Discussing an Ohio child labor bill with an employment lawyer

WTAP Daybreak
Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 9:17 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTAP) - Current Ohio law prevents minors under the age of 16 from working later than seven at night during the school year. Ohio SB 30, currently under consideration by the House Committee on Commerce and and Labor, would allow children under the age of 16 to work until 9:00 p.m. any time during the year if their parent or guardian permits them to do so.

Proponents of the legislation have testified that the bill would be good for kids interested in getting work experience. “So much of a young person’s time today is spent in front of a screen,” opined Tod Bowen, a representative of the Ohio Restaurant Association, in his testimony during the Commerce and Labor Committee’s April 18 meeting. “Employment opportunities, especially in sectors like food service, retail, and hospitality, really do provide young people the chance to interact with the public and learn critical life skills.”

Christopher Ferruso, the Ohio State Director of the National Foundation of Independent Businesses, wrote in his proponent testimony that senate bill 30 could help fill employment vacancies, bringing an economics benefit as well.

But Bob DeRose, an Ohio attorney specializing in labor law, worries that the bill doesn’t do anything to fix one important issue. “The message that’s getting out there is that, as long as mom and dad say it’s okay, you can work the additional hours,” DeRose told WTAP. “There’s still lots of employers that are not getting those certificates and employing children, and a lot of the children don’t know the restrictions and protections that they have, because they’re not getting these certificates, they’re not being told what their rights are.”

DeRose said that despite state law already requiring minor employees to obtain permits and parental permission to work, many employers hire children without going through those necessary steps. Minors are supposed to have work permits prior to starting employment; however, DeRose said cases of child labor violations in the state have been rising in recent years, a fact corroborated by a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute that found that child labor violations have been going up across the nation.

DeRose suggested that one cause for this increase could be a lack of sufficient oversight over employers. “The Ohio Department of Commerce and its Bureau of Wage Enforcement have the jurisdiction to enforce this,” he said. “But I don’t see a program where anyone’s auditing employers to find out if they have their certificates.”

DeRose said while he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with minors working longer hours if they and their parents consent to, he’s also concerned that SB 30 could be the start of a slippery slope.

“It gets to my biggest fear, is that, well, what if a dangerous occupation desperately needs children to work there because they can’t fill the role with adults? Then, how long before some interest group comes in and says, ‘well, this really isn’t that dangerous.’”