US Child Labor Laws for Construction

March 19th 2024

The physical demands and inherent risks of employment in the construction industry make workers susceptible to accidents, injuries, and exploitation. As a result child labor laws are established to safeguard the safety and welfare of minors engaged in construction work.

This guide provides a comprehensive overview of child labor laws in the United States, specific to the construction industry. Employers must familiarize themselves with federal and state child labor laws to foster a safe work environment and uphold the well-being of minor employees in the construction industry. 

This article covers:

US Federal Laws Regulating Minor Employees in the Construction Industry
Key Provisions of US Child Labor Laws Protecting Minor Employees in Construction
Documentations and Permits for Minor Employees in the US
Who Enforces the Compliance of Child Labor Laws in the US?

US Federal Laws Regulating Minor Employees in the Construction Industry

Federal laws in the United States strictly regulate the employment of young individuals within the construction industry to ensure safety, fair treatment, and compliance with labor standards. While federal laws provide the minimum statutory requirements for child labor regulation, individual states have the authority to enact their state labor laws.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets minimum age requirements for employment to safeguard the well-being of young individuals. As per regulations, young workers must be at least 14 years old to work non-agricultural jobs covered by the FLSA. However, some exemptions exist for specific industries, including the construction industry.

In the construction industry, minor workers under 16 years of age are only allowed to perform office or sales work. Meanwhile, minor workers aged 16 and 17 may work on construction sites, but there are restrictions on several tasks that are hazardous for them to perform.

According to the FLSA, the youth minimum wage starts at $4.25 per hour during the first 90 consecutive calendar days of their employment. Minor employees are then entitled to the standard minimum wage of $7.25 per hour if they worked for more than 90 days or turned 20 during their employment period.

One of the significant aspects of the FLSA’s child labor provisions is the prohibition of minors from engaging in hazardous occupations. Minors under the age of 18 are subject to more strict restrictions on hazardous work compared to those aged 18 and older. The FLSA’s Hazardous Occupations Orders (HOs) outline specific hazardous tasks that are prohibited for minors.

The FLSA also establishes restrictions on the hours and conditions of work for minors, including limitations on the number of hours they can work during school weeks and non-school weeks. Minors aged 16 and 17 have fewer restrictions on their work hours compared to those aged 14 and 15. Still, all minors are subject to limitations to ensure they have adequate time for education, rest, and other activities essential for their well-being and development.

Employers covered by the FLSA are required to maintain accurate records of minors’ ages, hours worked, wages paid, and other pertinent information. In addition, employers must retain these records for a specified period and make them available for inspection by authorized representatives of the Department of Labor.

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) is a federal law that governs the health and safety standards in the workplace to protect the well-being of employees. These standards are designed to protect workers from hazards that may cause injury, illness, or death.
Under the safety and health standards, specific hazardous activities and conditions in the construction industry are identified that pose risks to workers, including minors. Employers are required to assess and mitigate these hazards through appropriate safety measures, such as providing proper training, implementing engineering controls, and supplying necessary protective equipment.

Employers must ensure that minor employees are not exposed to hazards beyond their capacity to handle safely. OSHA regulations may require additional protections for minors, such as prohibiting them from operating certain types of machinery or working at heights above specific thresholds.

OSHA regulations require employers to provide comprehensive safety training to all employees, including minors, to ensure they understand the hazards present in their work environment and how to mitigate them effectively. In addition, employers must ensure that minor employees receive appropriate supervision from qualified individuals who can oversee their work activities and provide guidance on safety procedures.

Learn more about Construction Laws Under FLSA through our detailed guide.

Key Provisions of US Child Labor Laws Protecting Minor Employees in Construction

Work Hours and Overtime Restrictions for Minor Employees

The FLSA established limits on the working hours and schedules that minors can work, including in the construction industry. Minors aged 14 and 15 have more limited work hours and are prohibited from working during school hours. Meanwhile, minors aged 16 and 17 may work unlimited hours in non-hazardous jobs but are restricted to working late-night and early morning hours.

Overtime compensation also applies to minor employees in the construction industry. Minors must be paid overtime at a rate of 1.5 times their regular pay rate for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. The overtime pay provision must be consistent with FLSA requirements.

Hazardous Occupations and Prohibited Tasks for Minor Employees

Under the FLSA, seventeen tasks are declared prohibited for any minor employees under the age of 18. Among the 17 hazardous occupation orders (HO), below are those relevant for construction employers:

  • HO 2. Driving a motor vehicle: No employee under 17 years of age may drive a motor vehicle on public roads as part of the job. However, some exceptions may only exist if all of the requirements are met.
  • HO 5. Power-driven woodworking machines: Minors under 18 are prohibited from operating saws, planers, lathers, and jointers. Such woodworking machines pose high risks of lacerations, amputations, and other serious injuries due to their sharp blades and moving parts.
  • HO 7. Power-driven hoisting apparatus: Minors under 18 are restricted from operating cranes, derricks, and forklifts. These hoisting apparatuses involve lifting heavy loads to significant heights, posing risks of falls, struck-by accidents, and other hazards that could result in severe injuries or fatalities.
  • HO 8. Power-driven metal-forming, punching, and shearing machines: Minors under 18 are prohibited from operating these machines as they present hazards such as crushing, shearing, and entanglement injuries.
  • HO 14. Power-driven circular saws, band saws, guillotine shears, chain saws, reciprocating saws, wood chippers, and abrasive cutting discs: Minors under 18 are prohibited from operating these tools as they pose risks of severe cuts, amputations, and other injuries due to their high-speed rotating blades or cutting mechanisms.
  • HO 15. Wrecking, demolition, and ship-breaking operations: Minors under 18 are prohibited from participating as these operations involve significant risks of falls, crushing injuries, exposure to hazardous materials, and structural collapses, making them unsuitable for minors due to the potential for severe harm or fatality.
  • HO 16. Roofing operations and work performed on or about a roof: Minors under 18 are restricted from engaging in roofing operations as it involves significant risks of falls from heights, exposure to weather hazards, and potential contact with electrical hazards, posing severe risks to the safety and well-being of minors.
  • HO 17. Trenching and excavation operations: Minors under 18 are prohibited from participating as these operations involve risks of cave-ins, engulfment, and other hazards associated with working in confined spaces and excavated areas, making them unsuitable for minors due to the potential for serious injuries or fatalities.

The regulations provide a limited exemption for a few hazardous occupations (e.g., HOs 5, 8, 14, 16, 17) for minor employees who are apprentices and student learners under the Work Experience and Career Exploration Program (WECEP).

Documentations and Permits for Minor Employees in the US

As most states have child labor protections in place, employers must ensure that minor employees possess the necessary permits and documentation to comply with state and federal laws. This may include proof of age, parental consent forms, and other required documentation. Many states mandate that minors obtain work permits or age certificates before working in the construction industry. Employers can check the documentation and permits required by their state through the Department of Labor’s Table of Employment/Age Certificate Issuance.

Who Enforces the Compliance of Child Labor Laws in the US?

In the United States, child labor laws are administered and enforced by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD). The child labor provisions are designed to protect the educational opportunities of youth and prohibit employment in jobs that are detrimental to their health and safety. Construction employers must ensure that their young workers have secured an age certification and work permit from the DOL. In addition, employers should be aware that work permits for minors have expiration dates, and their duration of validity may vary between states.

All states have standards concerning the employment of young workers. When federal and state laws are different, the rules that provide the most protection and benefits to the workers apply.

Learn more about Construction Employees’ Rights & Responsibilities through our detailed guide.

Important Cautionary Note

When making this guide we have tried to make it accurate but we do not give any guarantee that the information provided is correct or up-to-date. We therefore strongly advise you seek advice from qualified professionals before acting on any information provided in this guide. We do not accept any liability for any damages or risks incurred for use of this guide.