Both federal and state laws govern the jobs that minors can perform. However, some employers may take chances by allowing these young workers to engage in prohibited tasks. This opens the door for potential legal action to hold them accountable, especially if a child is injured. 

Wanta Thome focuses on representing clients with employment discrimination claims and violations of their employee rights. Our team of attorneys offers guidance on Illinois law regarding 14- and 15-year-old employees and what penalties companies may face when they break the law.

Laws Protecting Child Laborers 

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that covers important topics for all employees, with special attention to child labor provisions. The act intends to ensure children are able to receive an education without being unduly burdened by an occupation that may harm their health or well-being. Hours for those under age 16 are restricted, and certain jobs are off-limits.

The Illinois Child Labor Law (820 ILCS 205/1 et seq.) is a state law that strengthens the protections of the FLSA. It requires those under the age of 16 to obtain employment certificates from the Illinois Superintendent of Schools. To receive a work permit, the 14- or 15-year-old must present a letter of intent from the employer stating the nature of the work and the hours. 

Employers in Illinois are not allowed to hire teenagers who cannot provide a valid employment certificate. If they do, those companies will face stiff fines from the Illinois Department of Labor. They may also be subject to penalties under the FLSA. Employers are required to follow whichever of the two laws is most restrictive.

Minimum Requirements for Young Employees in Illinois

The law is very clear about how many hours 14-year-old employees in Illinois can work and the kinds of jobs they are legally allowed to perform. Some of these requirements vary depending on the type of work, such as farming, construction, or office jobs. The same holds true for 15-year-old employees in Illinois. 

Non-Farming Jobs

For non-farming jobs, 14- and 15-year-olds cannot engage in any work that is deemed hazardous by the U.S. Secretary of Labor. They also cannot engage in manufacturing or mining work. For secretarial or administration work, their hours are limited to:

  • No more than three hours on any school day
  • No more than 24 hours in a school week
  • No more than eight hours a day when school is out
  • No more than six days in a non-school week
  • No more than 48 hours total during a non-school week.

During the school year, it is prohibited for those aged 14 and 15 to go to school and work more than eight hours total on a school day. They can only work between 7 am to 7 pm during the school year but are allowed to work until 9 pm between June 1 and Labor Day. These young workers must also be allowed a scheduled 30-minute meal break within the first five hours of their shifts.

Agricultural jobs

Teenagers have more leeway when it comes to agricultural work and may be employed by their parents on a family farm at any age, even if the work is hazardous. If a 14- or 15-year-old wishes to work for a farm that is not owned or operated by their family members, they can perform any non-hazardous duties outside of school hours. 

What Is Considered a Hazardous Job?

Under the FLSA, minors cannot be given jobs that could be dangerous to their health or well-being. This includes any job involving:

  • Brick or tile manufacturing
  • Commercial-grade dough or batter mixers in a bakery
  • Construction
  • Cooking with electric or gas grills
  • Door-to-door sales
  • Exposure to radioactive materials
  • Forklift and other heavy machinery operation
  • Manufacture or storage of explosives
  • Meat or poultry processing
  • Meat slicing machinery
  • Mining
  • Roofing installation or repair
  • Sawmill work or logging activities
  • Wrecking or demolition

These employees are also barred from working jobs that could endanger others, such as operating amusement rides or lifeguarding on a lake or ocean. They also cannot work in transportation, communications, or food processing, among other jobs. However, they can work for these businesses in an administrative capacity so long as they are not performing prohibited tasks.

Illinois-Specific Prohibited Jobs for Minors

The Illinois Child Labor Act describes additional jobs that 14- and 15-year-old workers cannot hold, including:

  • Anywhere that involves power-driven machinery, such as a bowling alley, amusement park, hotel, or factory
  • In mines, quarries, or any stone-cutting facility
  • Iron, steel, or ore processing foundries
  • Anywhere using sawmills, lathes, or other power-driven woodworking machinery
  • Any establishment that serves alcohol for consumption on the premises, except as busboys or servers at private events
  • Dry cleaners
  • Gas stations
  • Utilities
  • Excavation
  • Any job involving the handling or storage of bodily fluids or tissues

Penalties for Employers Who Break the Law

Companies that violate the FLSA and the ICLA can be fined as much as $14,050 per instance for each worker. If a minor employee suffers a serious injury or dies, the employer will be fined an additional $63,855 per worker, which can be doubled (to a maximum of $127,710) if the offenses are intentional or repetitive. If the company is convicted of willful violations, the FLSA allows an additional $10,000 penalty.

Secondary convictions for willful actions include another $10,000 fine and the potential for six months in prison or both. The employer’s size determines the amount of fines, its ability to pay, the seriousness of the violations, and the likelihood of future offenses. 

Learn More About Minor Employment Law in Illinois

If you believe an employer is committing breaches of federal or Illinois law regarding 14- and 15-year-old employees, contact Wanta Thome for a free consultation about your case. These laws are in place to protect vulnerable youth who may not be cognitively capable of understanding the risks they face when a business asks them to perform dangerous work. 

It is up to you and compassionate employment law attorneys to hold these violators accountable. Schedule a meeting with us through our online form today. 

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