Child Labor Laws Strengthened in Colorado as Violations Rise Across the Country

Laws around child labor recently got an update and more teeth in Colorado. House Bill 24-1095, titled Increasing Protection for Migrant Workers, increases penalties for violations of the 1971 Colorado Youth Employment Opportunity Act, requires those penalties to be deposited into the wage theft enforcement fund and eliminates the provision in law that penalizes a person with legal responsibility for a minor who permits them to be employed in violation of the act. 

The new law comes at a time when child labor violations are on the rise, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor. The DOL saw an increase of 88% of children employed illegally from fiscal years 2018 to 2023 and assessed 83% in penalties from fiscal 2022 to 2023. 

“What we realized is we were also hearing about violations in the community, but there was not a lot of enforcement happening in Colorado,” said Nina DiSalvo, policy director at Towards Justice. “And we wanted to change that.” 

DiSalvo told Law Week that the updates were important, as enforcing the state child labor law needed people to come forward and report violations. She said provisions in the law before this bill was passed actively discouraged kids from coming forward. 

“I think under the law, as it was previously, if I were to imagine myself as a young person who was a victim of a child labor violation, I would think ‘what could happen if I were to raise a complaint?’” said DiSalvo. “One, I could lose my job. Two, my mom could be found guilty of some sort of criminal act. Three, that’s it.” 

She noted that the criminal liability for parents was a big deterrent, but there were two other provisions in the new bill that she hopes will encourage more young people to report violations. The second change was adding anti-retaliation provisions to the law, and the third was putting in statutory damages sufficient to compensate a minor worker for the suffering they experienced as a victim of a child labor violation. 

“I think anti-retaliation provisions are incredibly important to protecting both kids and their families if they report violations of child labor law,” said DiSalvo. 

The anti-retaliation provision in the bill creates a rebuttable presumption of retaliation if an adverse or disciplinary action is taken against an individual who exercises a protected right under the law. A separate provision prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against any employee who filed a complaint, instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding related to wages, hours or employment of minors. 

DiSalvo noted that anti-retaliation provisions don’t prevent retaliation every single time, but they do create a remedy if it does occur. 

“I think there’s always going to be some level of concern in the community about reporting, but I think the provisions in this law should reduce those concerns,” said DiSalvo. 

The fines outlined in the bill range in severity and are dependent on the violation. The lowest fines start in the hundreds of dollars, but for more significant violations the fines rise into the tens of thousands. Those fines could also grow, as each day the violation continues after the issuance of a final order constitutes a separate offense under the law. 

Those fines will then be earmarked to go specifically to the wage theft enforcement fund, and the bill outlines that workers covered by this legislation will be entitled to receive those funds if an employer fails to pay an employee an amount of wages, compensation or other monetary relief owed to them. 

DiSalvo said it made a lot of sense for a few reasons that the fines and penalties associated with child labor violations go to the wage theft enforcement fund. 

“So often we see minor workers suffering a variety of labor and employment law violations simultaneously, and very often wage theft and violations of child labor laws can be observed as violations against the same worker,” said DiSalvo. 

She also noted the 2023 bill, Senate Bill 23-231, which allowed the wage theft enforcement fund to pay unpaid wages to employees, could tie in and potentially extend the benefits of this bill beyond the enforcement of child labor laws. 

Previous articleCourt Opinions: US Supreme Court Holds Citizens Don’t Have Liberty Interest in Noncitizen Spouses Living in the US
Next articleTyson & Mendes Name Ashley Paige Fetyko Head of Communications


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here