With tourism season swiftly approaching, local businesses are searching for summer employees.
Oftentimes, businesses look to the area's youth to join the workforce and with these hirings, knowledge on youth labor standards is essential.
According to Jim Chilino, director of the Labor Standards Bureau within the Department of Workforce Development (DWD), Wisconsin does not traditionally have a high volume of youth labor standards violations.
"I don't think there are many employers out there who are intentionally violating the laws," Chilino said. "I think what happens is they just miss something. Often, they didn't have work permits for some minors and they've gotten them since we opened the investigation and they now understand what the restrictions are."
The DWD monitors and investigates complaints regarding labor violations, which commonly includes youth under the age of 16 working beyond their restricted hours.
Restrictions are based on whether the youth is in school and whether school is in session. The industry of the job is also an important factor.
"Wisconsin law requires most minors to obtain a work permit before they go to work," Chilino said. "The amount of work they can do is based on age and hazard usually. If they're 16 and 17, we don't restrict their hours, other than requiring if they have to be in school, they can't work."
Both the federal and state government have a list of employment opportunities deemed as hazardous and a minor's ability to work in such industries are often banned or restricted.
According to DWD law 270.12, "the employment of minors in the following occupations or places of employment shall be deemed to be dangerous or prejudicial to the life, health, safety or welfare of the minor and other employees or frequenters."
The list includes working at adult bookstores, ski hills, mines or sawmills and prohibits minors from working with bakery machinery, excavation operations, explosives, liquor or conducting or assisting in the operation of a for-profit bingo game.
Some exceptions are available for apprenticeships, student learner situations and individuals who have graduated from high school, however several of the industries remain off limits until the age of 18.
Agriculture has its own set of rules, which according to Chilino is very "hands off."
"That's one major exception in the law," Chilino said. "A work permit is not required in agricultural work, so that's one area where they're given a little bit of a path. There's some occupations they can't do but we don't see a lot of complaints about agriculture."
Because Wisconsin has a high tourism rate, the DWD receives more complaints in this industry but the department doesn't feel it is a major issue.
"In Wisconsin, we have a very strong tourism industry so that's where the kids are working," Chilino said. "But I would says it isn't a real problem in Wisconsin at all."
When a complaint is received, the DWD will research the issue which can include on-sight interviews or reviewing documents. If an employer refuses to comply with an investigation, prosecution through the state Department of Justice may be recommended.
"For hours violations, the penalty is very strict," Chilino said. "If they work hours that are either too late, too early or they work too many hours in a day, the employer has to pay a penalty wage to the minor. And that penalty wage is double their regular rate. So if a minor is working for $10 an hour, they'll get another $20 an hour for each hour that's worked in violation."
The DWD offers a variety of tools online to assist employers in learning more about youth labor standards. A detailed printable document titled "Guide to Wisconsin's Child Labor Laws" can be found at www.dwd.wisconsin.gov/er.
Employers can also call the Madison office at 608-266-6860. Staff are available to answer general questions between 7:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Complaints can be submitted to the DWD through the website at www.dwd.wisconsin.gov/er.
Jessica Leighty may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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