Children working in dangerous jobs are a common feature in many famous photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Child labor was common in mines, factories, and other hazardous workplaces until the 1930s when the U.S. Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). That law sets strict limits on employment for minors, including the kinds of jobs they may have and the number of hours they may work. New Jersey employment laws also regulate the hours that minors may work. The New Jersey Attorney General (NJAG) recently announced that it had settled a dispute with a restaurant chain over alleged child labor law violations. As part of the settlement, the employer reportedly agreed to pay $7.75 million in damages and fines.
The FLSA’s provisions on child labor prohibit anyone under the age of 14 from working in most jobs. Exceptions may apply with regard to jobs in agriculture, jobs within one’s family, newspaper delivery, and acting for film or television. The original purpose of the FLSA was to prevent children from working long hours in dangerous conditions. Children who are 14 or 15 years old may work limited hours in certain jobs. Between the ages of 16 and 17, the FLSA allows children to work in non-hazardous jobs for a longer number of hours.
Despite many advances in this area, child labor remains an issue throughout the country. A report on children’s rights by the organization Human Rights Watch assigned a letter grade from “A” to “F” to each state based on multiple factors, including child labor laws. While New Jersey received one of the highest grades in the country, it was still only a “C.”