Capitol Connection: Paving a Way for Youth Athletic Officials

April 10, 2015

A bill before the Connecticut legislature this year aims to pave the way for 14 and 15 year olds to work as referees, umpires and other youth athletic program officials.

The intent of this bill makes a lot of sense for our communities and local athletics. Opening up jobs to our kids is a great way to teach responsibility and life skills while establishing the importance of community involvement.

That being said, there is a lot of confusion surrounding this bill too. While I plan to seek clarity during the legislative process, its future doesn’t look very promising. Sometimes a well intention bill just makes a wrong turn.

Here’s what I can tell you now about Senate Bill 1038.

Currently, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) actually prohibits employing minors under age 16 unless it is for a job specifically exempted in statute or regulation. This legislation aims to make that exception in CT for youth sports.

This bill would allow minors age 14 and 15 to get jobs as referees or other youth-athletic officials if and only if certain protections are met, including that:

  • The minor is certified by a national certification program
  • The minor works as an official for an age bracket younger than such minor’s own age
  • The minor works with a person who is eighteen years of age or older

Minors under 16 would also be subject to current protective laws that apply to any job held by a 14 or 15 year old including limits on when work can occur as well as weekly and daily time limits.

Some people have expressed concerns that requiring a 14 or 15 year old to work with an adult means that any athletic program that hires a young referee or umpire will have to pay double to staff games with an adult to always supervise a minor employee. This could discourage groups from hiring young employees.

But the language in the bill is not clear enough. For example, if there’s an adult on the field working in another role, does that meet the “work with an adult” requirement? It could, and I think it should, but it’s not clear. In addition, this bill could still violate federal labor laws, as state researchers have pointed out to the legislature.

The goal of this legislation is not to hinder youth employment or make it more difficult for kids to get jobs, but rather the opposite. Young people in our communities can greatly benefit from more work opportunities. Opening up athletic officiating roles to more kids is a good idea, but one that needs special consideration.