During the pandemic, state law governing teen workers saw alterations to help businesses staff-up during the summer months. “We raised it during COVID as a remedy and we realized it was a remedy that worked,” New Jersey Business & Industry Association President and CEO Michele Siekerka told NJBIZ. But those provisions were due to sunset, so a permanent fix was needed.
“We worked very diligently with our members and with our legislators to craft a bill that would allow teen workers to work longer, make more money, and at the same time, help with the workforce shortage as well as help with the hiring process with working papers,” Siekerka said.
State Sen. Vin Gopal, D-11th District, and Assemblyman Roy Freiman, D-16th District, sponsored the measure (Assembly Bill 4222/Senate Bill 2796). “I had a lot of businesses that were having trouble finding workers,” Gopal told NJBIZ. “They had good 16-, 17-year-olds doing their first job. And a lot of the regulations on them were a little outdated. So, they wanted a little more leniency to matchup with some other states. So that was kind of the origination.”
Gopal’s district runs through Monmouth County and includes a number of amusement parks, shore tourism spots and restaurants, as well as busy main streets.
“My district actually has more downtowns than any other district in the state,” Gopal pointed out. “And all these downtowns are predominantly mom-and-pop small businesses where a lot of kids locally work.”
The law, signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in July, permanently expands the work week for 16- and 17-year-olds from 40 to 50 hours, allowing the teens to work up to 10 hours per day in the summer instead of up to eight hours per day, adding more flexibility to break requirements, and providing for a one-time parent opt-out from working late summer hours. “Workforce capacity remains a big issue in New Jersey, as well as around the country,” said Siekerka when the bill was signed. “By permanently expanding the workweek for 16- and 17-year-olds from 40 to 50 hours and allowing the same age group to work up to 10 hours a day, instead of eight, employers will have more flexibility in their scheduling at this most important part of the season.”
The law will also streamline the working papers process. While those provisions do not take effect until June 1, 2023, it replaces the antiquated per-job process with a one-time, online authorization system that is easier to navigate. The state Department of Labor & Workforce Development will create a centralized database where teens would register just once, rather than having school districts issue working papers every time a teen gets a new job.
It also removes school and doctor permission requirements. New Jersey is the only state that requires both. And the law creates an advisory council with parents and employers to oversee the new process.
“This bill will make it much easier for teens and their families to go through the working paper process with each job, so they can gain valuable work experience,” said Siekerka.
“These are a lot of kids’ first job and so [we’re] just trying to make it a little easier,” said Gopal. “It’s basically to expand hours and make it easier for any kid who wants to work.”
“This bill is a win-win-win that will help employers find more workers, provide teens more work hours and more pay and help New Jerseyans avoid longer summer wait and lines,” said NJBIA Vice President of Government Affairs Christopher Emigholz, who took a lead in coordinating with legislators.
The legislation was bipartisan, passing the Senate 40-0 and the Assembly 74-3—almost unheard-of voting margins these days.
“Everyone, overall, was very positive on it just to modernize the teen worker laws that have been out-of-date for several decades now,” said Gopal.
In June, Emigholz told the Assembly Labor Committee that the bill is “one of the most impactful initiatives you can pursue to address the current workforce crisis, especially for our hospitality and retail businesses that get busier in the summer.”
“As we all see in windows and lit-up displays as we drive down any business district, as we have all heard on the nightly news, as you hear from the businesses in your legislative districts, as we hear from our NJBIA members and as the data purports, we are in the middle of a workforce crisis,” said Emigholz. “Confounding that crisis for many seasonal businesses is the fact that they are not seeing the visa hires they used to due to federal government issues, and that is on top of trying to stay on top of inflation and make up for lost income due to COVID-19 losses.”
“And with the workforce shortage they’re having right now, they had kids that wanted to work more hours, wanted to work on weekends,” said Gopal. “And now they’ll have that ability, especially since they can’t find workers.”
Gopal also pointed out the financial and professional benefits for the teen workers.
“They’re doing well. There’s a lot of jobs where they’re getting more training. We’ve got a lot of manufacturing facilities here,” Gopal explained. “We’ve got a lot of different places that are hiring, doing internship hours. It’s been really, really helpful.”
And in these financially challenging times, the extra hours could be a real boost in many households.
“In many situations, we’ve got some of these young men and women providing actually for their household income, too, because of the cost-of-living right now,” said Gopal.
Gopal said the law merely gives teens and their parents a choice and more flexibility and that nothing is being forced on them. Since the law was just signed a month ago, Gopal said it is tough to know the long-term effects of it, but he can certainly see the short-term impact it is having.
“I think the immediate is with the worker shortage. They’re able to find employees to work weekend shifts, Saturday shifts, etc.,” said Gopal. “With rising cost-of-living inflation, gas prices, and food costs, this is for people that want to work, especially young men and women. This gives them the ability to do that.”
“We thank the policymakers and the sponsors for working with us to craft what is a really responsible bill to bring teenage working laws into the 21st century,” said Siekerka.
“We’ve got significant workforce shortages, and this is a key component of resolving that,” said Gopal. “Excited to see how this plays out.”n