Know the Laws Regarding Minors and ‘Hazardous Duties’ in Internship/Mentorship Programs

Employers often have questions about allowable internship activities. Some of the questions that typically surface include: Are students legally allowed to operate certain machinery? Even if they are, what is my liability for taking on a minor?

While both Indiana and federal laws deem certain duties as hazardous (and thus typically out of the reach of minors), it is often still possible to place minors in roles that expose them to their chosen occupation of interest. In fact, minors determined to be apprentices or student learners are exempt from existing legal barriers and may perform certain hazardous duties.

Student Learner Exemption:
Requirements for hosting a student learner include the following:

  • Enrollment in a course of study and/or training in a cooperative vocational training program in a public school (or in a similar program conducted by a private school).
  • Written agreement between the student, employer, and school coordinator or principal.
  • Work component of the program conducted under the close supervision of an experienced employee.
  • Correlation of safety instructions with the on-the-job training.
  • Schedule of organized and progressive work process to be performed on the job by the student learner

Liability Concerns:
Student learners are no different than any other employee. Employers should call their respective insurance companies with any questions they may have, and individual coverage will vary. Nothing in Indiana law requires a different designation, with respect to liability, for student learners in comparison to regular employees.

More information:
See the Child Labor Checklist  and visit the Indiana Department of Labor page for more information related to federal and state requirements for employing minors, restrictions to work hours, expanded information on what constitutes a “student learner,” and how to obtain work permits. These regulations must still be followed for all employed minors, including student learners.

Union Landscape Continues to Change

More than twice as many union members now work for the U.S. Postal Service than in the domestic auto industry. Given that and other facts of declining union membership, the Heritage Foundation notes that labor laws need to be updated. Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita's efforts are mentioned.

Unions Resist Recognizing Achievement

Such sharp drops in union membership indicate that U.S. labor laws are out of step with the modern economy. Traditional unions no longer appeal to workers the way they did two generations ago. Outdated restrictions in labor laws are now seen as holding back both employers and employees.

For example, union wage rates are legally both minimum and maximum wages: A unionized employer may not pay employees more than the union rate without the union’s permission. While unions happily accept group raises, they often resist individual performance pay. They typically insist that employers base promotions and raises on seniority instead of individual recognition.

In 2011, Giant Eagle gave individual raises to two dozen employees at its Edinboro, Pennsylvania, grocery store. These raises were in addition to the union wages. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23 nonetheless argued that the pay increases violated their collective bargaining agreement. They objected to the fact that some entry-level employees made more than senior union members. The union filed charges. Last November, the Federal District Court for Western Pennsylvania ordered Giant Eagle to rescind the pay increases. Nationwide, union members are less than half as likely to receive performance pay as non-union employees.[8]

This holds back union members. A one-size-fits-all approach was workable when all employees brought essentially the same skills to the bargaining table. But the nature of work is changing. Employers have automated many rote repetitive tasks. At the same time, employers are also flattening the job hierarchy. The line between management and workers is blurring. Employers increasingly expect workers to exercise independent judgment and take initiative on the job. Employers want to reward—and employees want to be rewarded for—individual contributions that no collective contract can reflect.