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Iowa’s revised child labor law violates federal law, DOL says


Photo: rarrarorro/iStockphoto

Washington — Iowa’s revised child labor law doesn’t meet federal requirements, U.S. Department of Labor officials contend.

S.F. 542, in effect since July 1 after being signed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) in May, made changes to permitted work activities for teen workers. One provision allows 16- and 17-year-olds to perform certain hazardous work activities – including work involving heavy manufacturing and demolition – if they’re part of an internship or learning program.

State Sen. Nate Boulton (D-Des Moines) recently asked DOL about the new law. In an Aug. 24 response, DOL Solicitor Seema Nanda and Jessica Looman, principal deputy administrator from the Wage and Hour Division, write that provisions in the law “appear to be inconsistent” with federal child labor laws.

“You explain that Iowa Code 92.8A permits 16- and 17-year-olds to operate power-driven hoisting apparatuses and power-driven bakery machines, to manufacture brick, tile or related products, and to work in wrecking, demolition or ship-breaking operations if they are enrolled in a career-technical education program, work-based learning program, internship, registered apprenticeship program or student learners’ program. 

“However, under federal law, 16- and 17-year-olds cannot work in these hazardous occupations, and there is no exception for 16- and 17-year-olds participating in apprenticeships or student-learner programs meeting the conditions.”

Federal law also requires 16- and 17-year-old student learners or apprentices to be registered with DOL or a state agency. The Iowa law doesn’t include this requirement.

“As explained in our May 10, 2023, letter, the [Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938] establishes federal standards with respect to child labor, and while states can pass more-protective laws, states cannot nullify federal requirements by enacting less-protective standards,” the letter states. 

Nanda and Looman add that Iowa employers covered under the FLSA must follow federal law, and that DOL has “broad authority” to enforce the act’s provisions.

Boulton serves on the Iowa Senate’s Workforce Committee. “To be clear: Federal child labor regulations are there to protect children from dangerous workplaces,” he wrote in a Sept. 4 post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Setting lower state standards isn’t acceptable. We’re not saying teens shouldn’t be able to get work experience, but it must be done the right way with safety as the top priority.”

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