Last Sunday, the New York Times published an investigation chronicling widespread child labor law violations across the U.S. These situations primarily involve Central American immigrant minors who entered the U.S. without parents. In some cases, the children are exploited by sponsors or guardians who force them to hold full-time jobs. The article noted children as young as 12 working in hazardous construction, meatpacking, janitorial, and manufacturing jobs.
Perhaps in response to this article, earlier this week the Department of Labor (DOL) announced a new program to increase the number of child labor investigations and enforcement efforts. This program will coordinate with the Department of Health and Human Services to target industries with high numbers of immigrant laborers such as construction and manufacturing. DOL is also asking Congress to increase the penalties for child labor violations.
DOL may also begin using a “hot goods” provision in the law to prohibit the interstate transportation of goods found to have been made using child labor. Companies that use migrant labor should be especially careful about verifying the ages of their workers. In some situations, the minor workers use false documents to obtain work. Simply ignoring evidence that these workers are underage will not constitute a convincing legal defense against allegations of child labor law violations. If a worker appears to be younger than their claimed age, employers should take additional steps to confirm that the employee is of legal working age.