If your pizzeria employs anyone under the age of 18, become aware of your responsibilities under federal and state labor and employment laws that protect minor employees. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has made child labor regulations a top priority, aggressively investigating and seeking penalties for violations involving minors working too many hours, starting work too early, working too late, or performing hazardous work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has also increased its scrutiny on employers employing minors. For example, the EEOC is currently
engaged in an initiative to educate teens about workplace harassment, discrimination, retaliation and how to file a claim if a teen believes he or she has been victimized. As part of this initiative, the EEOC is also aggressively prosecuting harassment claims filed by teens. Given the stance of these agencies on child labor issues, it’s important that employers become aware of federal and state laws applicable to minor employees. Some of the laws that pizzeria employers should be aware of:

How Old Should Minors Be to Work in a Pizzeria?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets wages, hours worked and safety requirements for minors. The rules vary depending upon the age of the minor and the particular job involved. However, as a general rule, the FLSA sets 14 years old as the minimum age for employment, subject to limits on the number of hours worked by minors.

Are There Any Job Restrictions for Minors Working in a Pizzeria?

The FLSA generally prohibits the employment of a minor in work that is declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. For purposes of pizzerias, one of the “hazardous” occupations that has been identified by the Secretary of Labor is any occupation involving the operation of powerdriven bakery machines. However, this restriction does not apply to portable countertop mixers. Therefore, minors are prohibited from operating, setting up, repairing or cleaning a dough mixer, dough break, cake cutting band saw, and other similar machines. However, in 1990, DOL took the position that operation of a pizza dough roller by 16- or 17-year-olds would not violate the law, as long as the machine met several safety requirements. The same age group is also permitted to operate, clean, repair, and otherwise work with and around a dough roller that meets the safety requirements.

What Hours Can Minors Work?

Under federal law, minors between the ages of 14 and 15 must:
•     Work outside school hours.
•     Must not work more than 40 hours in the employer’s workweek when school is not in session, or 18 hours in the employer’s workweek when school is in session.
•     Must not work more than 8 hours in any day when school is not in session, or 3 hours in any day when school is in session, including Fridays.
•     Must work only between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. in any day, but can work between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. during the summer (June 1 to Labor Day). Note that state laws may place different restrictions on the hours of work for minors between the age of 14 and 15. Therefore, state laws should also be consulted to ensure full compliance. 

Similarly, there are no limits on the hours of work and scheduling of minors between the ages of 16 and 17 years under federal law, but there are likely to be state law restrictions. Therefore, state laws should also be considered for minors between the ages of 16 and 17 years.

What if the Employer Is the Parent or Guardian of the Minor?

The FLSA does not apply, or its application is limited, if the minor employee is under the age of 16 and is employed by a parent or a custodian in an occupation that does not involve manufacturing or mining, or an occupation found to be hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. Therefore, although the hours of work discussed may not apply to minor employees who are the children or custodian of an employer, the restrictions for work on certain bakery machines still apply.


What Are Appropriate Dress Code and Grooming Standards for Minors?

Employers have the option of regulating workplace grooming and appearance. The key is to carefully draft and consistently enforce a reasonable dress code. A dress and appearance policy based on business needs that is applied uniformly will generally not run afoul of employees’ seemingly expanding civil rights. Any appearance policy should be based on justifiable business reasons that do not have a disproportionate effect on particular segments of the workforce, particularly those in a protected category. As with all employment policies, you must ensure that such policies are applied consistently and fairly without regard to an applicant’s or employee’s race, sex, national origin, religion, color, disability, age, or any other protected status. 

It’s important to note that when faced with grooming- and dress-based cases, courts and arbitrators will balance an employee’s desire for self-expression with an employer’s right to enforce a reasonable dress code necessary to protect the company’s image. While caution should be heeded, in most cases the employer’s reasonable dress code will prevail. Case in point: In an arbitration decided several years ago, a woman of Mayan descent was required to cover up a nose ring she wore to work in her position as a hospital receptionist. The employee viewed the nose ring as part of her Mayan cultural heritage, whereas the hospital viewed it as a violation of its dress guidelines prohibiting extremes in jewelry. The arbitrator agreed with the employer. He viewed the employer’s requirement that the nose ring be covered as reasonable because as a receptionist the employee was the first person to make an impression upon hospital visitors. The case highlights that courts and arbitrators continue to support an employer’s right to enforce a reasonable dress code as long as it is does not encroach upon a protected activity and can be tied to reasonable business needs.

What Are the Penalties for Violating Child Labor Laws?

Employers who employ minors should take care to be in compliance with state and federal labor laws. If employers do not do so, they risk facing civil penalties, including $11,000 for each employee who was the subject of a violation, or $50,000 with regard to each violation that causes the death or serious injury of any employee under the age of 18, which may be doubled when the violation is a repeat or willful violation. Employers who fail to pay statutory minimum or overtime rates may also be sued by aggrieved employees in state or federal court. 

Federal and state child labor laws are complex. The above summaries are merely examples of child labor laws that you should be familiar with. However, states can—and oftentimes do—have more restrictive requirements relating to child labor. Therefore, to keep minor employees safe and a company in full compliance with relevant state and federal laws, employers must be familiar with these laws. Employers seeking information can visit the DOL website (dol.gov or youthrules.dol.gov/index.htm) or state agency sites such as California’s Department of Industrial Relations website (www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/dlse-cl.htm), or contact an employment attorney.

Grace Y. Horoupian is a partner in the Irvine office of the employment law firm Fisher & Phillips (laborlawyers.com). Her practice focuses on representing employers in a variety of employment cases in both state and federal courts, as well as before state and federal agencies. Horoupian also provides preventive counseling and presents seminars and workshops on employment issues to executives, supervisors, managers, and human resources
professionals. She can be reached at 949-798-2145 or ghoroupian@laborlawyers.com.