U.S. child labor laws: individual state legislation - FreedomUnited.org

U.S. child labor laws: individual state legislation

Laws at the federal level were established almost a century ago to set basic safeguards for child labor. This historical development led people to believe that the exploitation of children in hazardous occupations was a thing of the past. However, a concerning upward trend in the infringement of child labor laws, accompanied by efforts from state legislators to diminish the protective standards for children in the workforce, sets a precedent for exploitation and a slide towards modern slavery. Join the campaign and take action! 

See the details about each bill that has been enacted or introduced since 2021.


SB 53/ HB 102: Eliminates work permits for 14 and 15-year-old children.

The Alabama Policy Institute’s ‘2024 blueprint for Alabama’ is a significant document published by the right-wing think tank earlier in January 2024. It promotes 30 policy priorities aligned with the trend of increasing child labor law rollbacks across the U.S. to “offer up suggestions out of a pressing need to solve a labor shortage” by “removing barriers for minor work authorization.”

The report strategically points out that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has labeled Alabama as “having among the ‘most severe’ shortages nationwide,” as a convenient way of framing the reality of people being unwilling and unable to work for unlivable wages.

This bill reflects their suggestion that children are the solution to filling the tight labor market because they are less likely to stand up for their rights and are easily exploited.

Currently the bill is passed in the senate, and is not yet enacted.

Published: April 2024 


HB1410 was enacted in February 2023 by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The bill rolls back requirements that the state verify the ages of workers under 16 and provide them with work certificates permitting them to work. 

For decades, workers under 16 in Arkansas have been required to obtain permits. Advocates of the new legislation claim it eliminates a tedious requirement, streamlines the hiring process, and allows parents – rather than the government – to make decisions about their children.

However, in practice, the new law just makes youth more vulnerable to exploitation because the process that is being taken away was structured to help prevent child labor violations.  

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families stated:

“It was wild to listen to adults argue in favor of eliminating a one-page form that helps the Department of Labor ensure young workers aren’t being exploited.” 

A spokesperson for Sanders called parental permission requirements for children to work an “arbitrary burden”. Removing requirements to provide proof of age or permission to work can, however, easily facilitate the exploitation of migrant youth while giving cover to adults who connect them with illegal employment.

Published: February 2024 


SB 460 passed by a state senate committee in January  2024 allows 16-and 17-year-olds to work on construction projects in residential areas as long as the projects are lower than six feet. 

HB 49 introduced in 2023 by state Rep. Linda Chaney, is moving through the state house legislature committee and intends to allow 16-and 17-year-olds to work up to 40 hours a week even when school is in session. If passed, it would allow employers to schedule 16–17-year-olds to work more than eight hours per day on a school night, more than 6 days in a row whether school is in session or not, and without break.

This bill rolls back longstanding state standards that were adopted over a century ago in response to widespread exploitation of children. The law that is now being repealed barred factories from hiring children under 14, limited work hours for young workers under 16, and prohibited all employers from scheduling minors for nigh shifts.

Since 2015, federal Department of Labor investigators have found 900 employer violations of child labor law in Florida alone. The investigation also found a spike in Florida child labor cases since the pandemic. In one case, a landscaping company illegally employed a 13-year-old to operate a forklift and work more hours than allowed by the law. In another case from 2022, a 15-year-old suffered severe head and spinal injuries while illegally employed by a roofing contractor.

Published: February 2024 


HB 1062 “Work exceptions for minors”: This bill allows ‘exempted’ minors aged at least 14 years to work on farms during school hours, and creates an easy route to exemption.

HB 1093 “Employment of minors”: This bill eliminates all hours restrictions for minors aged 16-17. 

The status of these bills are in progress.

Published: February 2024 


SF 167 was introduced by State Sen. Jason Schultz in 2023 with the aims of lifting restrictions on hazardous work; lowering age for alcohol services; extending work hours; granting employer immunity from civil liability for workplace injuries, illness, death.  

Defending the bill, Governor Kim Reynolds stated:

“With this legislation Iowa joins 20 other states in providing tailored, common sense labor provisions that allow young adults to develop their skills in the workforce.”

While the bill progressed through the state legislature, opponents argued that it could not only endanger the safety of children but would also target teens from lower-income and minority backgrounds. 

Iowa’s proposed bill has generated national headlines for being particularly extreme. It would allow children to work in slaughterhouses, meatpacking or rendering plants; mining; operating power-driven metal forming, punching or shearing machines; operating band or circular saws, guillotine shears or paper balers; or being involved in roofing operations or demolition work, as well as allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work in freezers and meat coolers.

The bill also seeks to create special permits that would allow 14-year-olds to drive themselves up to 50 miles to and from work between 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m, and devoid businesses of any civil liability if the minor is injured traveling to or from work.

Other deeply disturbing proposals in the bill include removing rules that bar parents from making false statements (such as misreporting a child’s age) in order to procure employment that violates child labor law; eliminating the labor commissioner’s authority to require work permits for children in some occupations; granting new discretion for the state to waive, reduce, or delay civil penalties if an employer violates child labor laws; and providing employer immunity from legal claims arising from the injury, illness, or death of a child while at work.

Published: February 2024 


SB 128 “Youth employment programs”: this bill establishes work programs for 12-13 year-old children in the non-profit sector. This could set a precedent that enables other sectors to engage 12-13 year olds.

HB 255 “Employment of minors”: this bill prevents the State Labor Department from setting any laws stronger than federal standards, which Kentucky – and almost every other state – is currently free to do.

The status of the two bills are in progress.

Published: February 2024 


HB 5696 and HB 5726 introduced in 2022: Bills lowers age to work at liquor stores.  

HB 4232 enacted 2022: Bill lowers age to serve alcohol.  

HB 4932 introduced 2023: Legislation would toughen punishments for violations of the state’s child labor laws. The bills were introduced in August and taken up by committee in October, but their progress stopped before the end of the 2023 legislative session. The legislation would increase the possible monetary punishment for a first offense 10-fold, from a $500 to a $5,000 fine, plus the possibility of a misdemeanor punishable by a one-year prison sentence. A second offense would carry a $25,000 fine — up from $5,000 — and a felony charge. Further offenses could be punishable by a 5-year felony sentence and a $50,000 fine. The proposal would also increase the penalty for employers of children who die or are seriously injured at work. A first offense would be up to a five-year felony, a second offense up to 10 years. Any subsequent violations would carry a potential 20-year sentence. The measures would also prohibit retaliation and provide a pathway for seeking punitive damages in court.  

Published: February 2024 


SF 375 introduced 2023: lifts restrictions on hazardous work.

SF1102 introduced 2023: A bill for an act relating to employment; extending the amount of hours per day a minor under the age of 16 is allowed to work.

Published: February 2024 


SB 175 introduced 2023: eliminates work certificate requirement for 16-17-year-olds.

Published: February 2024 


LB 15 introduced 2023: lowers minimum wage for youth.  

Lawmakers have introduced a bill to pay two groups of young workers below the state’s current minimum wage.  

In 2022, Nebraska voters approved a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2026, starting with an increase from $9 to $10.50 in January 2023. In direct opposition to this change, the bill proposes that 14- to 17-year-olds be paid only $9, with a gradual increase to $10 by 2026.

The bill also proposes paying “training wages” to 18- and 19-year-olds of $9.25 an hour, increasing to $10 by 2026 and then remaining at 75% of the minimum wage thereafter. In defense of his proposal to pay young workers a subminimum wage, State Senator Tom Briese stated that “we shouldn’t be making it harder for employers to hire young folks.”  

Published: February 2024 

New Hampshire

SB 345 enacted 2022: lowers alcohol serving age, extends work hours.  

The New Hampshire law lowered the age for minors to bus tables where alcohol is served from 15 to 14, increased the number of hours per week 16- and 17-year-olds can work, and repealed a provision that limited the number of night shifts these teens can work per week. 

Published: February 2024  

New Jersey

A4222 enacted 2022: This bill expands the working hours for minors.  

The bill expanded summer working hours for minors between 16 and 18 years of age to up to 50 hours per week for the summer of 2021. 

The bill expands working hours for minors who are 14 years of age and 15 years of age to mirror federal laws for working minors. 

The bill removes authority from school districts to issue working papers for minors and establishes a centralized database within the Department of Labor and Workforce Development for minors and employers to register with in order for minors to work.  

The registration is a one-time registration for minors and will be effective until the minor is no longer a minor.  

The bill removes parental consent for a minor to work but requires the department to provide parents with an opt-out for extended summer working hours for the minor.  

The bill increases the amount of time a minor may work before a break is required from five hours to six hours. 

Published: February 2024 

New Mexico

HB 225: Lowers the minimum age for serving alcohol from 19 to 18.

One type of protection—minimum ages to serve alcohol in bars and restaurants—has been eroded in seven states since 2021. While lowering the age to serve alcohol may sound benign, it is not. It puts young people at risk of sexual harassment, underage drinking, and other harms.

The restaurant industry is already plagued by labor violations. In fact, it is the industry with the highest incidence of child labor law violations. Laws that lower the alcohol service age will subject more young people, at younger ages, to potentially dangerous working conditions at low wages—all in service of employers’ pursuit of cheap labor.

Published: April 2024

North Carolina

HB 661: Lowers the minimum age beer and wine wholesalers from 21 to 18; lowers the age for employment at a business with on-premises sale or consumption of alcohol beverages from age 16 to 15.

One type of protection—minimum ages to serve alcohol in bars and restaurants—has been eroded in seven states since 2021. While lowering the age to serve alcohol may sound benign, it is not. It puts young people at risk of sexual harassment, underage drinking, and other harms.

The restaurant industry is already plagued by labor violations. In fact, it is the industry with the highest incidence of child labor law violations. Laws that lower the alcohol service age will subject more young people, at younger ages, to potentially dangerous working conditions at low wages—all in service of employers’ pursuit of cheap labor.

Published: April 2024


SB 30 enacted 2022: extends work hours 

The bill increases the number of hours teens can work during the summer months to 40 a week for 14- and 15-year-olds and 50 (more than full time) for 16- and 17-year-olds.

The bill increases the number of hours minors can work before a break from five to six.  

Published: February 2024 

West Virginia

HB 5159 passed in house 2024: eliminates work permits for minors 14 and 15-years old.

The legislation would eliminate youth work permits. These documents currently require several layers of approval from an employer, a parent or guardian, the youth’s school, and county school officials.

On the floor, some lawmakers argued that even with a parent’s permission, the bill removed helpful protections, saying that schools should also have a say in student employment to ensure that minors are not exploited. Others argued that the bill was the wrong approach to addressing the state’s ongoing labor force shortage.

the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy tweeted shortly after the House approved the legislation:

“This bill won’t increase safe youth work, but it will cause more school dropouts & unsafe work conditions. Human trafficking advocates raised alarms about a similar bill in Arkansas making it more difficult to investigate potential child labor violations.”

Published: February 2024


SB 436/AB 442: this bill removes the work permit system for 14-15 year-olds, and all of the protections of the system. 

In Wisconsin, the state legislature has passed the following bill, and it is now with Governor Evers, who can choose to veto the bill to prevent it being enacted.

Published: February 2024