Department of Labor is Cracking Down on Child Labor Law Violations

DOL Focus on Child Labor

Businesses who employ minors, look out. The Department of Labor (DOL) has made child labor law enforcement a high priority this summer and there is already evidence of their heightened scrutiny of employers who may be subject to this portion of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The DOL found 955 employers with child labor violations in 2023-a 14% increase from the prior year-and assessed 83% more in civil penalties for violations than they had the year before.

DOL Enforcement Methods

DOL investigators are using two methods to stop employers from violating child labor laws:

  • Stopping employers from placing or profiting from “hot goods” in the stream of commerce
  • Assessing aggregate civil penalties and fines

“Hot goods” are any products made by an employer who uses oppressive child labor. Oppressive child labor can mean anything from allowing an employee under 18 to perform a hazardous task that the DOL has prohibited to not following the hours of work requirement applied to 14- and 15-year-old workers. A hot goods violation results not only in penalties against the employer, but any company that shipped the hot goods as well. Before the goods have shipped, the DOL can seek an injunction that prohibits the hot goods from ever reaching the market. If the goods have already been sold and shipped, the DOL can seek an order for disgorgement of profits. Disgorgement of profits requires the employer to return all profits from the sale of the hot goods for a specified time period. But DOL penalties can often outweigh disgorgement of profit.

Penalties for Noncompliance

In March 2024, the DOL obtained an order for disgorgement of profit from an outdoor power equipment manufacturer for $1.5 million, the equivalent of 30 days’ profit from selling hot goods. In April 2024, the DOL also obtained such an order against a poultry processing plant for $1 million. In this case, the employer was also subject to civil penalties by the DOL in the amount of $171,191.

The DOL has also shifted their means of assessing civil money penalties for child labor law violations. In the past, penalties were issued on a per employee basis, meaning if the three minor employees were subject to a FLSA violation four times, the employer would be assessed three violations, one for each employee. The DOL has shifted from a per employee method to a per violation method, which means using the example above, the employer is now penalized for 12 violations instead of three. This method also applies to required recordkeeping, including maintaining records of minor employees’ dates of birth. Every missing record will be a violation, and the penalties will be assessed in the aggregate.

What Should Employers Do?

  • Employers should now be preparing themselves by conducting self-audits of child labor compliance
  • Recordkeeping should be complete for every minor employee
  • No minor employees should be performing tasks that have been deemed hazardous by the DOL
  • Human resources employees or office managers who have minor employees working in the field or in the shop are advised to go to the worksite and observe the work of minor employees to ensure it is not hazardous and that it complies with child labor laws
  • Timecards should be checked to ensure employees are not working outside of permitted hours
  • Employers should familiarize themselves with their state child labor laws, as many states do have laws regarding child labor that are more restrictive and provide more protection for the employee

Where Can you Go for Help?

The good news is you don’t have to try and do it alone. myHRcounsel® makes your life easier as the reliable resource for all state and federal employment laws. Our ASK HR subscription gives you unlimited access to employment attorneys for questions on Child Labor Laws and all other HR issues that come up every day at a price that fits your budget.

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