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The Daily Tar Heel

Many N.C. teen workers in violation of state labor laws

Correction (March 31 12:54 a.m.): Due to reporting errors, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Janet Abboud Dal Santo was the co-author of the study. She is the lead author. The story has been changed to reflect the correction.

It also incorrectly states that the conclusion of the study was that almost half of teenaged employees in North Carolina are working illegally. This was a finding of the study, but it was not the final conclusion.

The story also misquotes Dal Santo, who said she hoped the data would be used to educate employers, teens and parents. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the errors.

Almost half of teenaged employees in North Carolina are working illegally.

That is one finding of a study conducted by UNC and Duke University researchers that will be released in April.

Most of those people are in violation of state labor laws because they lack the underage work certificate, said Janet Abboud Dal Santo, a researcher at Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy and lead author of the study.

Employers must obtain a certificate for any of their employees who are younger than 18. They also must adhere to a curfew on the nights before school days.

N.C. Child Labor laws

(Apply to people younger than 18 years old)
-Must obtain an underage work permit
-Cannot work between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. if there is school the next day. Those younger than 16 cannot work past 7 p.m.
-People younger than 14 cannot work in an official capacity in any job outside of agriculture or artistic productions

Visit the department’s Web site at for
more details.


Underage workers who are enrolled in grade 12 or lower cannot work between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m, according to the state’s labor laws. If they are younger than 16, they cannot work later than 7 p.m., said Dolores Quesenberry, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Labor.

Many local employers are unaware that their teenage workers need to be certified and have certain occupational restrictions, she said.

Department of Labor officials are hopeful that a violation fee increase will provide enough incentive for employers to comply with state laws. Last December, the fee for violating underage labor laws doubled to $500 for the first violation and $1,000 for each consecutive violation.

“It gives us more peace, because an employer might make his employee go (to get a certificate),” Quesenberry said.

However, employers are not required to list the hours that their underage employees work, so there is still concern about employers willfully violating the law — even if they make their employees obtain the certificates, she said.

“It’s not all employees. Employers must do their job,” she said.

But many employees might be reluctant to complain if they’re asked to work hours that they are not allowed to work.

“I don’t really agree with the ‘after seven’ law. It restricts freedom a little bit. Sometimes you have to work past seven,” said Niel Andrews, a UNC graduate student who worked while in high school.

Children can learn a lot from working long hours and balancing that with other obligations, some said.

“It made me decide that I didn’t want to be a lifeguard or a landscape technician,” Andrews said.

Increasing the penalties for violations implies that holding a job could be considered a bad thing, said Lydia Lewallen, a junior biology major who worked in a hospital during high school.

“Working hard is something that everyone should do. Making it out to be detrimental paints the wrong picture of what it means to have a job,” she said.

Dal Santo said the goal is to use the data to educate employers, teens and parents about the laws, which she hopes will result in fewer violations.

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