Lawmakers seek a quantum leap in penalties for violations of child labor laws

A single infraction could cost a restaurant employer upwards of $250,000 under a new federal proposal.
The bill has high-powered sponsors including Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. | Photo: Shutterstock

A single violation of federal child labor laws could cost restaurant employers more than $250,000 under legislation that was introduced yesterday in Congress.

Intended to curb what officials say is a quantum leap in infractions, the measure significantly raises the penalties and compensation that could be demanded of any employer who runs afoul of federal regulations covering teenagers’ hours and duties.

The civil penalty for a violation, for instance, would jump from the current $11,000 to $151,380.

Infractions adjudged to be criminal would bring a fine of $750,000, or 75 times the current penalty of $10,000.

In addition, errant employers would be liable for up to $75,000 in compensatory damages for each youngster whose protections by current Department of Labor (DOL) protections were violated.

Because protecting youngsters in the workforce is seen as a mom-and-apple-pie issue, proposals to stiffen the protections are not uncommon in Congress. But the bill introduced yesterday—the Children Harmed In Life-threatening or Dangerous act, or CHILD—is notable because of its high-powered sponsors.

The measure was introduced in the Senate by Bob Casey, D-Pa., a member of the powerful Finance Committee and the Subcommittee on Children and Families, and Patty Murray, D-Wash.  It is being shepherded in the House of Representatives by Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

The authors say the stiffer penalties are needed to counter a surge in child labor law violations. Since 2019, according to Casey’s office, those infractions have increased 88%.

“It is long past time we bring our child labor laws into the 21st century and fight back against the employers, contractors, and subcontractors that violate them,” Casey said in a statement.

As the nation’s second-largest private sector employer and a business known for giving many teens their first jobs, restaurants have frequently been reported to be among the violators. According to data from DOL, McDonald’s, Subway and Dunkin’ had more infractions than any other employers during 2022.

Federal regulations prohibit restaurant workers aged 14 and 15 from working more than three hours on a school day, eight hours on a day school is not in session, 18 hours a week during the school year and 40 hours during the summer and recesses.

In addition, the youngsters are not permitted to work any later than 7 p.m. during the school year. The clock-out time is raised to 9 p.m. during the summer.

The rules also prohibit the teens from participating in baking operations and using powered equipment like slicers and mixers.

Additional Senate co-sponsors of the CHILD Labor Act include Bernie Sanders, Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown, John Fetterman, Ed Markey, Chris Murphy, Alex Padilla, Jack Reed, Tina Smith and Ron Wyden. All are Democrats, who enjoy a majority in the Senate.

The legislation has also been endorsed by National Employment Law Project, Child Labor Coalition, National Consumers League and the Center for Law & Social Policy.

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