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CHAPTER FIVE

CHILDREN ENTERING THE WORKPLACE AND EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS OF CHILDREN

HOW OLD DO I HAVE TO BE TO APPLY FOR A WORK PERMIT?

—> The school committee of each town or city may issue a special limited permit to work for any youth who is fourteen (14) years of age, to work on days when their school is not in session, but not for employment in factories or in mechanical or manufacturing establishments. The permit may be obtained from the Department of Labor and Training.

It should be noted that no youth under the age of fourteen (14) shall be employed or permitted to work at any time in any business or industrial establishment in Rhode Island.(86)

WHAT HOURS MAY I WORK WHEN I AM PERMITTED TO DO SO?

—> A youth who has reached a fourteenth (14th) birthday, but has not reached a sixteenth (16th) birthday may be employed only between 6:a.m. and 7 p.m. An exception to this prohibition is that during school vacations, a youth who has reached their fourteenth (14th) birthday, but not a sixteenth (16th) birthday, may be employed until 9 p.m.

Under federal law, children who are fourteen (14) and fifteen (15) years of age cannot work more than three (3) hours a day during school days and eighteen (18) hours a week during school weeks. When school is out, they are limited to eight (8) hour days and forth (40) hour weeks. Minors cannot work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m., except from June 1 through Labor Day, when they may work until 9 p.m.(87)

At the time of this writing, the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, is charging violations of federal labor laws in Federal Court in a lawsuit against two (2) Rhode Island business persons and six (6) of their restaurants. The employer defendants employed children who were fourteen (14) and fifteen (15) years old and allegedly allowed them to work more than three hours during school days. The children were also required to work after 7 p.m. on school days.

HOW DO THE MINIMUM WAGE LAWS AFFECT ME AS A YOUTH?

—> In Rhode Island, every employer is required to pay his or her adult employees the minimum wage which until recently was six dollars and fifteen cents ($6.15) per hour; however, minors aged fourteen (14) and fifteen (15) may legally be paid less than the minimum wage, but not less than seventy-five percent (75%) of the minimum wage. The reasoning underlying this lesser amount was to provide an economic incentive, that is, to encourage employers to hire younger or teen workers. The goal is to assure younger workers a start in the work force. It is difficult for teens to find employment, particularly when the economy is generally bad and adults are losing their jobs. There is a notion that it may take more time or be more difficult to supervise young workers and therefore, it is believed that reducing the wages to attract employers would reduce teen unemployment.

Effective January 1, 2004, the minimum wage was increased to six dollars and seventy-five cents ($6.75). This is the first increase in the minimum in three (3) years. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, about ten thousand (10,000) workers in our state are earning the minimum wage or slightly above it. It is reported that another sixteen thousand (16,000) workers earn less than the minimum wage.

Every minor who works more than twenty-four (24) hours in any week must be paid for all hours worked in that week at the adult rate of the minimum wage(88)

HOW DOES THE GOVERNMENT CHECK UP ON YOUTH LABOR LAWS?

—> All employers are required to keep certificates of age and permits qualifying children for employment at the place where the youth is employed. These documents must be available on demand. Failure to maintain the required documents is a misdemeanor for which a fine between ten dollars ($10.00) and fifty dollars ($50.00) may be imposed on the employer.(89)

The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor investigates violations of the hourly limits imposed by the federal government.

Whenever any truant officer has reason to doubt that any youth employed in any factory, mechanical, manufacturing or business establishment has reached the age of sixteen (16) years, the truant officer shall demand that the youth's employer furnish him or her in ten (10) days a certificate of age issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.(90)

WHAT HAPPENS TO AN EMPLOYER WHO CANNOT PROVE A YOUTH'S LEGALLY EMPLOYABLE AGE?

—> If an employer refuses or fails to produce the certificate of age, the employer can be convicted of a misdemeanor and fined twenty dollars ($20.00).

ARE THERE WAYS IN WHICH A YOUTH EMPLOYEE CAN LOSE THEIR WORK  PERMIT, OR HAVE IT TAKEN AWAY?

—> Yes. The permit of any youth may be revoked or suspended by the school district which issued it, if the principal of the school recommends it. If the work permit appears to be harmful to the academic success or general well-being of the student, or the student has failed to comply with school attendance requirements, the youth can lose the work permit. A youth is entitled to written notice and a hearing before the school committee can revoke or suspend the work permit it issued. The hearing must be closed and private.(91)

WHAT ARE THE GOVERNMENTAL RULES AND REGULATIONS FOR TEEN EMPLOYEES REGARDING TEEN SAFETY?

—> According to the Youth Labor Coalition, five hundred (500) children are injured in the workplace every day. Forty percent (40%) of teenagers who died on the job were performing tasks prohibited by law due to their ages. Most deaths of children under age fifteen (15) occur in agriculture related jobs, such as tractor rollovers and family businesses. According to another study, seventy-three (73) teens were killed at work in 2000. Of the two hundred thousand (200,000) teenagers under the age of eighteen (18) who are injured on jobs each year, seventy thousand (70,000) to one hundred thousand (100,000) required emergency room treatment.

The Department of Labor and Training is empowered to declare any particular work, occupation, trade, place or process to dangerous for minors under sixteen (16) years of age. Rhode Island has likewise identified numerous types of work activities as too dangerous for minors. Some examples of the many that have been identified include: using band saws, planers, wood polishing machinery, paper lace machines, power punches, shears, drop presses, laundering or dry cleaning machinery, and paint manufacturing.

Federal rules prohibit people under eighteen (18) from many hazardous jobs, including mining, sawmill work, logging, or working in meat packing factories or places where animals are slaughtered. Federal law prohibits children under eighteen (18) from using mechanized or powered equipment such as power saws, box crushers, baking machines, or meat slicing machines. The federal and state laws protecting children work together.(92)

HOW DO I FIND OUT ABOUT REGULATIONS THAT APPLY TO MY WORK CONDITIONS IN MY WORK PLACE?

—> Rhode Island requires that every employer post in one or more places where it can easily be read by all employees, a printed notice stating the minimum rates of pay, including hourly rates or piece rates. The rule must be posted explaining that the employment of any minor for a longer time than the law allows is a violation of state law.(93)

WHAT HAPPENS TO EMPLOYERS WHO VIOLATE CHILD LABOR LAWS?

—> Parents and employers who violate the law shall be fined a minimum of twenty dollars ($20.00) for each offense. Am employer who illegally employs a youth under the age of sixteen (16), or makes a false statement regarding a certificate, is guilty of a misdemeanor and can be fined a minimum of five hundred dollars ($500.00)(94)
For example, in august of 2002, five (5) Rhode Island supermarkets were found to have violated federal child labor laws. Eighteen (18) minors were found to have operated power-driven cardboard balers, machines used to compress cardboard scrap which was against the law prohibiting minors from using such machinery. This case was pending at the time of this writing. In these cases, it is the employer who is charged with wrongdoing, not the youth.

WHEN CAN I WORK AS A BARTENDER?

—> No person under the age of eighteen (18) may act as a bartender for the purposes of mixing, preparing, serving, or selling alcohol from a bar licensed to sell alcoholic beverages. A bar owner will lose the license to sell alcoholic beverages, or the license may be suspended, for violating this prohibition against employment of an underage bartender.(95)

WHEN CAN I LEGALLY CONSUME ALCOHOL?

—> You may not consume alcohol until you reach the age of twenty-one. It is unlawful for any person who has not reached his or her twenty-first (21st) birthday to enter the premises of any licensed seller of alcoholic beverages for the purpose of purchasing, or having served or delivered to him or her, alcoholic beverages.(96)

DOES THIS MEAN THAT I CAN LEGALLY SERVE ALCOHOL, BETWEEN THE AGES OF 18-21, BUT THAT I CANNOT LEGALLY CONSUME ANY ALCOHOL UNTIL I REACH MY 21ST BIRTHDAY?

—> Yes. It seems contradictory, but that is the law. The underage bartender may not even take a tiny sip of what he or she may serve to adults. You can serve it and you can hold it, but you cannot drink it. The situation is similar to the one noted in the section of this handbook on tobacco use by minors. A minor employed by a licensed tobacco retailer can sell it as a store clerk, but cannot take a puff. You can serve alcohol as a bartender, but don't even think about taking a sip.

WHAT IS THE PENALTY FOR TRANSPORTING ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES BY UNDERAGE PERSONS?

—> Any person who has not reached their twenty-first birthday and who operates a motor vehicle on public highways, without a parent or guardian, and has alcoholic beverages, opened or unopened, in any part of the vehicle, will have their operator's license suspended and will lose the right to operate a motor vehicle for not more than thirty (30) days.

It should be noted that this rue does not apply to persons who are transporting unopened alcoholic beverages in the course of their employment. You may transport unopened containers of alcoholic beverages if you doing so ing course of your employment and you are between the ages of sixteen (16) and twenty-one (21).(97) This, of course, assumes that you have a valid driver's license.

CAN I GO TO THE BANK WITH MY EARNINGS AND OPEN AN ACCOUNT EVEN THOUGH I AM A MINOR AND CANNOT ENTER CONTRACT?

—> Minors may make a deposit in any regulated bank including transferring, withdrawing, or accruing interest, unless under guardianship.

Every regulated banking institution in Rhode Island must provide a charge-free savings account for children under the age of seventeen (17), unless the account has a balance of more than five hundred dollars ($500.00).(98)