Protecting Minors from Exploitation at Summer Jobs

Biracial teenage boy, smiling in a grocery store uniform. Text says, "Protecting Minors from Exploitation at Summer Jobs"

As the school year come to an end, teens across the country are either entering the workforce for the first time or increasing hours from positions they held during the school year. For May, June, and July 2024, it’s been forecasted that teens would gain 1.3 million jobs. Many adults, parents and non-parents alike, favor teens seeking employment. A first job can be foundational in teaching young people important skills like time management, teamwork, responsibility, leadership, and saving money. However, as important as those skills are, it is just as important to understand the potential dangers of working in places that don’t value young people or their labor.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably left its mark on both the job market and employers everywhere. Supply shortages and The Great Resignation left many employers scrambling to make up for their deficits. They increasingly relied on teens to make up their losses, lowering job history and age requirements while raising Gen Z wages faster than other age groups. Now, the number of teens working or looking for a job exceeds pre-pandemic levels, reaching a percentage the United States hasn’t seen since 2009.

Some teens have had to seek out these positions to accommodate for inflationary pressures on their households, or for job insecurity their guardians may still be dealing with as a result of the pandemic. Others may want them for resume-building purposes or to save up money for recreational purposes. Regardless of the reason behind their job search, we have seen a rising trend of taking advantage of teens’ increased desire to work. “Since 2021, 28 states have introduced bills to weaken child labor laws, and 12 states have enacted them,” per the Economic Policy Institute. Such bills include allowing schools and guardians to waive state hourly limits on the teen work week, eliminating work permits for minors under 16-years-old, and allowing teens to serve alcohol.  

Employers have abused the relaxing of these regulations across the country by taking advantage of the teens working in their organizations. The Biden Administration’s Department of Labor has seen an increase in federal child labor law violations, and is currently seeking additional funding to support 50 full-time investigators for such violations. Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su said the following:

“We are seeing unconscionable cases of child labor. We are seeing 13-year-olds working the night shift on the kill floor of meatpacking plants, working with toxic chemicals, doing cleaning. We see young people working as sawmill operators, doing roofing and doing work that is understandably illegal for children. We’re not talking about a child who is working at the corner store – learning how to show up on time and provide good customer service and the importance of responsibility and a paycheck. We’re really seeing terrible cases where children are being put in harm’s way.”

At RALIANCE, we strongly believe that employers can be part of the solution in protecting teens at work. Below are some of our recommendations to prevent employees who are minors from experiencing exploitation at the workplace.

Educate About Hazardous Materials/Dangerous Equipment

Lately, we’ve seen companies guilty of allowing young people to work with dangerous equipment and hazardous materials. This can be avoided if minors are empowered with the knowledge of what duties they are legally prohibited from doing. Clear signage should indicate to all workers the danger associated with a material or piece of equipment, and everyone on staff from entry-level employees to management should know who is permitted to use them. Safety measures for minors should also be conveyed through employee training, and that training should be made available in the employees’ native language.

Prohibit Teens from Working School Hours

All employers should know that education should be a minor’s top priority, so make it a company stance to not have any employee pressured to work during school hours. Additionally, some teens may be homeschooled, so investigate `state and federal child labor requirements to ensure that even students with a non-traditional school environment never work during their allocated school times.

Ensure Management is Trained on Child Labor Requirements

None of these violations would be possible if management weren’t making decisions that harmed minors. Have open discussions with management, inside and outside of their training, to convey that abiding by child labor requirements is a non-negotiable to being a part of your company.

Provide Teens with Relevant State/Federal Contacts for Potential Complaints

Just as important as sending your zero-tolerance message to your management team is empowering your teen employees with the knowledge that they have rights and a say in their working conditions. Ensure that all minors under your employ have relevant state and federal contacts to send any complaints of mistreatment or harm they experience at the workplace.

Verify Ages of Employees Who Are Minors

Employers are legally obligated to keep a record of the age of their employees for the protection of the employee and the employer. All labor in your company is shaped around what is permitted for each age group working there. Make sure that your candidates have adequate background checks so that they can perform job duties fitting their age.

Collaborate with RALIANCE for a Policy Review

Consider reevaluating your policies and procedures to uncover how your organization currently handles minors who work there. RALIANCE would be proud to work with you to find ways to modify your policies and procedures to make them more equitable to all your colleagues.

Regardless of what laws your state may or may not pass, employers across the nation can be true leaders to the next generation. They can set an example for how to treat employees of all ages and backgrounds. This year, we look forward to seeing the steps employers take to make the teen working experience a good one.

RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit


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