The Gosselin Family, which has been the center of a media attention in recent weeks, is reportedly under investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry for child labor law violations stemming from their children’s appearance on the reality TV show "Jon & Kate Plus 8". Much of the reality show is filmed in the family’s Wernersville, Pennsylvania home. The Gosselins have twin daughters age 8 and five-year old sextuplets, all of whom appear on the show.
The obvious legal issue is whether a children’s involvement in a reality TV filmed in the children’s home with the participation of parents constitutes "work in, about, or in connection with, any establishment." An "establishment" is a place "where work is done for compensation of any kind, to whomever payable." Children employed on a farm or in domestic service in private homes are excluded.
In Commonwealth V. McKaig (decided in 1937), a court found that it is not a violation of child labor laws for a nine year old child to give skating exhibition for an amateur skating society where she received no compensation; the exhibition was not for profit, although admission fee was charged; and the exhibition was not held at place of public resort but one privately leased for purely private purpose. The court focused on the role that the child played in the overall program and found that it is material that professional skater appeared on same program for compensation if child’s skating was in no way linked with his. However, a child would have been engaged in "work" If the participation of the child been "linked with commercial channels and so connected with the work of others as to be immediately supplementary to that work or in direct aid and direction of the work of others." Reality TV as "work" will be an interesting legal issue. The Gosselin children play an integral part the show and their roles may be somewhat staged. Furthermore, the family has created a business around the show.
Pennsylvania’s Child Labor Law regulates that hours and types of work that minors under the age of 18 may perform. The Child Labor Law specifically requires the Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) issue a special permit for "the employment of minors seven and under eighteen years of age in theatrical productions, musical recitals or concerts, entertainment acts, modeling, radio, television, motion picture making, or in other similar forms or media of entertainment in Pennsylvania where the performance of such minor is not hazardous to his safety or well-being." The Child Labor Law requires that performances occur before 11:30 p.m. and be no more frequent than two per day and 8 per week. There are also rules for "temporary" employment of minors as part of the performing cast in the production of a motion picture, if the department determines that adequate provision has been made for the educational instruction, supervision, health and welfare of the minor provided a minors work as part of the performing cast does not exceed forty-four hours in any one week and eight hours in any one day.
With the end of school approaching and children entering the summer workforce, employers should review their child labor law compliance.