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Why Minors are Different: Florida Labor Laws for Meals and Break Times

Child labor was an essential part of the American workforce at the onset and development of the Industrial Revolution. In the days before mandatory public education, working full-time was deemed the proper moral alternative for children who might otherwise get into trouble on the streets.

Child labor continued to be common practice, despite a growing reform movement, well into the twentieth century. In fact, children as young as eight worked long hours in the mining and textile industries, where they were exposed to dangerous conditions and routinely suffered on-the-job injuries. Rather than having something meaningful to do in the absence of school, these children were being deprived of the ability to receive public education instead.

In 1938, with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal government finally adopted full-scale regulation of child labor in this country. The FLSA makes clear that a minor's primary responsibility is receiving an education, limiting the hours a child under 16 can work. It also seeks to protect children from some occupations, deeming them too hazardous for youth workers to be exposed to.

Today, most states continue to regulate child labor under federal guidelines, treating it differently from adult labor and seeking to protect youths from overwork and lack of sleep. The state of Florida is no different. If you believe your child's employer does not adhere to Florida or FLSA rules, you may want to seek guidance from a Tampa employment attorney.

Child Labor Laws in the State of Florida

In Florida, child labor laws generally follow FLSA guidelines, though there are some exceptions. For instance, the FLSA places no limitations on the number of hours a youth of 16 or 17 can work outside school hours each week.

  • Under the Age of 14

No children may work, except for in non-hazardous occupations for a family business, as newspaper deliverers, as pages in the Florida State Legislature, and in the entertainment industry.

  • Ages 14 and 15

Youths may work a restricted number of hours while school is in session. They can work no more than three hours a day on school days, when school is in session the following day, and they cannot work before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. When school is not in session, they can work up to eight hours a day but not after 9:00 p.m. In total, teenagers younger than 16 cannot work more than 15 hours per week.

When school is out, they may work up to 40 hours a week and no more than eight hours a day between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.

  • Ages 16 and 17

While school is in session, students are limited to 30 hours a week. They cannot work before 6:30 a.m. or later than 11:00 p.m., nor can they exceed eight hour days when school is scheduled the next day.

When school is not in session, there are no restrictions.

Scheduled Breaks Are Not Mandated by the Fair Labor Standards Act

An important departure from the FLSA is break time for youth workers. Federal regulations do not mandate breaks for employees under the age of 18. In the state of Florida, however, minors may not work more than four consecutive hours without taking a 30-minute uninterrupted break. Adding to the confusion, adult workers in the state of Florida are not entitled to scheduled breaks for meals.

While the regulation may seem inconsistent, Florida's law is consistent with the FLSA's original intent, which was to create a work environment that enabled youths to prioritize their education. Being able to take a break allows teenagers to rest and nourish themselves so that they are alert enough to perform well in school the following day. 

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