A new study out of North Carolina on the effect of work permits in protecting youth workers found that work permits appear to protect teen employees from performing illegal tasks but not from work hour violations (working late on school nights, or illegal number of daily and weekly hours when school is in session), according to a recent article published by the American Journal of Public Health (www.ajph.org), the monthly journal of the American Public Health Association. The findings have implications for the majority of states that mandate work permits or age certificates, as they are known in some states, and demonstrate the need for stricter enforcement policies and improvements in work permit screening processes.

Researchers gathered data from a school-based survey of working teenagers in 16 randomly selected high schools within North Carolina. The sample included a total of 844 eligible working students. Researchers found that many adolescents younger than 16 years, for whom the majority of federal and state regulations on work hours apply, had work hour violations. Work permits had no protective effect with regard to working late on school nights, nor did they have an impact in terms of violations of daily and weekly work hours when school was in session.

“Work permits have a protective effect with regard to selected illegal hazardous tasks among youth younger than 18,” wrote the authors. However, our findings that type-of-work violations continue to occur in some cases among adolescents with work permits suggest that current screening processes do not adequately determine whether young people are working in legal occupations. Even though some violations may result when employers switch youth from an initial legal job to an illegal one, improved training of permit issuers, employers, and young workers can improve the beneficial effects of work permits. Screening for work hour restrictions in the work permit system is a logical next step for increasing work hour compliance.”

The authors recommend that the North Carolina Department of Labor increase penalties assessed for child labor violations following the recent enactment of a new statute in N.C. on July 27, 2009 increasing the maximum allowable penalty from $250 to $500 for the first violation and to $1,000 for each subsequent violation.

The authors conclude that “Despite limitations, work permits appear to confer benefits as they are negatively associated with several prohibited occupations. By listing restrictions they can help inform youth about labor laws and legal rights.”