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Roofer fined for teen’s death as bill filed to ease child labor restrictions

On July 1, 2019, a 15-year-old was working on a roof in Cullman and fell about 50 feet to the ground.

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On Wednesday, the Department of Labor announced that an Alabama roofing business, Apex Roofing & Restoration LLC, was fined $117,175 after violating child labor laws for employing a 15-year-old child who died on the job in 2019. 

The announcement came one day after Rep. Susan Dubose, R-Hoover, filed a bill that would ease restrictions regarding 14 and 15-year-olds working. 

On July 1, 2019, the 15-year-old was working on a roof in Cullman and fell about 50 feet to the ground. The child suffered several serious injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene. It was the teen’s first day coming to the worksite to work the job. 

The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division investigated the incident since 2019 and found Apex Roofing violated child labor law under the Fair Labor Standards Act hazardous occupation order. The hazardous occupation order bans minors under the age of 18 from performing a number of jobs deemed too dangerous, which includes roofing or being on or about a roof.

Wage and Hour Administrator Jessica Looman said that the child’s family was left to endure an “unnecessary” tragedy due to Apex Roofing. 

“Apex Roofing risked the life of a child by employing him to work on a roof in violation of federal child labor laws, leaving relatives and friends to grieve an unnecessary and preventable tragedy,” Looman said. “The Wage and Hour Division will continue using every tool at our disposal to combat illegal child labor and hold violators accountable.” 

Dubose’s bill, HB102, would eliminate the requirement for 14 and 15-year-olds to obtain an eligibility to work form. The eligibility to work form is a document that minors receive from a school administrator or counselor demonstrating they have the sufficient grades and attendance necessary to be eligible for a job.

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The bill appears to be achieving one of the policy objectives that the Alabama Policy Institute included in its “2024 Blueprint for Alabama” which was to eliminate the eligibility to work form. According to API, the solution to Alabama’s labor shortage issue is to allow more minors to enter the workforce, “particularly in the retail and service industries.”

“Learning new skills and building a strong work ethic from an early age is a benefit to not only Alabama’s children but can also provide additional laborers to the state’s workforce, improving the quality of life for all citizens,” API wrote. “Whether a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old is mature and responsible enough to work while also attending school should be decided by the child and their parents, not school administrators.”

The policy point from API and Dubose’s bill follow a national strategy across the country Republicans have been following as they attempt to repeal protections for child labor. 

If Dubose’s bill were to pass it would become effective on June 1.

Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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