Amend Those Teenage Labor Bills


Zander Gordan


January 11, 2024

Florida HB 49 (2024) should be amended to retain the restrictions on hours of work for 16 and 17 year olds, but clarify and expand the scope for existing exemptions granted by the schools. There should be a simple, objective process by which a high school student on track to graduate (ie 2.0 GPA, passing EOC's, etc.) can get a waiver to work without the hours restrictions, so long as their academic progress continues apace. Furthermore, schools should maintain a registry of students requesting and receiving such waivers, with such registry being shared with the FLDOE and academic partners for research purposes. In this way we can track the outcomes of students working extended hours, and advance the state of knowledge on the effect of teenage labor force participation on long run outcomes.

HB 49 seeks to change some of the labor laws for teenagers, perhaps most notably by lifting restrictions on the hours of work for 16 and 17 year olds, which according to the staff analysis of the bill (p9) includes the following restrictions:

One aspect of these restrictions which I have not seen discussed in the media is the various exemptions to them which already exist under current law. As per the same staff analysis, those exemptions include:

As I see it, these existing exemptions reflect the fact that not all teenagers are the same, and a one-size-fits-all policy that places the same restrictions on the labor supply of all teenagers is not desirable. The first exemption, for students who graduate or get their GED early, seems especially reasonable to me. The second and third exemptions, in which waivers may be granted with the intervention of the superintendent or their designee, are the focus of my post. I have only been able to gather limited information about these waivers, a number of counties have webpages providing details about how these waivers may be obtained, including Escambia, Volusia, Brevard and Alachua.

It seems in these districts there is generally an administrative staff member who is responsible for signing off on these waivers, which require a significant amount of paperwork, and involve a subjective assessment by administrative staff as to whether granting the waiver is in the best interests of the students. Therefore, I can understand the desire, expressed in HB 49, to do away with these restrictions so that this waiver process is no longer needed. However, I think a smarter option is to streamline the process for obtaining a waiver, such that the waiver is granted automatically as long as a student is on track to graduate, meaning they are maintaining a 2.0 GPA, not be excessively tardy or absent, etc. If a students' grades dropped, the waiver would be automatically revoked, The advantages of streamlining the waiver system, as opposed to doing away with the restrictions entirely, are two-fold:

  1. It would ensure that students' education is not hampered by their work schedule. Those opposed to HB 49 imagine students working long hours or overnight shifts, coming in to school tired and not performing well in school, potentially even dropping out. By maintaining a waiver system tied to staying on track to graduate, we could avoid the worst case scenarios that might play out under a full repeal.

  2. It would create a registry of students who are working without the hours restrictions. By sharing this registry with trusted research partners, and keeping track of students working under waivers through graduation and beyond, we could learn more about the effects of teenage labor force participation on these young people's lives.

I view the second point as especially important. The fact is, we know very little about what is the best way for young people to be spending their time during crucial formative years as they transition to adulthood and enter the workforce, particularly given the rapidly changing nature of our economy. Personally, I think extensive participation in the labor force at a young age may be beneficial for some teenagers, especially those who might, for instance, go on to form their own businesses. In the media coverage surrounding HB 49, one 16 year old named Logan Schulenberger is quoted as being in favor of the bill lifting the hours restrictions. Logan apparently works as a martial arts instructor, and so if that is his path then all the better for him to get experience early and advance his career in that field. 

For certain professions such as automotive technician, welder, farmer, etc. the schools operate vocational programs where students can earn school credits taking classes about their profession, and get work experience through an employer affiliated with the school, but these programs are limited in scope and not applicable to many students. While I certainly support expanding vocational education as an alternative to the college preparatory track which I think many agree has become oversaturated, having a waiver system for students to work full time schedules or flexible schedules while in school is another viable option for expanding the range of paths students may take as they transition into the workforce.

Only by keeping track of the students who avail themselves of these waivers, and seeing how things play out for them, can we learn more about what the actual effect of increased high school labor force participation is. HB 49 as written would not provide us with the opportunity to gather this valuable information, and additionally it would not provide any safeguards against extended working hours adversely impacting students' academic outcomes, which is why the bill should be amended before advancing any further in the 2024 session.