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Inspector General’s Office Reviewing Labor Department’s Efforts to Stop Child Labor Law Violations

Christopher Wood, CPP  

· 5 minute read

Christopher Wood, CPP  

· 5 minute read

In an August 21, 2023 letter to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) said it is initiating a review to determine the Wage and Hour Division's (WHD) efforts to curtail child labor law violations, as well as the cause for the increase in such violations.

Federal labor law for children

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments. Federal child labor laws are designed to protect the educational opportunities of minors and prohibit their employment in jobs and under conditions detrimental to their health or well-being.

The FLSA and the youth employment regulations establish both hours and occupational standards for youth. Children of any age are generally permitted to work for businesses entirely owned by their parents, except those under age 16 may not be employed in mining or manufacturing and no one under 18 may be employed in any occupation the Secretary of Labor has declared to be hazardous.

Violations on the rise

In April 2023, the DOL announced that child labor law violations were up 69% since 2018 and that it began actively working to educate Southeast employers about their legal obligations in preparation for the Summer hiring surge. From fiscal year 2020 through 2022, the division assessed employers more than $2.8 million in penalties and conducted more than 500 child labor investigations affecting nearly 2,900 minors in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

In May 2023, the  WHD found some 305 minors working illegally (including 10-year-olds) at three McDonald’s franchisees in Kentucky, which were assessed $212,000 in fines.

Lawmakers call for action

In June 2023, Workforce Protections Subcommittee Ranking Member Alma Adams (D-NC) and House Committee on Education and the Workforce Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) sent a letter urging Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) to hold a hearing on the rise of child labor violations and legislative proposals to address abusive child labor.

Acting Labor Secretary pressed on issue

Acting Labor Secretary and current nominee Julie Su, was pressed during a June 2023 House Education and Workforce Committee hearing over issues that include child labor. During the hearing, Congressman Jim Banks (R-IN) claimed a connection between the crisis on the United States’ Southern boarder and the significant increase in child labor violations.

Labor Department takes actions

In an April 24, 2023 letter to Acting Secretary Su, Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) noted that the DOL and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced an interagency task force to combat child labor exploitation following a New York Times investigation on the matter.  The HHS’s March 24, 2023 press release on the task force said that both agencies announced a Memorandum of Agreement to advance ongoing efforts to address child labor violators.

OIG to start review immediately

The OIG’s letter was directed to WHD Principal Deputy Administrator Jessica Looman and said it plans to begin work immediately and requested notification to the appropriate agency officials regarding its plans.

Labor Department working to stop child labor violations

When asked about the OIG’s letter, a spokesperson for the DOL said that the WHD “is using every tool and resource at its disposal to ensure that children are safe, healthy and protected from exploitation.” The individual added that such actions include “taking a whole-of-government approach to forge new partnerships, employ innovative tactics, ramp up enforcement, and work with agencies across the federal government to root out child labor violations.”

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