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Employment protections for children

| May 25, 2021 | Employment Law |

The phrase “child labor” calls to mind terrible images from the developing world or from the distant past of the United States. In fact, child labor still exists in the United States, but it is heavily regulated by federal and state laws.

Minors can and do work here in Alaska, but only under specific circumstances. In this post, we will discuss some of the requirements. Note that we don’t have space here to discuss all of them.

Age groups

State law divides child workers into three main groups divided by age. Minors 16 years of age and under can work only with a work permit from the Alaska Wage and Hour Commission and the authorization of a parent or legal guardian.  Work permits may also be required for some 17 year olds under federal law.

Those under age 14 can work only in three industry categories: Newspaper sales and delivery; baby-sitting, handiwork and domestic work within private homes; and, with certain limitations, in the entertainment industry.

The scope of permitted employment expands for children ages 14 and 15, but there are still numerous industries and activities that are prohibited.  There are also strict limits on the number of hours these children can work. During the school year, children ages 14 and 15 can work only during the hours of 5:00 a.m. to 9 p.m., and only up to a total of 9 hours combined school and work per day. Further, they can work no more than 23 hours a week during the school year (with the exception of babysitting and domestic work). They may work up to 40 hours a week during school vacations, but only between the hours of 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Once a minor reaches age 16, some of these limits evaporate, but there are still some restrictions on work hours, limits on the type of activities a minor employee may perform, and limits on the types of business that may employ a minor until the child turns 18 (or in some instances until a person reaches the age of 21). For instance, minors 17 and under cannot work in manufacturing occupations, be exposed to bloodborne pathogens, or perform door-to-door solicitation, and there are additional requirements for working in a establishment that sells alcohol.  No individual under 19 may sell tobacco products and no one under 21 can legally sell pull-tabs or work in any part of the cannabis industry.

Legal complications

Because the regulations are strict and complicated, employers can easily expose themselves to legal liability. This can come in the form of a government investigation or a lawsuit from an individual or group of workers.

Employers can speak to experienced employment law attorneys about how to protect themselves from legal exposure. Lawyers can also help employers assess their options if they become the subject of an investigation or lawsuit.