California will teach teens about workers’ rights because employers keep violating them

California moves to teach students about labor laws as child labor violations increase nationwide.

Remember that job that said you were an independent contractor and didn’t get benefits even though it kept you on a 40 hour/week schedule? Or, wait, was that just me?

Five teens sit at their classroom desks working on homework while a teacher helps one of them. The scene is on a colorful newsprint background.

Anyhow, California has a new law that requires public high schools, including charter schools, to teach students about their rights as employees.

“Workplace Readiness Week” will take place every April, educating students in grades 11 and 12 on labor law topics like:

  • The difference between employees and independent contractors
  • Wage and hour protections
  • Worker safety
  • How workers’ comp, unemployment insurance, sick leave, disability insurance, and other programs work
  • Unionization

Why it matters

Fifty-five percent of young people (ages 16 to 24) are employed, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They’re more likely to take lower-wage jobs, where wage theft is more prevalent, or to suffer on-the-job injuries.

And while California is expanding protections, some state lawmakers are proposing looser laws — allowing students to work on school nights or for 14-year-olds to serve alcohol — amid the labor shortage.

The number of children involved in labor violations…

… jumped 283% from 1k+ in 2015 to 3.8k+ in 2022, per USAFacts, including ~700 children who worked illegally in hazardous environments.

And several US companies have recently been fined:

  • A Minnesota food manufacturer paid a $30.2k+ fine for having two teens, ages 16 and 17, operate meat-processing equipment.
  • Packers Sanitation Services was fined $1.5m for employing 102+ children on overnight shifts at meatpacking plants, where children as young as 13 were using hazardous chemicals to clean dangerous equipment.
  • Last month, two Utah Chick-fil-As were fined $187.4k+ for unpaid overtime and allowing 14- and 15-year-old employees to work too many hours and past permitted times.

California’s new law may empower a new generation of workers, but there is a caveat.

Over 300k children have come to the US alone since 2021, some undocumented. The New York Times examined the difficulties they’ve faced working long hours in sometimes perilous conditions. Some tried to attend school, but others couldn’t — meaning such lessons won’t reach them.

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Topics: Labor

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