Exploring Changes in Iowa’s Child Labor Law

July 14, 2023

By: Frances M. Haas, Thomas M. Cunningham

Effective July 1, 2023, Iowa’s new child labor law appears to loosen restrictions on minor employees in the workplace. However, employers should be wary of failing to comply with federal labor laws. Federal child labor laws remain stricter than Iowa’s law.


When the Iowa child labor law went into effect on July 1, 2023, it expanded the hours that 14- and 15-year-olds can work. It also allows employers to hire minors for tasks that were once prohibited.



Iowa’s child labor law now extends the times of day that 14-year-old and 15-year-old employees can be on the job. The time of year still matters.


During the school year, 14- and 15-year-olds:

  • May not work before 7 a.m. or after 9 p.m. (extended from 7 p.m.)
  • May work up to six hours in one day or up to 28 hours in one week.


From June 1 through Labor Day, 14- and 15-year-olds:

  • Can work until 11 p.m. (extended from 9 p.m.)


The Iowa child labor law keeps a few restrictions unchanged for 14- and 15-year-old workers. If 14- or 15-year-olds work five or more hours in a day, they must get a 30-minute break. Also unchanged, 14- and 15-year-olds may work no more than eight hours per day and 40 hours per week when school is not in session.


As a result of these changes, Iowa’s child labor laws are now inconsistent with federal child labor laws. Under federal law, 14- and 15-year-old employees must:

  • Stop working by 7 p.m. during the school year.
  • Work no more than three hours on a school day.
  • Work no more than eight hours on a non-school day when school is in session.
  • Work no more than 18 hours a week when school is in session
  • Work no more 40 hours in a week when school is not in session.


Also, Iowa’s child labor law now permits new work activities for 14- and 15-year-old employees. The changes may be subtle, and some potentially conflict with federal law. Examples include:

  • Kitchen work and other work involved in preparing and serving food and beverages (except alcoholic beverages):
    • Previously allowed activities remain acceptable under Iowa law.
    • Microwave ovens were added to the list of equipment that 14- and 15-year-old workers can operate. Federal labor law still bans 14- and 15-year-old employees from using microwave ovens.
    • Cleaning using kitchen cleaning products with required personal protective equipment (PPE) is now allowed.
  • Non-incidental work in freezers and meat coolers is allowed. This includes all work in preparation of meats for sale, except wrapping and sealing performed in other areas. The Iowa law appears to be inconsistent with federal law.
  • Momentary work in freezers and meat coolers is permitted for 14- and 15-year-olds who are cleaning vegetables and fruit, and wrapping, sealing, weighing, pricing, and labeling goods when performed in areas physically separate from where meat is prepared. Before, it was not specified in Iowa law.
  • “Light assembly” is now permitted under Iowa law; however, this activity is prohibited under federal law.
  • Specifically for 15-year-olds, the law permits loading and unloading motor vehicles with light nonpower-driven hand tools and the PPE used as part of their employment. Workers age 15 can load and unload nonpower-driven equipment and other retail items of no more than 30 pounds. This appears to be inconsistent with a provision of federal labor regulations; it limits that activity to hand tools and PPE.



Under the Iowa child labor law, a worker age 16 or 17 can work the same hours and perform the same duties as someone who is age 18 or older. Employers can treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for purposes of wage and hour laws. This is largely consistent with federal law.


In terms of work activities, Iowa law now permits 16- and 17-year-olds to serve alcohol. If a 16- or 17-year-old is hired to serve alcohol, the employer must comply with these rules:

  • The establishment cannot be a bar.
  • Two adults (over age 18) must be present at the same time when the 16- or 17-year-old is serving alcohol.
  • Parental permission is required.
  • Employers must provide mandatory sexual harassment training.
  • Harassment must be reported to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and to the minor’s parents.
  • Employers must notify their dramshop liability carrier.



Among the additional changes, the Iowa child labor law no longer requires employers to obtain a child labor permit, which should help reduce paperwork. Also, the Iowa Division of Labor will now give an employer a 15-day grace period before imposing a penalty for a child labor violation.


Finally, Iowa law now prohibits someone on the sex offender registry from employing minors.



As of July 1, 2023, Iowa child labor laws are looser and less restrictive than federal law. However, because most employers are also subject to federal labor laws, employers should be cautious and keep federal labor law compliance top of mind. An employer who complies with Iowa’s less restrictive law will not be excused when failing to comply with the more restrictive federal law.  


Employers should also keep in mind that Iowa’s child labor law has attracted attention from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which recently put members of the Iowa Senate on notice that the new law is inconsistent with federal law. As a result, the DOL will be carefully monitoring this issue in Iowa. To avoid an extensive, expensive DOL audit, employers should take care to avoid violating federal child labor laws, even though they are more restrictive than the Iowa child labor laws. 


Other government enforcement measures may also come into play. If the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) believes a safety risk is associated with having a certain age-group person perform certain activities, employers may have to deal with an OSHA investigation.


If employers choose to take advantage of some of the looser restrictions, it’s a best practice to review all insurance policies. In addition to the dramshop liability policy, employers should consider reviewing general liability and workers compensation policies. Some policies include limitations on the type of work certain categories of individuals may perform.


Another best practice is to consult your Nyemaster Labor & Employment attorney with any questions about Iowa’s child labor law. Your attorney can address your specific situation.