Can my child work at my business?

As recently reported in the news, The Mixing Bowl Bakery in Sauk City is under fire for accusations of violations of child labor laws. The bakery is owned by Curtis and Vickie Eberle, a couple with nine children, many of whom work with them at the Mixing Bowl. The kids range in age from 11 years old to six weeks old.

On April 4, 2017, the Department of Workforce Development sent a letter to the Mixing Bowl warning the owners that their business would be audited after receiving several complaints about the children working at the bakery. The investigation is now closed, and the Eberles have stopped allowing their children to work in the bakery.

So, did the Mixing Bowl violate the law by having the owners’ children work at the bakery?

First, let’s take a look at child labor laws that apply in the State of Wisconsin. All Wisconsin employers — or out-of-state employers with employees who perform work in Wisconsin — are required to follow Wisconsin law. Federal laws come into play here, too; just about every employer is required to follow federal law.

Wisconsin law

At what age are minors allowed to work?

A minor is defined as an individual under the age of 18. But, different restrictions are in place for minors of varying ages under the age of 18 with the most restrictive rules in place for the youngest of minors allowed to work — those who are 11 years of age.

Generally, minors ages 14 and older may work in Wisconsin. There are some specific exceptions for younger minors. 

No specific age minimum

  • May work in public performances such as theater, television, or as a live photographic model.
  • May work as participants in a restitution project or supervised work program, under certain circumstances.

Age 11

  • Football monitors

Age 12

  • May work under the direct supervision of a parent or guardian in the parent or guardian’s business, trade, or profession, so long as the place of employment is not hazardous.
  • School lunch programs.
  • Street trades.
  • Fundraising for nonprofit organizations and schools.
  • Caddy on golf courses, if using caddy carts.
  • Farming.
  • Domestic (housework).
  • Sideline officials for high school football games.
  • Officials for private, nonprofit athletic events, under direct adult supervision.

Minors of any age are prohibited from working in a variety of occupations that are considered hazardous, such as in adult bookstores, around radioactive substances, and in conducting or assisting in the operation of a bingo game. Yes, you read that right — no bingo for minors of any age.

In addition to restrictions on type of work, minors are restricted as to the number of hours they are able to work each day and week. The restrictions are very specific based on the age of the minor, the type of work, and whether or not school is in session. The rules also require specific meal breaks that are more stringent than what is required for adults — 30 minutes for any shift that is six hours or more. While not every unique detail of the rules is covered here, this chart provides a good overview:

Age

Type of Day/Week

After Labor Day through May 31

June 1 through Labor Day

Notes

Under 14

Non-school day: daily limit

8 hours

8 hours

May only work in specified occupations (see above).

Max. six days per week unless in delivery of newspapers or agriculture.

School day: daily limit

3 hours

3 hours

Non-school day: weekly limit

40 hours

40 hours

School day: weekly limit

18 hours

18 hours

Permitted times of day

7 a.m.–7 p.m.

7 a.m.–9 p.m.

14–15

Non-school day: daily limit

8 hours

8 hours

If employed by more than one employer, hours restrictions apply to total work performed in given day/week.

Max. six days per week unless in delivery of newspapers or agriculture.

School day: daily limit

3 hours

3 hours

Non-school day: weekly limit

40 hours

40 hours

School day: weekly limit

18 hours

18 hours

Permitted times of day

7 a.m.–7 p.m.

7 a.m.–9 p.m.

16–17

No specific restrictions on time of day and hours per day/week, except may not work during hours of required school attendance.

 

If working past 11:00 p.m., must be given at least eight hours of rest before the start of the next shift.

(Continued)

 

Federal law

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) governs employment of minors and applies to almost every employer. Like the Wisconsin Child Labor laws, the FLSA has very detailed requirements as to the hours a minor can work per day and week, and acceptable occupations. More information can be found on the United States Department of Labor Website, www.dol.gov/whd/childlabor.htm.

The FLSA allows minors of any age to do the following:

  • Work in businesses entirely owned by their parents, with certain restrictions for mining jobs, manufacturing jobs, and hazardous workplaces.
  • Perform in television, movies, theater, or radio.
  • Perform babysitting or other household chores in a private home.
  • Work as homeworkers to gather evergreens and make evergreen wreaths.

Now that we have some information as to what may constitute a child labor violation, let’s go back to the bakery example. The owners of the Mixing Bowl seem to have been operating on the assumption that Wisconsin law shouldn’t apply, and rather that the federal law that allows for minors to work for a business owned entirely by their parents should govern. However, where two bodies of law are at issue and conflict, generally the more restrictive laws will need to be followed. So, here, where Wisconsin is more restrictive, just following the federal law will not allow the bakery to escape liability.

However, we don’t have the entire picture here. In determining whether the Mixing Bowl may have an issue under Wisconsin or federal law, the first question would be, are the children working? Without information as to what they are actually doing in the bakery, this is a tough question to answer. Are the children milling about in the store and chatting with customers? Perhaps tossing a fallen napkin on occasion because they are responsible cleaners? Or are they being directed to do certain work-like activities? If the latter, then they are likely working. Media reports regarding the Mixing Bowl situation stated that a number of the kids helped do everything from making pies to serving customers in the bakery.

This much is clear: the employment of any minor under the age of 12 is limited to a few very specific situations under Wisconsin law, whether the minor’s parents own the business or not. So, if any of the children in the bakery are “making pies” or “serving customers” then it is highly likely that the children are working, which means that the bakery or any similar business could face potential penalties for violating Wisconsin law.

In many situations, whether and how much a minor can work in a particular industry for a particular business is difficult to determine. Anyone with questions regarding child labor issues should contact attorneys Jessica M. Kramer or Leslie Elkins at www.kewlaw.com.

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine – your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.