Employers hustle customers out of their money by recruiting children to sell them goods door-to-door, in supermarket parking lots, and even on the side of freeway on-ramps. Such sales are often dangerous and usually illegal. Fortunately, California law regulates door-to-door and street sales by minors and allows them to sue their adult employers – and, in some cases, the supermarket – for a huge batch of civil penalties. Even well into adulthood, a door-to-door or street salesman can sue his employer for enormous damages if his employer retaliates against him for complaining about wage and hour violations during his childhood.
Can Minors Engage in Door-to-Door and Street Sales?
Contrary to conventional wisdom, child labor isn’t necessarily illegal. In California, children as young as 15 days old can join the workforce.1 But the state’s child labor laws severely restrict both door-to-door sales and street sales (including sales in parking lots or malls) by minors. Labor Code section 1308.1 deems both types of sales activities “dangerous” for children under the age of 16.2 Whether a child has the right to engage in door-to-door or street sales depends on two factors: (1) whether he’s 0 to 5 years old or 6 to 16 years old; and (2) whether he’s selling a newspaper or other merchandise or commodities.
Section 1308.1 bars a child under six years old from engaging in the door-to-door or street sale of candy, cookies, flowers, or any other merchandise or commodities.3 But a child between ages six and 16 can engage in such sales under five conditions: (1) he’s within 50 miles of home; (2) he works with another minor “in pairs and as a team” on the same or opposite side of the street; (3) he is under adult supervision and is within the adult’s sight or sound at least once every 15 minutes if the minor works in a “crew” of 10 or fewer minors; and (4) the adult return them to their homes or places of rendezvous after each day’s work.4
The law carves out a “paperboy” exception to the rule against minors working alone. Specifically, a child age 12 or older may solicit subscriptions to or sell newspapers by himself if he’s also a “regular news carrier” and regularly delivers the newspaper “to an established readership” for money.5 But a child under 12 may not work either “in” or “in connection with” the occupation of selling or distributing newspapers, magazines, periodicals, or circulars. The law grandfathers in those who were at least 10 years old on the date the law went into effect, but given how long ago that was, most of those 10-year-olds are now literally grandfathers.6
Even if a child under 16 years old can lawfully engage in door-to-door and street sales, the law doesn’t let the adult who’s pulling his strings make him risk life and limb to close a deal. Specifically, he may not sell anything, whether newspapers, candy, flowers, or other merchandise or commodities, to “passing” motorists (and presumably motorists who are waiting at the red light) from a “fixed location” on a street, highway or freeway island or divider; freeway on- or off-ramp; or side of a freeway or highway entrance or exit shoulder.7 Similarly, he must stay on the sidewalk if he’s engaging in sales in a parking lot or mall.
Why Girl Scouts Should “Be Prepared” to Collect Civil Penalties
The penalties for a violation of the laws regulating door-to-door and street sales by minors can be enormous. The California Legislature classifies the violation of Section 1308.1 as a class “A” violation because such violation presents an “imminent danger to minor employees or a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm” will result.8 For any class “A” violation against a child age 13 or older, a violator will owe a civil penalty of $5,000 to $10,000 per violation.9 For a class “A” violation that “involves” a child age 12 or younger, a violator will owe a civil penalty of $25,000 to $50,000 per violation.10
The supermarkets where these kids linger might also be on the hook for Class “A” civil penalties. That’s because the law makes the civil penalties for violations of child labor laws “fully applicable” to every person who “owns or controls” the real property on which the minor engages in street sales or door-to-door sales if: (1) the minor’s employment is for the benefit of that person; and (2) that person knowingly permits the violation or continuation of violations.11 Thus, a grocery store might owe civil penalties if it charges the Girl Scouts a fee to sell their Samoas and Thin Mints in the parking lot. That’s the way the Girl Scout cookie crumbles.
Even better, a plaintiff may recover treble damages if his employer fired him, threatened to fire him, demoted him, suspended him, retaliated against him, subjected him to any adverse action, or in any way discriminated against him in the terms or conditions of employment because he filed a “claim or civil action” alleging that Labor Code violations occurred during his minority.12 For example, an employer who fires an adult plaintiff for alleging that the employer made him go door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions when he was five years old will have to pay him three times his actual damages.