Happy 80th Birthday, Child Labor Law!

“If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much.”  ~Marian Wright Edelman, U.S children’s rights advocate


Until the late 1930’s, Tennessee and many other states failed to protect children as young as 5 years old from being forced to work long hours in dangerous and unhealthy conditions.

Photos made and published during 1908-1912 by Lewis W. Hine exposed the nation to the faces of young children in hazardous jobs in mills in Tennessee and other American businesses. After 30 years of effort by reformers, Congress finally took action.


2018 marks the 80-year anniversary of the 1938 signing of the Fair Labor Standards Act by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This landmark law set a minimum wage of 25 cents an hour and banned abusive child labor practices across all 48 states.

Q.        Does Tennessee also have workplace laws protecting children?

Yes. Tennessee’s Child Labor Act strictly outlaws employment of minors in multiple hazardous occupations such as roofing, excavation, mining, and serving intoxicating beverages.

Q.        Does Tennessee law say when minors may work?

Yes. It is generally illegal for children younger than 14 years old to be employed. The law also controls the hours that teenagers may work.

During the school year, from Labor Day to June, the U.S. Department of Labor does not allow a minor under 16 to work:

  • Past 7 p.m. before a school day;
  • Past 9 p.m. on non-school days;
  • More than 3 hours a day or 18 hours a week during school weeks; or
  • More than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week during non-school weeks.


Minors who are 16 and 17 may not work past 10 p.m. before a school day, except with written parental or guardian consent.  Signed consent forms must be kept by employers.


Q.        Are children allowed to work on family farms?

Yes. Children of any age may work on farms owned or operated by their parents. 

Jim Hawkins is a general practice and public interest law attorney based in Gallatin. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice.  All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. Call (165) 452-9200 to suggest topics for future columns. 

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