Bill to extend working hours for Ohio teens reintroduced by lawmakers

Employment - now hiring
Posted at 6:20 PM, Feb 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-06 18:50:05-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A bill introduced to the Ohio Senate would extend the hours teenagers can work, as long as their parent gives permission.

Ohio law allows teens younger than 16 to have surgery, emancipate themselves and become parents — but they wouldn't be able to spend two more hours scooping ice cream at their part-time job, even with parental permission.

Ohio Restaurant Association’s John Barker explains that teenagers joining the workforce helped the economy through the pandemic closures, but the state is still struggling with staffing shortages that led to diminished hours for many businesses.

"Most of our operators are still short between ten and 20% of the staff," Barker said.

Teens could help fill that gap, he added. That reasoning is why state Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) introduced Senate Bill 30.

Read the full text of the bill here

Senate Bill 30 would allow 14 and 15-year-olds to work until 9 p.m. year-round with permission from a parent or legal guardian. Currently, these teens can only work until 7 p.m. during the school year and 9 p.m. during the summer months or on any school holiday of five days or more.

This is not the first time the bill has been heard. It was introduced as a bipartisan bill last General Assembly, making its way through the Senate unanimously, but made it into the House on the last day of the session. Schaffer did not respond to comment Monday, but he explained his reasoning during sponsor testimony for the bill in 2021.

"Doing so will help our local employers with staffing problems, and, to keep their doors open," the lawmaker testified.

Employment law expert and professor at Case Western Reserve University Sharona Hoffman says just because a parent consents, doesn’t mean it's a good idea — like how Ohio allowed for child marriages with parental and judicial consent up until 2019.

"We don't need to give parents choices in some areas if we are able to determine that that choice is a really bad choice," Hoffman said.

The lawyer added that these teens have enough on their plates with homework and school activities, plus they aren’t able to drive, so safety concerns would also play into the bill.

"How do they get home safely? Do they have to walk? Do they have to take the bus in areas that may be unsafe or people who may not have their best interest in mind driving them around?" she asked.

Lawmakers should be weighing the benefits and detriments, she added.

"They bring in a few extra bucks so that they have money to go out and buy their video games or... to go out, have fun or go shopping or whatever they want to do, which is also good for the economy," Barker said.

Is the economy worth the safety of children? Hoffman doesn't think so.

"We need to think very, very carefully about the downsides and the overall welfare of people who are really, really young," she said.

The legislation reinforces the guardrails protecting the teens that are already in code, Schaffer explained in 2022.

“Ohio law says 14 and 15-year-olds may not work between 9:00 pm and 7:00 am, and no more than 3 hours a day and 18 hours a week while school is in session," he said. "These guardrails do not change."

Labor safety practices would still be followed, Barker added.

"We're trying to extend that a little bit," Barker said. "Nothing extravagant."

This version of the bill has its first hearing on Wednesday at 11 a.m. in the Workforce and Higher Education committee.

Federal law

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prohibits 14 and 15-year-olds from working past 7 p.m. during the school year.

“It’s often a choice of whether the federal government enforces or doesn’t enforce…particular provisions,” Hoffman explained.

This one may be different since it involves children, and Schaffer is prepared for this.

In the analysis by the Legislative Service Commission, the nonpartisan agency that drafts and researches bills, the team found that "if an employer is subject to both the FLSA and Ohio’s Minor Labor Law as amended by the bill, it appears that the more protective FLSA would prevail."

It is unclear why an employer would not be required to follow FLSA — but the main issue should actually be about enforcement if the state wants to successfully enact this legislation. And good news for Ohio, it seems the feds don't go after these kinds of state decisions.

Ohio would join more than a dozen other states, including Michigan, in extending the hours. States like Kansas, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming allow for teens to work until 10 p.m. before a school day.

Nebraska seemingly goes the furthest, allowing 14 and 15-year-olds to work until 10 p.m. and allows for children under 14 to work until 8 p.m. on a school night.

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