Oppose HB 5159: Elimination of Work Permits Detrimental to Low-Income Youth

       An amended version of HB 5159, which would eliminate work permits for 14 and 15 year olds was advanced by the Senate Workforce Committee on February 21st. Track the bill here.

       This Legislature claims it is a priority to protect children. HB 5159 would overturn decades old legislative protections for children. This legislation jeopardizes the well-being and safety of our state’s children and should be rejected.

       Prevent Child Abuse WV and other advocates have raised a number of concerns about how the legislation will impact vulnerable young people. These include:  

  • Increased Risk of Exploitation and Injury – Repealing the work permitting process and lowering the minimum age for employment significantly increases the risk of exploitation and injury for children. Younger children are more vulnerable to being taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers who may require them to work in unsafe or hazardous conditions for little pay. They may also be more likely to experience accidents or injuries due to their lack of experience and physical development.
  • Interference with Education – Working during school hours can interfere with a child’s education, making it more difficult for them to succeed academically. This can have long-term implications for their future opportunities and earning potential. Com. Sub. for HB 5159 repeals important safeguards to ensure that children are in school, which is critically important to their success as adults, and their ability to be lifelong contributing members of the workforce.
  • Increased Risk of Physical and Mental Health Problems – Children who work long hours or in physically demanding jobs are at an increased risk of developing physical and mental health problems. They may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. They may also be more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as substance abuse or unsafe sex. They are also at risk of exploitation by older co-workers.
  • Weakened Parental Consent Requirements The bill diminishes current parental consent requirements prior to a child working. The bill replaces the enforcement of a work permit with an age certificate. However, the age certificate does not include any requirements regarding what the parental consent should entail, how consent would be verified, or any certification of educational progress or school attendance.

Parents know best whether their children are mature enough to be working. An optional age certification that does not include independent parental consent verification is insufficient to protect a child’s safety and well-being.

       There are places where a parent will not want their 14- or 15-year-old daughter or son working and where it is unsafe to do so based on the child’s individual needs. Eliminating an enforceable requirement for parental consent for their child to work in these places INCREASES risks that children will be harmed.

       An age certificate is only one component in determining whether a child should be permitted to work. It is essential to also have firm requirements that verify parental consent and compliance with mandatory school attendance laws.

  • Diminished Accountability The priority for children must always be their safety and well-being. There must be secure enforceable protections for children who are working. The current process of a work permit – that can be revoked when there are violations – helps protect children. The bill decreases accountability for those who seek to employ children. The unfortunate reality is that some people, including some employers, will not treat children in a way that they should be treated. These people should be required to have accountability for their actions.

       It is unclear to what extent, if any, the changes to HB 5159 made by the Senate Workforce Committee address these concerns. The bill has a second reference to the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

       Contact your Senators and urge them to oppose HB 5159. Tell them HB 5159 could be extremely detrimental to vulnerable young people, and would eliminate important safeguards designed to protect children’s best educational interest.


(Sources: American Friends Service Committee WV Economic Justice Project, Prevent Child Abuse WV, and Rev. Matthew J. Watts)

Send this to a friend