June 1, 2023

DOL Imposes $71K in Fines Over Youth Worker Violations

Owners and operators of SDI of Neil LLC, operating as Sonic Drive-In, paid over $70,000 in civil money penalties for violating Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) restrictions protecting young workers. The company was cited for hiring underage workers, exceeding federal child labor work hour restrictions and allowing teenagers to engage in hazardous occupations.

An expensive lesson.

Every year, millions of teens work in part-time or summer jobs. In California and Arizona many of those jobs are agriculture-related. These early work experiences can be a rewarding experience for young workers – providing great opportunities for teens to learn important work skills. It is important for employers to recognize and be familiar with state and federal child labor laws ensuring minors receive access to safe occupations that do not jeopardize their health, well-being, or educational opportunities. Federal child labor laws tend to be stricter than most state laws and must be applied in all circumstances where they provide greater protection including the payment of wages.

Arizona Youth Employment Laws

The Arizona Labor Department enforces and administers the state’s Youth Employment Laws. As noted above, the federal FLSA under the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S Department of Labor, also regulates the employment of minors. Employers faced with differing state and federal laws must apply the law most protective of the minor. State laws regulate the hours a minor can work and prohibit certain occupations in which they can be employed.

In Arizona, severe limitations placed on the hours and type of work that can be performed by minors under the age of 16 can make their employment impractical.

Minors working in Arizona are not required to obtain government work permits. Minors between the ages of 16 and 18 are employable if the occupation in question is not deemed hazardous under state or federal law. Minors under 17 years of age working in agriculture are prohibited from employment as motor vehicle drivers or outside helpers and may not be involved in the operation of a “power-driven hoisting apparatus” (e.g., forklifts, cranes). Minors between 16 and 17 years old may drive on the job so long as the total drive time does not exceed two hours per day or 25% of their workday and is limited to not more than fifty or more miles per day. However, since federal law prohibits 16- and 17-year-olds from driving on the job, employers should consult counsel before employing minors in any job that requires them to drive.

Exceptions to the state’s occupational restrictions are as follows:

  • When youths are employed by a parent or relative and that person owns at least 10% of the company and is actively engaged in the daily operation of the organization.
  • When youths are employed in career education programs, vocational or technical training school programs.
  • When youths are employed as apprentices and registered by the Arizona Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training.
  • When youths are employed under the 4-H Federal Extension Service or the United States office of education vocational agriculture training programs.

California Youth Employment Laws

California employers must comply with both state and federal laws regulating the employment of minors. Similar to Arizona, severe limitations placed on the hours and type of work that can be performed by children under the age of 16 can make their employment impractical. With some exceptions, California has adopted federal agricultural occupational prohibitions for minors under the age of 16. The U.S. WHD’s Child Labor Bulletin provides detailed information on FLSA provisions applicable to minors employed in agriculture. The California Department of Industrial Relations also provides a very helpful table summarizing its child labor laws.

With limited exception, all California minors under the age of 18 must have a permit to work. Employers seeking to employ minors must possess a valid Permit to Employ and Work. The Permit is typically issued by authorized individuals at the minor’s school or from the school’s superintendent when school is not in session. Minor Work Permits are also typically issued by the individual’s school officials. Work Permits must be renewed on an annual basis.

Additional useful resources:

ICA Labor Department – Youth Employment

California Labor Commissioner’s Child Labor Law Booklet

California DIR Information on Minors and Employment

U.S Wage and Hour Division Youth Rules

DOL Wage & Hour Division: Child Labor Bulletin

DOL Wage and Hour Division Fact Sheet on Child Labor for Agricultural Occupations

DOL Wage and Hour Division Child Labor