NC work permits may not fully protect minors

Work permits prevent minors from working illegal jobs, but may fail to protect minors from working more hours than they are supposed to, according to a recent study by a Duke researcher.

The study, based on a survey of 844 high school students in North Carolina, found that work permits kept students out of dangerous jobs, but many students reported working more hours than state law allows.

“It’s important to evaluate work permits because the work permits are supposed to protect teens from working illegal hours,” said Janet Dal Santo, a research scientist at the Transdisciplinary Prevention Research Center at Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy. “From that aspect, I thought it was very important to study work permits to see if their permits had any protective effect and try to project these findings to other states.”

North Carolina law prohibits individuals younger than 16 from working later than 7 p.m. on school nights and individuals 16 and 17 years old from working later than 11 p.m. The law also restricts minors to working no more than 18 hours a week when school is in session and 40 hours a week when it is not. Individuals 16 and older can work more hours during school weeks with the permission of their parents and a school official.

The research began in 2005 with Dal Santo and her co-authors, J. Michael Bowling research associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill‘s Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Tom Harris chief of staff and general counsel of the North Carolina Employee Association.

Dal Santo and her team began their research by randomly selecting 16 different high schools throughout North Carolina, located in both urban and rural areas. 844 students from those schools were surveyed about their work hours.

Dal Santo’s report showed that although work permits protect children from illegal jobs, the permits offered little to no protection against working illegal hours.

Harris said the primary purpose of youth employment certificates, as work permits are known in North Carolina, is to keep minors from doing unsafe work, and thus they do not include information about how many hours minors are eligible to work.

“The purpose of the study was to see if the certificate process was doing what it was intended to do,” Harris said. “The study shows, in fact they were effective. But there were still violations found. One of the major areas where the work violations [were found] was in limitation on the hours youth can work. The big reason the certificates didn’t screen those out is they did not ask for that information.”

Because the survey was anonymous, the researchers had to trust that the information gathered from the surveyed students was accurate.

“We had concern because these are reports by students,” Dal Santo said. “There is always the issue of recall. Students may not really remember certain parts. We also felt some students would not want to participate because they would be afraid to lose their jobs.”

Once the data was collected and analyzed, however, Dal Santo and her team found their results to be consistent with findings about employed minors in other states.

The report, now available online, will be published in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health. Dal Santo hopes this will help forward her findings to other states, and raise awareness of child labor violations.

Since having uncovered the data, the team has two suggestions to begin to alleviate the issue: education, and heightened preventive penalties.

“There should be more training, both for those involved in the [permit] process, and to educate the youth and their parents and the employers, so they can be self enforcing,” Harris said.

Harris also said the upper limits of penalties for work violations, which had previously been relatively light, have recently been raised. This summer, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law increasing the penalties for businesses that violate child labor rules.

“Assessing higher penalties for neglecting to obtain [permits] should... prevent students working in illegal situations,” he said.


Share and discuss “NC work permits may not fully protect minors” on social media.