of 1974-75 created a high level of unemployment for the young people (Sorrentino, 1981), but with the ongoing U.S. recession, which started in 2008, and the aftermath is the global financial crisis, prospects are bleak for the youth in the coming months, or even years.

There will be more work needed for our youth, and more will scamper to find jobs because of the looming scarcity of finances for home and school expenses.

Child Labor Laws

Contrary to what others believe, there are a lot of laws protecting minors in the workplace. Federal laws have been constantly updated, although some state laws have to be updated regularly.

Levine states that there are “lower age restrictions for children in agriculture than for those in other occupations” (39).

Minors 14- and 16-years-old can work in nonhazardous occupations other than agriculture, but they must obtain parental consent. However, they can work on their family farms (39).

Here some of those specific regulations pertaining to child labor on a farm, according to the U.S. Department of Labor:

  • 14- and 14-year-olds may work outside school hours in nonhazardous jobs, [but] they can perform some hazardous farm work if he or she is enrolled in a vocational agricultural program, with a written training agreement with the employer, and under closed supervision.

This means that the minor has to train first and he/she must be closely supervised by an adult who knows the machinery being operated.

The law also provides that 12- and 13-year-olds can work in jobs not declared hazardous, but there must be a written consent from their parents, or they can work on the same farm where their parents work. The law further states that children cannot work on farms employing workers under the minimum wage law, and 10 and 11-year-olds can perform tasks like harvesting crops, but it has to be outside school hours, and may not exceed eight week between June 1 and October 15. (Levine 39)

The Secretary of Labor determines which jobs are declared hazardous, which include “operating equipment driven by a PTO (power take-off such as a corn picker, grain combine, or hay mower); working from a ladder or scaffold more than twenty feet high; or transporting, transferring or applying anhydrous ammonia” (Levine 39).

State laws

Regulations for employed minors or teenagers reflect the concern of states for their academic performance. For example in Indiana, there have been restrictions on the maximum daily and weekly hours minors are allowed to work; meaning there are requirements before giving employment certificates to 17 year olds. There are nightwork limits for these minors and the possibility of a revocation of employment certificate if there is a significant drop in his or her grades after the issuance of the permit.

On the other hand, Ohio and Tennessee do not allow 16 and 17 year-olds during school weeks. Washington adopted comprehensive employment standards for minors working in the agriculture sector. Oregon followed Federal law standards pertaining to daily, weekly, and nightwork hours for 14 and 15 year olds. Utah’s Child Labor laws were also amended authorizing the Industrial Commission to commence administrative proceedings and impose a $500 penalty for any violation.

Wisconsin and Ohio have restricted the employment of children in the so-called door-to-door sales. Mississippi, New York, and West Virginia have lowered the compulsory school attendance age for children. (Nelson 42)

The National Consumers League

The National Consumers League is an organization that helps parents know the laws regarding employment of children, including guidelines for late night hours, supervision, etc. According to their guidelines, there should be no work for 14 year olds and that they should be concentrating on school, family, and other school activities. Summer employment for 16- and 17-year-olds should be no more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week, and employment during the school year should be no more than 4 hours per day, or 20 hours per week. (Child Labor Coalition)

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has provided for self-assessment tools to “help employers comply with the youth employment provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)” (Youth Rules, 2008). These “tools” apply to the different kinds of employers, and one of its objectives is “to protect young workers by restricting the types of jobs they perform and the number of hours they work”. (Youth Rules, 2008)

The employers to fill the forms are from non-agriculture, restaurant, and grocery sectors. The self-assessment tools include questions on safety, number of hours the minors work, the workplace environment, and so forth.

Functions of the OSHA, US Department of Labor

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) under the United States Department of Labor is the government agency created by an act of congress mandated to safeguard the health and safety of America’s teen workers. These are the hazards in the workplace, number of hours that should be followed for teen workers, and other safety requirements which should be followed by employers.

OSHA’s functions include informing the teen workers of their rights under the OSHA Act of 1970, which are, among others, the young workers’ rights of health and safety. They also have the right to speak up and to refuse to work if they believe “that the job or conditions are dangerous and are exposing them to imminent danger”; they also have the right to get training about health and safety, demand for work, and to work without racial or sexual harassment. (US Department of Labor OSHA, 2009)

Section 11 (c) of The Occupational Safety and Health “prohibits any person from discharging or in any manner retaliating against any employee because the employee has exercised rights under the Act” (Levine 41).

This provision is stressed positively in protecting the rights of minors in the workplace because they are usually prone to abuse or discriminated. Underage employees have the right to file a complaint to the OSHA or to seek for OSHA inspection in case any of those rights are being violated.

The provisions of the OSHA virtually protect all workers through safety and health standards which cover “fire and electrical safety, chemical hazards, machine guarding, and many other on-the-job risks” (Levine 41).

Some of these provisions include the employers’ responsibility to keep records of injuries and illnesses occurring at their sites, and they have “to report to the OSHA incidents in which one or more workers are killed or three or more are hospitalized” (Levine 41).

Other regulations to help minors

The Fair Labor Standards Act provides for fair employment of children or minors who are under 18 years of age; this “controls the employment of children”.

It requires “employers to be able to prove, upon request, that minors are working in compliance with federal hours and hazardous occupation restrictions” Levine 42). The Department of Labor accepts work permits and age certificates issued to children by the states. School authorities also have the responsibility of issuing permits based on the student’s academic records. If the student is failing in his grades, the school authorities have the right (or obligation) not to issue a permit. A physician should also certify that the child is fit to work.

In North Carolina, minors or those under 18 years of age are required to get a permit, the employer is required to write down and state the teen’s responsibilities, and that the parent must sign the form. In the same state, employers often violate this regulation by hiring minors without permits. (Levine 42-43)

“New York has twelve kinds of employment certificates for student residents. Connecticut issues only one kind of certificate to minors, and allows 16- and 17-year-olds to work up to nine hours a day, or up to forty-eight hours a week in food service, recreation and office jobs, but has stricter rules on work in retail stores” (Levine 42).

New Jersey certificates for 14- and 15-year-olds carry severe restrictions. Massachusetts prohibits “mercantile establishments”, such as restaurants, from hiring children under 16 years old without permit. The superintendent of schools determines if child over 14 can have a work permit. The Workers’ Compensation Act provides that “employment of a child known to be under 16 and without a permit constitutes serious and willful misconduct” (Levine 43).

Compensation and other benefits for minor workers

Federal and state laws provide for minimum wages, to include over-time compensation, for employees who are considered minors. However, “FLSA exempts from the minimum-wage provision children who are engaged in the delivery of newspapers to consumers” (Levine 40).

States have laws to ensure a minimum wage for minors, and under federal laws, there are no exemptions to the minimum wage provisions (except the delivery of newspapers by children or employment in the agriculture sector). (Levine 40)

Unemployment compensation can also be issued on minors depending on state laws, and this is determined by the minor’s nature of employment, term of occupation, and manner of termination of work.

A child is entitled to social security coverage determined with the nature and duration of employment and not his/her age. “If a child has filed six of the last thirteen quarters under social security, and is injured or dies, the child employee is entitled to all the normal benefits of the social security system as an adult employee under similar circumstances.” (Levine 40-41)

On the other hand, workers’ compensation is also determined by each individual state’s laws.

What are the challenges of hiring underage employees?

As mentioned earlier, employers find teenage employees useful or “profitable” to their business.

The publication Chain Leader (cited in Chapman) conducted a survey on 15- to 21-year-olds and found out that 92 percent said that it was important the company treated them fairly. Teen employees equate the company with their boss, so it really depends on the boss if he wants to retain teen employees. Restaurant employers wanted to retain young employees, those 15- to 17-year-olds; yet these young employees regard their jobs as stepping stone to their next job. This makes retention difficult for the restaurant employers.

The National Restaurant Association came up with a business plan out of the questionnaires they have given to the minors. They took the answers directly from the kids’ mouths. The following are a summary of the results:

  • The survey revealed these very important factors that should keep them to remain in their jobs: being treated with respect when making a mistake, there should be clear instructions on how to do tasks, and they should get along with the boss.

The unit manager has a very important role. Many things depend on his shoulder to retain underage employees. He/she has to get along with them, know what their needs, and be able to “befriend” them instead of treating them as mere employees. Managers should correct their mistakes quickly, so that young employees can regard it as a training experience. They should be able to identify the young employees’ abilities and skills, and recognize them as well. He should give feedback and keep his promises, and keep a training log on what they have learned, experienced and worked. Work should be made meaningful and challenging for the young workers, showing them how they fit into the big picture and how they can go with it. (Chapman)

  • The young adults described the good manager as someone who knows how to do the tasks he is asking the staff to do, and also help in accomplishing that task. He should be able to put in more time and skill to the job, and even add humor to alleviate stress and lighten the mood.

What are the challenges of the underage employees?

Teenage employment seems to be a necessity in the United States. They are almost everywhere: newspaper boys or the so-called newspaper carriers, servers or waiters in restaurants, watchers or those keeping watch in shops and malls, cooks, etc.

Tahmincioglu says our teenagers need to Google the word “recession” if they are planning to work this summer. And we all know this because recession is a very common word nowadays. Because of the global economic crisis, companies are downsizing, or reducing the number of workers in factories, stores and supermarkets.

What summer job can you get now? What part-time job can you get now? And are full-time jobs available? Of course we all know of the Stimulus bill, the present administration’s answer or emergency first-aid to the financial crisis. News from CNN says that the “House has approved of it in a 244 to 188 vote victory”. There may be more jobs in the coming months. But that is still to be seen. Many things can happen that we still don’t know. Will Obama’s plan work?

While there is a great population of underage employees, it has to be noted that teen unemployment is growing. In the last three years, “teen unemployment reached record highs” ([email protected]).

What do we expect in the coming days and months, and this summer? The statement above by [email protected] was made in 2007, just before the financial collapse in Wall Street. There’s now the global financial crisis.

Look at this more data from [email protected] Robert Rubrecht, director for circulation and marketing at the Newspaper Association of America (cited in [email protected]), says that in 1990, “nearly 70% of newspaper carriers in the U.S. were teens”. This dropped to 18% in 2004 and will further drop.

This year, teen employment will reach record highs. Unemployment will meet adult and teen workforces.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics state that “in the summer of 2006, 37% of teens nationwide worked; but this was fewer in 1989, the peak of the nationwide economic boom” ([email protected]).

This means that there’s a decrease of the number of teens working in the past years. There are many speculations, but according to Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University (cited in [email protected]) one of the main reasons for this decline is that “they simply can’t find a job.” This was years back and now we are in the midst of a global financial crisis, which brings us to the reality that there’s really unemployment on all sides of the spectrum.


There are many challenges in hiring underage employees and this range from the children’s ability to make their complaints for the improvement of the business to their being silent about their predicament when abuse and mistreatment come to fore.

It is the duty of all of us – the parents, the employers, society, the government, and the different sectors of society – to see to it that our children, no matter if they have to work even at an early age – are safe and well protected in workplaces across the United States. All laws for the children’s protection must be properly enforced and be given full attention by our employers. Nevertheless, our children too should be responsible enough to know that they are safe in restaurants, supermarkets and in many agricultural areas of the country, and that they should report any violation of the laws to the authorities concerned. They should also be well informed of all laws concerning their welfare in the workplace.

We want to protect our children when they are employed, but we should clear areas for them to be employed in these times of financial crisis. We have also to fight this problem of unemployment in our children because this shows that there’s really a big problem in our economy.

Works Cited

Fair Labor Standards Act. 2009. Web.

House approves Obama Stimulus bill. Web.

Chapman, Mary Boltz. (2001). Most Valuable Player.(managing teenage employees). In Access my Library. Web.

Child Labor Coalition, Child Labor in the US. Working the Smart Shift: Helping Parents Help their Teens Avoid Dangerous Jobs. Web.

Deming, William. Work at home: Data from the CPS. Web.

Felton, Lauren. Child Labor in the United States. Web.

Levine, Marvin J. Children for Hire: The Perils of Child Labor in the United States. United States of America: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 2003.

Nelson, Richard. State labor legislation enacted in 1990. In Monthly Labor 1991. Web.

[email protected] Why teens aren’t finding jobs, and why employers are paying the price. Web.

Sorrentino, Constance. Youth unemployment: an international perspective. In “Innovation in Working Patterns”, Transatlantic Perspectives, 1981. p. 28. Web.

Tahmincioglu, Eve. Teens face tough market for summer jobs. MSNBC. Web.

United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Teen Workers. Web.

Youth Rules. Employer Self Assessment Tool Child Labor in Non-Agriculture. Web.

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