United States: Beware Hiring Underage Employees In Dealership Service Stations

Last Updated: May 10 2019
Article by Jaklyn Wrigley

Federal guidelines permit the employment of minors in dealership service departments, but only under certain strict conditions.

It seems that just about every car dealership operates a quick lube nowadays. These stations generate additional revenue and give customers a reason to be loyal for years to come. Of course, the real trick to an attached service station is to consistently provide efficient and excellent service. And to achieve this, you need quality lube technicians.

But, as most dealership service managers can tell you, good lube techs are hard to find — and even harder to keep. So what would you do as a service manager dealing with a staff shortage when you receive an application from "Adam," a 17-year old experienced lube tech? Let's consider a real-life scenario.

Adam Goes to Work and the DOL Visits

At the end of a chaotic week in the service station of a car dealership — made even worse by the abrupt resignation of a lube tech — the service manager, Sam, receives an application from Adam. Sam notices there is no checkmark next to the box that indicates, "I am at least 18 years old." Before Sam can toss the application, he notices that Adam has worked for nearly a year as a lube tech at another local dealership. Being so short-staffed, Sam invites Adam in for a trial run.

The next week, Adam arrives early to complete the necessary new-hire paperwork. During this process, the HR manager makes a copy of Adam's driver's license, which indicates he is only 17 years old. She asks Sam if he knows that Adam is not yet 18, to which Sam replies, "If he can change oil, I don't care if he's in middle school."

Adam's paperwork is processed and he gets right to work. After observing for a week, it is immediately clear that Adam knows what he is doing under the hood, and Sam offers Adam a full-time position. Unfortunately Adam's tenure with the dealership is short-lived when he relocates out-of-state after just a few months. Not long after, the HR manager retires from the dealership.

A year passes and the dealership receives notice of an audit from the U.S. Department of Labor. Peter, the new HR manager, takes the lead on collecting the requested documents and preparing for the onsite visit. When the investigator visits the dealership several days later to review the documents and meet with certain hourly employees, he asks whether the dealership has employed any minors. HR can think of no one and tells Ivan as much.

But, when the investigator interviews another lube tech, he learns about Adam. The investigator determines the "hazardous" environment of a car dealership service station is not suited for a child. He promptly advises HR that employing Adam as a lube tech constituted a child labor violation, which resulted in a fine up to $10,000. HR immediately calls the dealership's attorney.

Hey, DOL — Leave Those Kids Alone!

Before revealing the outcome of the "Adam" scenario, let's talk about child labor. Federal child labor laws were passed to ensure that when young people work, the work they perform is safe and does not threaten their health, wellbeing, or educational opportunities. These laws also define 16 as the minimum age for employment, but the Secretary of Labor established that, when an occupation or workplace is hazardous, the employee must be at least 18.

The Secretary of Labor shares these determinations through Hazardous Occupations Orders. To date, there are 17 HOs that apply to non-agricultural employers on either an industry basis or an occupation basis (regardless of the industry).

For example, HO No. 2 outlines that no one under 17 can drive on public roads as part of their employment, and even then, 17-year-olds must follow several strict rules, such as driving only during daylight hours. There are also additional child labor regulations that provide stricter protections to 14- and 15-year-old minors.

If an HO or a child labor regulation applies, the employer must abide by those restrictions. To do otherwise could result in a sizeable penalty.

As for Adam, the investigator contended his employment constituted a violation because minors "can not work in or around pits, racks or lifting apparatus that service motor vehicles" — all components of the dealership's service center.

Fortunately, the dealership's attorney knew that this limitation only applied to 14- and 15-year-old workers. The attorney also knew that no HO applied to the typical duties of a lube tech. Finally, no state law prohibited a 17-year-old from working in this position in the dealership's state. As a result, the dealership lawfully employed Adam, it was argued. After some figurative arm-twisting, the investigator hesitantly agreed.

The Same Result at Your Dealership

While Adam's matter was eventually resolved in the dealer's favor, things may have been different if the investigator's conclusion had not been challenged. Even so, several lessons can be learned:

  • If you thinking about employing a minor, confirm there are no child labor regulations or HOs that apply to the minor's work duties. For instance, 16-year-olds should never drive cars off the lot.
  • Under no circumstances should a car dealership, even outside the service station, employ a minor under the age of 14. If you're extra cautious, the safest course is to only hire applicants above the age of 18.
  • If a dealership employs anyone under the age of 18, HR must maintain a certificate of age for three years following the minor's leave from the dealership. It must state the minor's name, address, date of birth, place of birth, signature, and gender.

DOL audits often open unexpected cans of worms. So in addition to following the best practices listed above, it may also be wise to preemptively conduct an internal audit of your employment practices before the government ever comes knocking.

Previously published in Auto Dealer Today.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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