Articles Posted in Child Labor Laws

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Earlier this week a new Maine law went into effect that will allow employers to employ more 14- and 15-year old kids. According to a press release from the Maine Department of Labor, the new law “amends laws relating to minors 14 and 15 years of age to allow them to work in bowling alleys, movie theaters and permanent amusement parks, and to clarify their employment in bakeries, hotels and rooming houses—opening more occupations and broadening the things they can do.”

While a job can certainly benefit a teenager, employing children can create problems with workplace harassment. It has been well documented that workplaces with a lot of younger workers are more likely to experience problems with workplace harassment.   Last year the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a report from a Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. The EEOC’s Task Force studied, among other things, factors that increase the risk that workplace harassment will occur—one of those risk factors is the presence of many young workers.

According to the EEOC’s Task Force, “workplaces with many teenagers and young adults may raise the risk for harassment. Workers in their first or second jobs may be less aware of laws and workplace norms – i.e., what is and is not appropriate behavior in the workplace. Young workers who engage in harassment may lack the maturity to understand or care about consequences. Young workers who are the targets of harassment may lack the self-confidence to resist unwelcome overtures or challenge conduct that makes them uncomfortable. Finally, young workers who are in unskilled or precarious jobs may be more susceptible to being taken advantage of by coworkers or superiors, particularly those who may be older and more established in their positions.”

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Back in 2011, in this post and this post, we discussed the plans of some Maine Republican lawmakers to loosen restrictions on child labor. Those plans did not come to fruition but, according to recent news reports, the LePage administration wants to try again but this time with some measures that are less drastic. Currently under Maine law, kids younger than 16 may not work unless they obtain a permit from their school superintendent. A bill in the Maine legislature would, among other things, permit the Maine Department of Labor to issue those permits, instead of a school superintendent, during summer break.

Governor LePage has made clear that this bill is, in his view, just a good place to start in rolling back child labor laws. For instance, under current law, children under the age of 14 may not work in most instances. Governor LePage wants to change that legal limit to the age of 12.

Child labor laws were originally enacted in the 19th and 20th centuries because children were being exploited by employers. Similar concerns about exploitation should exist today. Children, who are less educated and have less life experience than adults, are less likely than adults to know that an employer is violating their rights. They are also less likely to push back when an adult exploits them or treats them unlawfully because many are taught to never question adults with authority over them. For these reasons, lawmakers should exercise caution when they consider undoing decades-old child labor laws.