Nov 23

Industrial Homework: How to Get an A+


Not doing your homework can land you in detention. Not getting a permit to do your homework can land you in detention in county jail. That’s because California’s Industrial Homework Act (IHA) strictly regulates the archaic, but still existing, practice of “industrial homework” – the home-based manufacture of materials or articles that are not for the personal use of the manufacturer or a member of his or her family.1 In some cases, however, even a homeworker’s permit isn’t a get-out-of-jail free card – the reason being that the IHA bans certain kinds of industrial homework. Unfortunately, many employees can’t always be sure whether their homework is legal or illegal – or homework at all – and they can land in detention as a result.

I. The Expansive Coverage of the Industrial Homework Act

The coverage of the IHA is expansive. For the IHA to apply, a homeworker doesn’t have to manufacture materials or articles from scratch. The manufacturing process can involve anything from making and repairing materials or articles to merely wrapping or inspecting them.2 But a homeworker need not bubble-wrap materials in his garage or basement for the IHA to apply. The IHA defines a “home” as “any “room, house, apartment, or other premises” that a “dweller” uses in whole or in part as a “place of dwelling.”3 The “premises” can include an “outbuilding” – an outhouse? – on the premises if: (1) the dweller “primarily” uses the premises as a place of dwelling; and (2) the outbuilding is under the dweller’s “control.”4

The IHA only applies to an industrial homeworker if he’s an “employee.” But an employer-employee relationship can arise informally. The IHA provides that such relationship arises if any person, directly or indirectly, “suffers, engages, or permits” an individual to do industrial homework or “tolerates, suffers, or permits” an individual to take home and manufacture articles or materials under “one’s” custody or control.5 (The IHA isn’t clear about who “one” is.) Furthermore, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) presumes “persons working in their homes for remuneration on articles to be delivered to another person not for his…personal or his…family’s use are employees and not independent contractors.”6

II. What’s Brewing? Moonshining, Mixing Poisons, and More

Bathtub Gin

The IHA makes the home-based manufacture of several categories of materials and articles at home illegal per se. These types of articles and materials are always illegal because they’re inherently dangerous to the homeworker, consumer, and/or everyone on the block. For reasons that should be immediately obvious, the per se categories of illegal materials and articles include: (1) articles of food or drink; (2) articles “for use in connection with the serving of” food or drink; (3) articles of wearing apparel; (4) toys and dolls; tobacco; drugs and poisons; (5) bandages and other sanitary goods; and (6) explosives, fireworks, and articles of like character.7 No one can ever get a license or permit to turn in those homework assignments.8

Of course, most employers who hire industrial homeworkers don’t hire them to make homemade bombs. More often than not, employers who hire industrial homeworkers are in the garment industry. The practice of manufacturing garments at home by any process (hand or machine) and of virtually any material (e.g., fabric, fur, leather, etc.) is generally unlawful under the IHA.9 But the DLSE regulations specify that the home-based manufacture of garments is impermissible only if the garments are for wear on the human body. Evidently, a homeworker can make a dog collar without running afoul of the IHA, as long as the collar is exclusively for a dog and not a sadomasochist.

III. Getting and Keeping an Industrial Homeworker’s Permit

Even if an employee wants to do legal homework, he needs a homeworker’s permit from the DLSE. But a homeworker’s permit isn’t a “license to ill.” The DLSE will issue a permit to applicant who: (1) is at least 16 years old; (2) doesn’t suffer from an infectious, contagious, or communicable disease; and (3) lives in a home that is clean, sanitary, and free from infectious, contagious, or communicable disease.10 Furthermore, a permit isn’t free. Doing homework without a permit is punishable by a fine of up to $50 for the first offense and up to $100 for the second. The fee for the permit, however, is only $25 and is valid for one year, and the DLSE can waive the fee if the applicant can establish that payment would somehow result in “financial hardship.”11

That said, a homeworker’s grip on his permit is always tenuous. The DLSE may revoke or suspend any homeworker’s permit if it finds: (1) the homeworker is doing homework “contrary to the conditions” under which the DLSE issued the permit; (2) the homeworker has permitted any person not holding a valid homeworker’s permit to “assist” him in performing industrial homework; (3) the homeworker has otherwise violated the IHA in any way; or (4) the employer’s homework license is no longer valid.12 Thus, even if you have a valid homeworker’s permit to make clothing, you might lose your permit if your child comes home with Ebola or even if you just ask him to hand you the yarn.

IV. Make Yourself at Home? Dealing with Surprise Inspections

Even if the DLSE waives the $25 fee for the homeworker’s permit, having the  permit comes with an even bigger price tag for some. The DLSE may execute a search warrant to enable it to access the homeworker’s premises to: (1) investigate whether he is doing categorically illegal homework or is under 16 years old, suffering from an infectious, contagious, or communicable disease, or living in a home that is not clean, sanitary, or free from infectious, contagious, or communicable disease; (2) inspect any article that the homeworker is manufacturing; (3) review the homeworker’s records; and (4) even study the homeworker’s job performance to determine whether his employer is complying with legal wage requirements.13

Surprise inspections under the IHA are even tougher than the “surprise” inspections under President Obama’s nuclear “deal” with Iran. Under the IHA, the DLSE must confiscate and dispose of any goods, whether the DLSE finds them in the homeworker’s home or car, if the goods were the product of illegal homework.14 Furthermore, the homeworker must reveal to the DLSE, on demand, the name and address of his employer, the name and address of the owner or source of the articles or materials for homework, the homeworker’s rate of pay, and any other information pertinent to the enforcement of the IHA. The upside is the DLSE may not use any such information in any action against or prosecution of the homeworker.15

  1. Lab. Code §2650(d). 

  2. Lab. Code §2650(a). 

  3. Lab. Code §2650(c). 

  4. Lab. Code §2650(c). 

  5. See Lab. Code §§2650(b), (g). 

  6. 8 Cal. Code Regs. §13600. 

  7. Lab. Code §2651. 

  8. Id

  9. 8 Cal. Code Regs. §§13620-13621. 

  10. Lab. Code §2661. 

  11. Lab. Code §2660. 

  12. Lab. Code §2662. 

  13. Lab. Code §2656; see also 8 Cal. Code Regs. §13603(b). 

  14. Lab. Code §2658.7. 

  15. Lab. Code §2660.1. 

Ben Rothman, Esq.

Ben Rothman is a Los Angeles-based attorney practicing in the areas of personal injury, employment, and workers' compensation on a "no recovery, no fee" basis. Call him at (424) 465-2948 for a free, no-obligation consultation.