- A bill introduced in the Florida legislature would provide exemptions allowing minors as young as 16 to work on roofing jobs, while also revising requirements to expand career fairs to help employers recruit students to the trades.
- Florida State Senate Bill 460, introduced Nov. 14 by State Sen. Corey Simon, a Republican, would allow minors with OSHA 10 certifications to perform commercial and residential roofing work, as long as a worker who is 21 or older with two years of experience and the same certification supervises.
- Additionally, the bill would require annual career fairs at high schools to provide students in 11th and 12th grade with the chance to meet with employers from industries like agriculture, construction and nursing to learn about career and technical education.
Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act — which establishes minimum wage, overtime pay and child labor rules — workers under 16 years old can only perform office or sales work in the construction industry. Those who are 16 and 17 can work on construction sites, but federal law prohibits them from doing tasks deemed too hazardous — such as roofing.
Another bill in the Florida House of Representatives could remove some restrictions on the hours that minors can work, allowing them to work at later times of day.
The fate of these pieces of legislation is murky. Both bills have been sent to committees for review, ahead of any vote from the Republican-dominated state legislature.
Some critics have lambasted Bill 460, saying it’s a stopgap for keeping jobsites staffed in the wake of recent immigration reform. As a result of a law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May, Florida uses the E-Verify system to certify workers’ eligibility to work in the U.S. Since then, undocumented workers have reportedly left jobsites to work elsewhere, exacerbating the need for labor.
Trace Zarr, director of government relations for the Alabama Chapter of Associated General Contractors of America — which represents northwest Florida contractors — said the employer group “supports expanding technical education and apprenticeship programs to allow high school students the opportunity to receive real-world, hands-on experience in the construction field.”
Nonetheless, Zarr said, solutions to curb the ongoing labor crisis must also provide rigorous training and safety to ensure the health of workers of all ages isn’t compromised.
Some Florida policy experts said they feel the bill could put young workers in danger.
“It is commendable that the state is prioritizing increasing skilled trades in the Sunshine State, but it should not come at the expense of children’s health and safety,” wrote Sadaf Knight, CEO of the Florida Policy Institute, in a statement shared with Orlando Weekly. “In an industry like construction where tight deadlines and safety risks abound, Florida must not expose teens to added dangers — especially when there is no guarantee that a supervisor will be able to ensure that child’s well-being when they are up on a ladder or roof on the jobsite.”
Safety and labor needs
Florida isn’t the first state to pursue such legislation, though unlike other efforts, the bill focuses specifically on the trades. In March, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law rolling back child labor protections.
The Youth Hiring Act of 2023 rid the state of the requirement that children below 16 years old need to obtain permission from the Division of Labor to be employed, streamlined the hiring process for those in that age group, and eliminated requirements for obtaining employment certificates and verifying proof of their age.
Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and New Hampshire all introduced legislation or considered bills around the same time as Arkansas that would loosen child labor protections, the New Republic reported.
“The lack of skilled labor is the biggest threat facing the roofing industry. Allowing skilled labor to enter the workforce earlier with proper guidelines can help supplement the workforce,” said Trent Cotney, partner and construction team leader at Tampa, Florida-based law firm Adams and Reese.
When it came to the safety of young workers, Cotney said, “training and safety are paramount, but many older teenagers would benefit from gaining real world skills in advance of graduation from high school.”