For California's youngest workers, landing a job also means securing a work permit.
While adolescents don't need a permit to work on their family farm or do odd jobs such as yard work and baby-sitting, minors are legally required to obtain a work permit for most jobs when they take their budding careers to the next level.
"It's kind of a three-way involvement (between) the employer, the school and also the labor department," said John Teves, spokesman for the Kern High School District, with more than 37,000 students who might also want to work.
After the recent death of Armando Ramirez while working at a Lamont composting plant, some people wondered: Why was a 16-year-old boy not in class during school hours?
Both KHSD and Kern County Superintendent of Schools officials said early on that Ramirez was not enrolled. There's no indication he had a work permit; he presented papers to his employer saying he was 30 years old.
By law, a minor, his or her parent or guardian and a prospective employer fill out a form requesting a work permit. The final stamp of approval for a permit comes from the minor's school.
Among other things, the permit states the maximum number of hours the student may work when school is in session, when school is not in session, and the hours the person must be in school.
If a school grants a work request, the permit is kept on file with the minor's employer and California labor code requires that it be open "to inspection of school attendance and probation officers, the State Board of Education and the officers of the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement."
Patricia Ortiz, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Industrial Relations, said department investigators check to make sure work permits for minors are in order and being followed when they inspect a business.
While complaints about minors' hours and jobs do come from concerned parents or school officials, Ortiz said the department does not track the numbers. Child labor citations are tracked, however, and in 2010, 141 were issued statewide, Ortiz said.
Civil penalties for violating child labor laws can cost an employer up to $10,000 per minor employee for more severe violations, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations. Criminal violations of child labor laws are misdemeanors punishable by up to six months in jail and fines up to $10,000.
At KHSD, schools issued 1,763 work permits during the 2010-2011 school year. The district had already signed off on 758 permits this school year as of Wednesday, according to Teves. Applications for work permits have declined in the past three years.
"Companies haven't been hiring as much the past three years, thus the decline in work permit applications. As the economy heals, requests for work permits are expected to increase," Teves wrote in an email.
School districts have different requirements for students to obtain a permit. In KHSD, a student must have at least a 2.0 grade point average and good attendance.
Wasco Union High School secretary Rena Ruddell said her school follows the same guidelines but also won't approve a work permit if a student owes the school for textbooks or sports uniforms. If a student worker's grades falter, the school pulls his or her work permit.
"As soon as the grades come out, we start making phone calls (to employers)," Ruddell said.
Wasco students must renew their work permits three times a school year, Ruddell said, when new grades come out.
McFarland High School office assistant Monica Munoz said students' grades, attendance and behavior factor into whether they receive a permit. The school gives 30 to 50 permits a year but approves almost that many, about 40 permits total, in the summer months.
"During the summer we give out more because the kids are out working in the fields," Munoz said.
The secretary said McFarland doesn't turn down many students for work permits because the kids who want to work are usually the ones who have good grades and attendance.
The rules of work permits apply to home-schooled students as well. Ortiz said home-schooled students have to meet the work permit criteria set by their local school district to get a permit. Even adolescents visiting from out-of-state for the summer have to obtain a work permit from the school district where they live before they can work a seasonal job.
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