Child Labor Laws

Child Labor Laws-Employing Students

by Harry Cheff

One might think that hiring is a simple process of advertising, screening, and interviewing, followed by taking a recommendation to the board of trustees.  Though that process seems to be routine to the point of predictable and safe, it can quickly lead to problems if the district views the hiring of students in the same manner as hiring adults.  So, please know that if you are considering hiring students anytime during the school year, you can avoid problems by taking a number of relatively simple, proactive steps, including reading or reviewing the child labor laws, evaluating the kinds of work associated with jobs in questions, and, most obviously, determining the age of the applicants in your applicant pool. By taking these kinds of basic steps associated with HR due diligence, you can help the district ensure the safety and wellbeing of all parties involved, including, most importantly, the students.

The following document serves as a starting point for those schools entering into an employee/employer relationship with students in their district.

Relevant laws

Two sets of Child Labor Laws apply to children in Montana. The first is the Montana Child Labor Standards Act of 1993 at Title 41, Chapter 2, Montana Code Annotated. This act protects young workers from the type of employment that might interfere with their educational opportunities or that could be detrimental to their health and well-being. The second is the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which – in addition to addressing minimum wage, overtime pay, equal pay, whistleblower/non-retaliation protection, and record-keeping standards – establishes child labor standards.

Similar to Montana’s standard, the FLSA sets minimum ages for jobs that can be particularly hazardous; it likewise sets minimum ages for all other jobs, including those not considered hazardous; and, finally, it limits the hours that children are permitted to work. As in all standards wherein a state and a federal mandate apply, the more stringent of the two standards takes precedent.

Assessing the student’s age and job duties

Strictly speaking, children 13 and under are not to hold any job. Students 14-15 years old may work limited hours during the school year. However, they are restricted to office and clerical-type work and to certain types of grounds/maintenance work, as long it does not involve using or operating power equipment, including mowers and trimmers. Students 16-17 years old, on the other hand, do not have the same hour limitations and can generally perform a wider range of jobs, though they are still subject to restrictions in terms of operating motor vehicles and specific types of power equipment.  The graphic below indicates the age at which a student can operate certain types of lawn care equipment.

There is also a time limitation specific to the hours of the day that students may work. These standards may also apply to school-to-work programs and to other work-based learning experiences. As you can see, this HR topic gets very complicated very quickly.

Whenever a school district hires a student to serve as a district employee, the district must follow standard hiring procedures.  For starters, students should complete an application and criminal background check and be approved by the board of trustees.  Further, their personnel file should be kept separate from the student file so that any work-related discipline imposed on the employee will not affect the student’s enrollment or educational status.

While we do encourage you to call or email us with any questions you might have on this topic, we also encourage you to contact the MTSBA legal staff as well. They are highly versed in these issues and will gladly walk you through these processes. They may be reached at 406-442-2180. Return to newsletter