by Bill Price
It might seem surprising to see a headline calling attention to a discussion of child labor, and child labor laws—that whole topic seeming like something right out of the 19th century. But child labor is still a topic of discussion, even today, and knowing about it, and about its governance, is important for employers.
The idea of children working in the labor market is an idea that smacks of harshness, even though one part of us might recognize the expectation, perhaps the need, in many families for the child to help with family income. Perhaps you held a part-time job as a teenager. I had my first paid employment as a newspaper boy at the age of 13 and was proud of it. My family was not wealthy and this gave me a lot of spending money that other kids did not enjoy. Of course there is a dark side to child labor and over the years laws were created to ensure that work is safe and does not jeopardize a child’s health, well-being, or educational opportunity.
In many instances, poor parents send their children to work, not out of choice, but for reasons of economic expediency. If children live with their parents, they might generate an income that assists in paying the bills for their entire family. Most families in developing countries have many children and that is beneficial for the extra income to apply to family living expenses. In some developing countries, children often have to work hard in severe and unsafe work circumstances. Children working long hours are unlikely to receive any education; then again, education may not be readily available. Child labor can be conducted even in dangerous industries and children are more prone than warier adults to be victims of accidents.
However, for our purposes here, we will focus on the energy business and the Permian Basin labor market. Let’s be honest—there are some advantages of using these teenagers. Labor expenses for teenagers are low and work can be produced for a lower price. We see a lot of this in the restaurant and retail industries. It is less common in the energy industry. Of course the energy business is heavily regulated and labor there often involves dangerous work conditions or hazardous equipment and chemicals.
The main law regulating child labor in the United States is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Generally, teenagers that are at least 14 years old may be employed; those under age 14 may not be employed. Children between 14 and 16 may be employed in allowed occupations during limited hours, and children between 16 and 18 may be employed for unlimited hours in non-hazardous occupations. For teenagers between 14 and 15 years old, they:
- May not work during school hours.
- Can work no more than 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week when school is not in session. Can work only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during the school year.
- Can work no more than 3 hours in a day or more than 18 hours in a week when school is in session. During summer (between June 1 and Labor Day) they may work between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.
Texas state law for 14- and 15-year-olds is similar to the federal law. According to Texas Workforce Commission, when a business is owned or operated by a parent or legal custodian, the parent or custodian may employ their own children at any age to work any hours, so long as the work is non-hazardous and the child works under the parent or custodian’s direct supervision. There are exclusions allowing for 14-year-olds in agriculture, entertainment, and newspaper delivery. Keep in mind that these child labor laws are not the same in every state. For example, Texas does not restrict the work hours for 17-year-olds but most states do have a restriction.
A unique provision in the FLSA laws is that employers may pay an employee below minimum wage during the first 90 calendar days if they are under 20 years old. In this case, the minimum rate is $4.25 per hour. The overtime rule still applies.
A related issue relating to child labor is the importation of goods produced by children in other countries. Importing goods produced by forced labor of children is illegal. But because these goods are produced overseas and outside of the jurisdictional bounds of the United States, it is difficult to monitor compliance. My advice is to check the web to see which nations and which products are most likely to be involved.
Dr. Bill Price, the Dean of the College of Business and a Professor of Management at The University of Texas of the Permian Basin, has previously held several positions in human resource management and other leadership roles. He has taught various courses in human resources and has published a number of articles in the areas of human resource management and strategy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.