Following a 69% increase in child labor violations since 2018 and the resolution of one of the largest child labor cases in history at Packers Sanitation Services Inc., the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced new enforcement efforts to protect teen workers.
The DOL is teaming up with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in a new task force that will, among other things, pay close attention to the safety of teen workers and ensure they’re not employed in hazardous jobs.
In the last fiscal year, DOL investigations found 835 companies employed more than 3,800 children in violation of labor laws. It currently has “over 600 child labor investigations underway and continues to field complaints and initiate investigations to protect children.”
Mention of Packers case means safety will be a focus
The DOL specifically mentions the Packers case in its announcement regarding the task force, which means the safety of teen workers is going to be a primary focus.
In the Packers case, investigators found that 102 children were working with hazardous chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment, including back saws, brisket saws and head splitters. At least three of the teen workers had suffered injuries while performing these tasks, which are considered too hazardous for teen workers to perform under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
The Wage and Hour Division assessed a $15,138 fine under the FLSA for each teen worker who was employed in violation of child labor laws. This amount is the maximum allowed under federal law.
Task force to oversee national strategic enforcement initiative
Because of the increase in violations like those found at Packers, the DOL and HHS have formed a task force that is meant to:
- further collaboration and improve information sharing among agencies, and
- allow for jointly conducted education and training initiatives in relevant communities.
The task force will also oversee a national strategic enforcement initiative on child labor, which will involve the DOL Wage and Hour Division using “data-driven, worker-focused strategies to initiate investigations where child labor violations are most likely to occur.”
If an investigation finds violations, then the DOL “will use all available enforcement tools, including penalties, injunctions, stopping the movement of goods made with child labor, and criminal referrals.”
Follow-up calls with children who report safety concerns
According to the DOL, unaccompanied migrant children are particularly vulnerable to workplace exploitation, so the task force is mandating follow-up calls for those children who report safety concerns.
HHS will require this follow-up call to any child who calls the Office of Refugee Resettlement National Call Center with a safety concern. The call will include clear information for the child so they clearly understand which authorities their safety concerns will be reported to.
Training for teen workers to know their rights
The task force will also oversee the training of staff and the creation of new training materials to provide more information to unaccompanied children about child labor laws in the U.S. to ensure they know their rights and understand the legal restrictions on working while under the age of 18.
An increase in penalties for child labor violations
The DOL said it feels that the current maximum penalty for child labor violations is too low, coming in at $15,138 per child.
In order for the penalties to serve as more of a deterrent, the DOL has asked Congress to increase the fines, strengthen protections for whistleblowers and “investigate corporations flouting child labor laws.”