Florida’s employment landscape continues to change, with several recently passed and proposed policies having important legal implications for businesses and employees. Two pending measures in Florida deserve special attention for employers and are representative of other current trends at the state and local level.
The first policy, Miami-Dade’s proposed thermal safety ordinance, would affect tens of thousands of jobs and anticipates ordinances that other counties like Broward could soon adopt. Meanwhile, Florida House Bill 49, which would remove restrictions on the employment of 16- and 17-year-olds, could require a significant reassessment by Florida businesses of the risks and benefits of hiring those older teenagers as employees.
The deaths of two South Florida farmworkers from heat-related illnesses amid record temperatures has led many to call for safety measures that increase worker protections. On September 11, the Miami-Dade County Health Committee responded by voting to approve a thermal safety ordinance that could affect approximately 80,000 agricultural and construction workers in the county. The measure is now scheduled to be voted on by the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners at its meeting this Tuesday, November 7.
Broward employers should familiarize themselves with the key elements of this ordinance, as other counties or municipalities may model future ordinances on Miami-Dade’s. Greater attention to thermal safety issues could also lead to the introduction of similar measures at state level.
If Miami-Dade’s ordinance is passed as currently written, most private employers with agricultural or construction workers in the county will be required to develop outdoor heat safety programs. Minimum requirements would include the provision of sufficient and accessible drinking water, a 10-minute break in the shade every two hours on days when the outside temperature equals or exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit, training of supervisors and workers, and distribution of a Employee Rights Notice.
Employers who violate the ordinance could face civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation, per day, and be barred from contracting with Miami-Dade County. The measure also provides a private right of action to employees if they face retaliation for exercising their rights under the ordinance.
It’s also worth noting that at the federal level, OSHA published a proposed rule on workplace heat standards in 2021, and although a final rule has not yet been adopted, OSHA has been researching and enforcing thermal safety issues. More information can be found at: osha.gov/heat.
This year, more than a dozen states introduced laws that reduce or eliminate child labor guidelines. Florida recently did the same with state Rep. Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach, introducing House Bill 49 on Sept. 18, 2023. As of this writing, she is under review in a subcommittee .
If passed, this measure would eliminate Florida’s current restrictions on the hours employers can schedule 16- and 17-year-olds to work, meaning children of those ages would be allowed to work the same hours as adults, even during the school year.
The bill would also prohibit Florida localities from adopting any ordinance regulating “the presence of minors in public places and establishments” that is stricter than the state’s curfew laws (Florida Statute 877.22). This part of the proposed law would prevent, for example, Broward County from indirectly restricting allowable work hours for teenagers by enacting local curfews for minors that are stricter than the state’s curfew provisions.
Whether this bill becomes law or not, employers should remember to consult federal labor laws, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, when it comes to employing anyone under the age of 18. While the Fair Labor Standards Act does not limit the hours of employment for 16- and 17-year-olds, it does restrict their employment in occupations considered hazardous. Those restricted occupations include meat processing, many jobs in the construction industry, operating or even riding forklifts, most forestry jobs, and motorized baking machines. Violations of these restrictions carry penalties of up to $15,138 per minor worker, or up to $68,801 if the minor worker is killed or seriously injured on the job (the latter penalty can be doubled for intentional or repeated violations).
Because of the way federal and state laws on this topic interact, employers must comply with applicable state or stricter federal child labor laws.
Ruth Vafek is an employment lawyer and partner at Berger Singerman. Based in Tallahassee but serving clients throughout South Florida and the state, Vafek frequently advises companies on how the latest Florida labor laws and policies impact them.