Child labor laws are being softened in some states. What about in Utah?

Apr 19, 2023, 11:00 AM

Child labor laws were introduced to protect children from bad environments and working conditions....

Child worker in Georgia 1909 (Photo by Lewis Wickes/Library of Congress Photos)

(Photo by Lewis Wickes/Library of Congress Photos)

SALT LAKE CITY — We all remember pictures like the above one of young children working in factories, even mines, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was to protect them that the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed back in 1938. It set the precedent for all child labor laws.

Eleven states have been widdling protections found in child labor laws away in recent months. States like Iowa, Arkansas, Tennessee and Minnesota are loosening child labor restrictions in order to address low unemployment rates and the challenge of filling positions.

In Iowa, children as young as 14 years old would be allowed to work in meat coolers and other industrial jobs. In Minnesota, children who are 16 and 17 could work construction jobs.

Is this happening in Utah?

“There’s nothing in the offing that I’m aware of as far as loosening,” said Eric Olsen, the public information officer for the Utah Labor Commission. “It is the policy of the state of Utah to encourage the growth and development of minors by giving them opportunities to work. At the same time, we need reasonable safeguards for health and safety and education for them.”

There are 17 different categories of jobs deemed hazardous by the U.S. Secretary of Labor under the Fair Labor Standards Act. These jobs are off-limits for minors.

At least, they were.

They include construction, mining, working with explosives or big power-driven machines, and fighting fire.

Olsen explained that if you’re over 14 years old in Utah, you can work in retail food, custodial, lawn care and snow removal. You can even work at 10 years old delivering newspapers or 12 years old in non-hazardous agricultural work.

“While school is in session, someone under 16 can’t work before or after school for more than 4 hours a day,” Olsen explained. “They can’t work before 5 a.m. or after 9:30 p.m. on a school night.”

Even when school is not in session, there are restrictions. A minor can’t work more than 8 hours in a 24-hour period and no more than 40 hours a week.

Child labor violations

Despite these protections in the FLSA, there have been some egregious violations of late.

A report last month from the Economic Policy Institute found over 600 active investigations into labor law violations involving children. One of them involved over 100 children ages 13-17 working overnight shifts in meatpacking plants, cleaning saws and working with hazardous chemicals.

“There have been cases in Utah,” Olsen said. “It’s not at a crisis level. It’s an occasional concern about a job and maybe somebody being asked to work too long.”

One such case had to do with Crumbl Cookies. Another is with a restaurant supply company connected to a polygamous family. A third was in connection with Sodalicious. Those are just the Utah cases KSL NewsRadio has reported on in the last seven months. 

Advice for parents

What should parents be on the lookout for to keep their younger kids safe when they enter the workforce? “As a parent, when your child finds a job, it would behoove parents to take a look at it. See what that business does and what is expected. Make sure their child isn’t getting into a situation where it runs afoul of child labor laws.”

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Child labor laws are being softened in some states. What about in Utah?