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How Much Can Your Student Work and Not Violate Labor Laws

By Christopher Klicka
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #69, 2006.

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Chris Klicka


As we start thinking ahead to summer, the thoughts of many young people turn to summer jobs. A job is a great way to get real-world training and experience - once you're 16 or older. If your child is younger than that, regardless of how precocious he is, or even if he wants to work in your family's business, the government has placed some restrictions on what he can do and where and when he can do it. Some of these restrictions make little sense for homeschoolers, so we're working to change the law in order to provide our children with more opportunities.

Public School Wants to Hire Girl, Labor Dept Says No

A family from Michigan contacted the Homeschool Legal Defense Association for help. The situation was not unique. We had received many calls over the years concerning homeschool high schoolers working during school hours.

This Michigan family had a 15-year-old daughter who is very proficient in sign language. She had been learning sign language for several years and could communicate with deaf people quite well. The daughter considered it a ministry to be able to communicate with people who were shut off from the normal sounds in life and society.

The community where the homeschool family lived was small, resulting in the homeschool family being fairly well known. In fact, the local police department found themselves periodically in a quandary as police officers out in the field had to deal with deaf people in certain situations. Sometimes deaf people are involved in altercations that require police interference. It was at those times that they called the homeschool family requesting immediate help.

The parents would drive their daughter to whatever location where the police were trying to communicate with the deaf person involved in an altercation or some other conflict. The daughter then would use her sign language to calm the deaf person down and communicate the intent of the police. The police department considered her a God-send.

Soon the local public school heard about her ability and offered her a job working at the local public school all day on Friday to help deaf children to receive an education. Unfortunately, when the public schools' authority checked with the Michigan Labor Department, they heard a resounding "No."

The homeschooler, who was only 15 years old, was not allowed to work according to the Michigan labor laws, which are based on the Federal labor laws. Even though the homeschooled daughter could get her schooling done within the first four days of the week, freeing her time to work at the public school on Friday, the Labor Department would not hear of it.

I intervened and communicated with the Labor Department to see if some waiver or exception could be given to the daughter in light of the fact that she completed her studies each week and there was a great need for her services. Still the answer was no. The Labor Department authorities were inflexible. They had no room under the law to grant a waiver.

The History of Labor Laws in America

Labor laws in America had their origin during the time of the Industrial Revolution. Young children were forced to labor for 8 to 14 hours under terrible conditions in factories and mines.

Charles Dickens captured the hearts of many in Europe and America with his stories of the horrors of this exploitative child labor in his famous novel Oliver Twist. These stories, and many before them published in America and England, resulted in the passage of labor laws. No longer would children at age 10, 12, and 14 be forced to work long hours in horrible conditions, many times with dangerous equipment.

The laws passed by Congress and created the Federal Department of Labor. They brought an end to the abuse of children in the work place. However, in many situations today, these labor laws are out of date.

Federal Reform is on the Way

HSLDA is working with Congress to ensure that at the next reauthorization of key federal labor laws, certain exceptions for homeschoolers will be recognized. Already HSLDA has placed some of the reform language into its HONDA bill, which is a bill that has been introduced by Senator Craig.

Homeschooler in Illinois Forbidden to Work With Family Business

Another fairly frequent situation where homeschool minors are prohibited from working during school hours is in the area of home business.

For instance, in Illinois, a homeschooled son was handling the cash register after his morning school was done. As far as the family was concerned, not only could he earn a little money to save at an early age of 12, but he would also be able to hone his mathematical skills.

Unfortunately, a customer didn't feel the same way. She turned the family into the Illinois Labor Department. They looked into the matter and discovered the child was working during school hours and he was under age. The family had to discontinue having their son work for the family business.

What the Labor Laws Say

Federal labor laws primarily refer to children under 16 years of age. Children who are 14 and 15 may only work outside school hours - and this is defined as public school hours (8:30 A.M. till 3:00 P.M. or whatever the local state's hours are). These minors can only work in non-manufacturing, non-mining, and non-hazardous jobs. They are limited to only three hours of work per school day, or 18 hours in a school week.

When the public school is not in session, a 14- or 15-year-old minor may work up to 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week.

14- and 15-year-olds may not begin work before 7:00 A.M. or work after 7:00 P.M. except from June 1 to Labor Day, when evening hours are extended until 9:00 P.M.

According to the Child Labor Coalition's website, "The minimum age for employment is 14 years old. There are some exceptions such as newspaper delivery; performing in radio, television, movie, or theatrical productions; and work for parents in their solely-owned nonfarm business (except in manufacturing or in hazardous jobs)." Those exceptions, and their minimum ages, vary by state.

Children who are underage (14 or under) can work at certain specific occupations, which vary by state and do not include manufacturing and mining, and it will not be considered "oppressive labor" as long as the child's work does not interfere with the child's "schooling" or "health and well-being." Of course they cannot work any more time than 14- and 15-year-olds can work.

A child under 14 years of age can be given consent for employment "by his parent or person standing in place of the parent," or can work on a farm owned or operated by the parent or guardian. So it's still OK to rise early to feed the chickens and to milk the cows - by hand. The child cannot be involved in operating any machinery. That is considered dangerous to the child's health or well-being. Nor can he or she work during school hours.

The only available waivers from specific hours of work are in the agricultural area. These waivers can be filed with the Secretary of Labor to be exempted from minimum age requirements for agricultural occupations.

So if you are not involved in farming, it seems there are four main issues to keep in mind when your child under 16 years of age would like to earn some pocket money:

  • If the minor is 13 or younger, he can 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 or on a farm owned or operated by his parents or parental guardian. Minors 14 and up can also work in offices, retail stores, restaurants, amusement parks, movie theaters, and service stations.

  • The minor is not allowed to work during school hours, and is limited to three hours of work per day during a school week.

  • The minor cannot be involved in any hazardous work or in areas of manufacturing or mining.

  • If any child works during school hours, it is prohibited unless they are not getting paid. School "work study" programs, where children learn the ins and outs of a real job, usually fall under this category.

On this last point, homeschoolers tend to spend less time in schooling because the homeschooled child does not waste many hours of the day as in a traditional school. The homeschooler does not have to take into account changing classes, recess, teacher strikes, bad weather, or longer classes to enable teachers to deal with the various abilities of the children to learn. Homeschoolers generally only need to spend 4 to 5 hours schooling on the average each day, and thereby can spend more time apprenticing to learn a skill or a trade. If the child, for instance, is 14 and learning carpentry, he could work in the early afternoon hours when children are in school, and just receive some credit towards his high school transcript. Public schools list this kind of employment on their transcripts as "work study." Once the traditional public school hours end, that child could keep working, but receive pay - of course, for no more than three hours per day.

17-Year-Olds

According to the National Consumers League, "Federal law prohibits driving as an occupation for minors under age 17. 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 driving. Delivery jobs and service calls which require driving to customers' homes are prohibited" as is being an "outside helper" on a motor vehicle.

According to the US Department of Labor's youthrules.com website, other prohibited occupations for 17-year-olds include:

  • Manufacturing or storing explosives

  • Any kind of mining

  • Logging and sawmilling

  • Working with these types of power-driven equipment: wood-working machines; hoisting equipment; metal-forming, punching, and shearing machines; bakery machines; paper-products machines; circular saws, band saws, and guillotine shears

  • Exposure to radioactive substances and to 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

Other than that, 17-year-olds have no restrictions on the hours they can work or the jobs they can accept.

About Entrepreneurship

What about working for yourself? You can spend as long as you like writing a book, filming a video, programming a website, painting a picture, or any other creative endeavor, as long as nobody has paid you up front to do these things. If you're 16 or younger and being paid for your time, it comes under the child labor laws.

More typical entrepreneurial activities such as shoveling snow or babysitting theoretically count as "working for" an employer - e.g., your neighbor. Restrictions on hours and types of work still apply.

Rules for Employers

The Federal Labor Laws require that employers keep records of the dates of birth of their employees under the age of 19. These records must include their daily starting and quitting times, their daily hours of work, and their occupations, in order for an employer to protect himself from unintentional violation of the child labor laws.

For More Information

www.youthrules.dol.gov Official government site with student-friendly and parent-friendly information.

www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs40.htm Government fact sheet with more specific info about the rules governing child employment in agriculture.


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