Missouri's labor department found more than 4,000 child-labor violations by employers in the past fiscal year.
The majority of violations of state law involved businesses that allowed children under 16 years of age to work too many hours or too early or too late at night, or without a work certificate, said Tammy Cavender, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
The state collected $27,969 in fines for child-labor law violations in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, she said.
The agency had no immediate information on how many of the violations occurred in Southeast Missouri.
Most businesses cited by the Labor Department didn't intentionally violate the law, Cavender said.
In many cases, she said, employers were unaware of the restrictions.
Federal and Missouri laws prohibit 14- and 15-year-olds from working more than three hours a day on school days. They also can't work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. during the school year.
Students who are 14 or 15 must obtain parental consent and approval from the local school district superintendent before they can work during the school months. Such students must obtain work certificates from their respective school districts.
Under federal law, 14 is the minimum age for most nonfarm work. But children of any age may deliver newspapers, perform in radio, television, movie or theatrical productions, work for parents in their own nonfarm businesses except in manufacturing and other hazardous jobs.
Employers who violate federal law face fines of up to $10,000 for each teenager whose work schedule violated child-labor restrictions, according to the state Labor Department Web site.
Fines for state violations can range from $50 to $1,000 per violation, Cavender said.
Some local fast-food employers say they limit students' work hours when possible during the school week. Employers say they also reach out to parents to make them aware of the job situation.
"We give them a packet of information we want them to take back to their parents," said Shannon Davis, who employs almost 500 people in 11 McDonald's restaurants in Southeast Missouri.
In Kentucky and Arkansas, state laws prohibit 16- and 17-year-olds from working past 11 p.m. during the school week.
Missouri and Illinois don't have such a restriction, says Chuck Bell, director of operations for Drury Restaurants.
Bell says he understands students' desire to work. As a 16-year-old, he worked 40 hours a week at a Burger King.
By 17, he was managing the Burger King on Broadway in Cape Girardeau.
Bell said other students worked at his fast-food restaurants through high school and college. Some of them have become restaurant managers for the company, he said.
Some high school students will work for several months to earn enough money to buy a car stereo. Then they will quit, Bell said.
Drury Restaurants used to hire some 15-year-olds. But Bell said child-labor laws made it too hard to schedule such students.
"We don't hire them anymore," he said.
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