Iowa Bill Limits Employer Liability if Teens Hurt on Job

27 Feb, 2023 Liz Carey


Des Moines, IA ( – A new bill under consideration in Iowa would not only allow younger teens to work in dangerous jobs, but exempt businesses from liability if they get hurt. 

The bill, Senate File 167 filed in early February by Sen. Jason Schultz increases the jobs that 14- and 15-year-olds can perform, and allows them to work longer in the evening. The bill also includes a provision that would seemingly strip those same teens of the ability to collect workers’ compensation if they’re hurt in a work-based learning program.  

Section 92.24 of the bill states, “The bill provides that a business that accepts a secondary student in a work-based learning program shall not be subject to civil liability for specified claims relating to the student’s work in the program. This provision shall not be construed to provide immunity for a student or business for civil liability arising from gross negligence or willful misconduct. 

Cedar Rapids labor attorney and former legislator Nate Willems told Iowa Starting Line that the bill undermines existing child labor laws and the workers’ compensation system.  

“The worker’s compensation system … has existed for 100 years as a no-fault system,” Willems said. “In this situation, any injury to the student would be on his or her family and their health insurance.” 

The bill would mean that teens in work-based learning programs would be the only people in the state who could not collect workers’ compensation claims if they are injured on the job, he said.  

Currently, children under the age of 14 can work on their family’s farm or business, or do limited types of work for others. The bill also outlines what kinds of work 14- and 15-year-olds can do – like retail, food service, office and clerical work, modeling and artwork, window trimming, errand and delivery work, cleaning, car washing, and auto repair. 

Children under 18, the current law states, can’t work in slaughterhouses, meatpacking plants, mining; operating power-driven metal former, punching or shearing machines; or operating band saws, among a few other things. 

The proposed legislation change a number of things, the hours a child could work. During the school year, 14- and 15-year-olds would be allowed to work until 9 p.m., instead of 7 p.m. under the proposed legislation. During the summer, the hours would extend to 11 p.m. Additionally, the number of hours worked in a day would extend to six. 

As part of the new bill, 14-year-olds would be permitted to do all the work 15-year-olds can do, as well as working in industrial freezers and meat coolers, load and unload “light” tools from vehicles, unloading light tools from vehicles, working in an industrial laundry, and detailing. The new bill also allows 14- and 15-year-olds to work in freezers and meat coolers.  

Children who are 15-years-old would be able to stock shelves with items weighing up to 30 pounds (up to 50 pounds with a waiver from the Iowa Commissioner of Labor; work as a lifeguard and work on a light assembly line (with a waiver from the commissioner).  

The proposed legislation would also allow the director of Iowa Workforce Development or the Department of Education to “grant an exception from any provision,” including “hazardous work,” if that work is done within a “work-based learning program. Those asking for exceptions will have to demonstrate that the work is “performed under adequate supervision and training;” and that “the training includes adequate safety precautions.” Additionally, the work should not interfere with the health, well-being or education of the child, the legislation proposes.  

Critics argue that the bill is a “complete rewrite of our child labor laws.”  

Charlie Wishman with the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, whose organization opposes the bill said the bill puts children in harms way.  

“Not only is this ripping up at least 100 years of child labor law that this labor movement has worked for, it seriously puts children at risk on job sites without having any form of legal liability protection,” he said. 

Advocates for the bill say it will open up the labor force as Iowa businesses struggle to attract more adults to the workforce.   

As of Feb. 24, the bill was recommended for approval by the Labor subcommittee and waiting further action. 

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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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