As we enter summer, many teenagers will be looking for work. I know that New Jersey (and I daresay many, if not all, other States) takes the safety and protection of minors in these summer jobs very seriously. I also know, from my many representations of clients on these issues, that the NJ Department of Labor cracks down hard on child labor violators, including, on occasion, charging them with disorderly persons offenses. I also know that the employment of minors raises other serious issues for their employers.
First, the employer must ensure that proper working papers are obtained and thoroughly filled out. There are four sections in a typical working paper (employer, minor, school, doctor) and each must be filled out. If one section is incomplete or not filled out, it is not a bona fide working paper and that will generate a penalty by the NJ Department of Labor. If other sets of papers are also not prepared correctly, additional penalties can and will result. The employer must also ensure that minors do not work in “prohibited occupations,” such as construction or mining, or work around equipment (e.g. bread slicer) that might cause injury (or death).
Employers must monitor the hours worked by summer minors very carefully. They must also ensure that each minor gets a lunch period. On these matters, accurate and contemporaneous documentation of these hours worked is essential. The DOL may (as New Jersey does) consider every incorrect time sheet, or extra hours worked, or missed lunch a separate violation and tack on a penalty for each and every one of those. (I have seen the NJDOL do this!)
Be aware that, in today’s litigious and complicated society, the summer employer also has to be aware of other, much more serious possibilities for liability. For example, the employer must guard against the possibility of sexual harassment of minors by adults, or even more drastic forms of sexual misconduct. Another issue is minor safety. Some years ago a minor employee died in a NJ shore accident on a ride and the fallout was astronomical. Adult employees may well know they can legitimately refuse an order to work in an unsafe condition, but minors will likely not know that or be afraid of refusing an order that may put them in harm’s way for fear of being fired. Minors should be advised that they can refuse such an order and doing it by a memorandum is a good way of ensuring there is proof this advisory was given.
It is also important that the summer employer educate its minors about its anti-drug and alcohol policy. The employer does not want two teenagers going off to the parking lot and smoking a joint and then coming back to operate (possibly dangerous) rides or take care of other minors (e.g. camp counselor). Employers may apply this kind of policy to adult employees but it is essential that it also be communicated to and applied to minors, with a written acknowledgement that they received the policy.
As is plain, there are many minefields waiting (or lurking) for the summer employer. Summer employment today is much more complicated and there are many “adult” issues that are now injected into the summer hiring process. The best advice is to give proper and thorough training, both to adults and minors, about employer policies, about what is and, more importantly, not allowed, especially on topics like harassment, drugs and alcohol. And, make sure you get the signed acknowledgement form!
Everyone in the pool!