Massachusetts Revises Child Labor Law

Effective January 3, 2007, Massachusetts' child labor law was significantly revised for the first time in over 50 years. The revised law makes noteworthy changes to the conditions under which employers may employ children under the age of 18.

Expanded Hours of Work for 16-17 Year Olds

The amended law allows 16-17 year olds to work later on non-school nights. Specifically, 16 and 17 year olds may now be employed until 11:30 p.m. on any night other than those preceding a regularly scheduled school day. Prior to the changes, 16-17 year olds could work until only 10:00 p.m. The existing exemption for restaurants and race tracks allowing work to continue until midnight on a non-school night remains unchanged.

The amendments also make a minor adjustment to the hours that 16-17 year olds may work on a school night. Establishments that stop serving clients or customers at 10:00 p.m. may employ a minor until 10:15 p.m. Otherwise, children ages 16-17 may not be employed after 10:00 p.m. on a school night. As before, they may not work before 6:00 a.m. on any day.

As a general matter, children age 16-17 may not be employed for more than six days in one week, more than 48 hours in one week, or more than nine hours in one day. These general rules were not changed by the recent amendments.

The limits placed on the employment of 14-15 year olds are substantial and were not changed by the recent amendments. 14-15 year olds may not be employed:

  • Before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. except from July 1 to Labor Day, when they may work until 9:00 p.m.
  • More than three hours per day during school weeks or more than eight hours per day during weeks when school is not in session.
  • During school hours or more than 18 hours per school week, except in approved programs.
  • More than 40 hours per week when school is not in session.
  • More than six days per week.

New Supervisory Requirements

The child labor law now includes requirements for the supervision of younger workers. Children under age 18 may not work after 8:00 p.m. unless they are under the direct and immediate supervision of an adult, acting in a supervisory capacity, who is situated in the workplace and is reasonably accessible to the minor.

The sole exception to this requirement is minors who are employed at a kiosk, cart, or stand located within the common areas of an enclosed shopping mall that employs security personnel, a private security company, or a public police detail every night from 8:00 p.m. until the mall is closed to the public.

New Restriction on the Types of Employment

As before, children under age 18 may not work in a variety of occupations, including jobs involving the operation of a motor vehicle or certain jobs in a workplace where alcoholic beverages are manufactured or sold. Under the new law, they may also not work in any job requiring the possession or use of a firearm.

Simplifying Work Permits

The recent amendments address a long standing complaint about the burdensome paperwork requirements of the state's child labor law. The state no longer requires separate employment permits for 14-15 year olds and educational certificates for 16-17 year olds.

Now, each child age 14-17 must have an employment permit issued by the superintendent of schools. Employers of children age 14-17 must obtain the employment permits and keep them on file along with a complete list of the names and ages of minors they employ. The employment permits must be accessible to a city or town's supervisor of attendance, the state's Department of Education, and to the Attorney General.

Employers must return an employment permit within two days of the termination of the minor's employment. The permit should be returned to the superintendent of schools or school committee from which it was issued.

In order for a minor to obtain a work permit, the prospective employer must sign a "pledge or promise form" that states the job description and the hours to be worked by the minor.

Enhanced Enforcement and Penalties

The revised child labor law strengthens the criminal penalties against employers that violate the law and enhances the power of the state's Attorney General to bring civil enforcement actions.

Employers may be punished by a fine of up to $5,000 or by imprisonment for up to one month or both. If an employer receives written notice of a violation of the child labor law by an authorized inspector or a supervisor of attendance, the employment of that minor is a separate offense for every day the employment continues.

As an alternative to these criminal proceedings and sanctions, the Attorney General may issue a written warning or a civil citation to the person responsible for a violation of the child labor law. The civil citation may impose a civil penalty of up to $250 for the first violation, up to $500 for the second violation, and up to $2,500 for the third and subsequent violations.

Martha M. Walz is Of Counsel in Littler Mendelson's Boston office. She also is a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. If you would like further information, please contact your Littler attorney at 1.888.Littler, info@littler.com, or Ms. Walz at mwalz@littler.com.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.