A Washington state family is about to lose their home after the Department of Labor and Industries hit the father with thousands of dollars in fines for having his underage sons work alongside him in the family business – doing things the state believes are dangerous for young boys.

In 2003, Jude Doty was fined $34,000 by the agency for “employing” his then 11-year-old and 13-year-old sons even though both boys did not fit what Doty says are the criteria for official employment. Later, he was assessed $20,000 for unpaid workers’ compensation insurance for his children and other workers, along with $87,000 in penalties.

“Since 1992, I had been moving houses as a general contractor, and as common for self-employed fathers, I found the opportunity to take my boys, and thought nothing strange of it,” explains Doty on his website, FamiliesThatWork.org. “I was involved in teaching our children, especially in the faith, and they would accompany me occasionally, from the time they were weaned. We believe that children are a gift from the Lord to the parents, and that we, not the state, have been given the responsibility to train them.”

Doty lists the violations the Department of Labor and Industries says he is guilty of:

“It was a $250 a day fine for them working during school hours even though we legally set our own hours as homeschoolers, $500 a day for having no superior court judge permit, $1,000 a day for them working on a construction site (our private property), $1,000 a day for them working near our heavy equipment, plus $1,000 a day for them operating our backhoe and $1,000 a day for being a ‘helper on a public roadway.'”

Doty, who is the father of seven, says the department conspired with Child Protective Services to take his son Zach from him when he visited the Labor and Industries building. Later, he says, the agency secured a court order that “directed … all persons in active concert … to remove” Doty’s boys from any work site or equipment.

Commented Doty: “Can you imagine that a neighbor or police can now forcibly remove your child from your family business and your private property because they worked with their dad?”

The state agency, according to Doty, told him: “You were the individual directing [your son] to do the activities,” which determined an employment relationship, the officials claimed.

“Now, my boys wanted to work with me, which is quite normal,” writes Doty. “Boys without constructive work opportunities frequently end up in trouble. In fact, every L&I worker we questioned said they had a job before age 12.”

Doty says in the past the Department of Labor and Industries has argued against allowing parents to consider their children employees.

Writes Doty: “L&I has successfully argued before the State Supreme Court three times that an employer/employee relationship between a parent and child cannot exist unless all four of these conditions exist: 1) emancipation, 2) a written contract, 3) fixed compensation, and 4) freedom to spend the money without parental control. …”

Doty claims the agency has done a complete reversal in his case, saying, “L&I now claims that the four conditions have ‘no significance’ and are ‘not a determining factor’ for identifying employment between a parent and child. Remember, without an employment relationship, they have no jurisdiction.”

The Jude Doty family (photo: Seattle Times).

Another contention of the agency Doty disputes is that having his boys work with him is an unreasonable risk. He points out there are “jobs” that the courts and public schools have minors do that are far riskier than the work his sons did for him. Citing a U.S. Department of Labor report, Doty states workers under 17 have the lowest incidents of workplace accidents and deaths. Non-work activities of youth, “such as sports, recreation, transportation, crime,” have much worse safety records than working, Doty points out.

Doty further criticizes both the state agency and former Attorney General Christine Gregoire, now Washington’s governor, who claim if a parent receives “appreciable benefit” from a child’s work it is considered “employment.”

Writes Doty: “The department claims that if you ‘allow’ your child to carry in the mail for a family ‘enterprise’ then you have ’employed’ them. Labor contracts and wage disputes, standardized drug testing, privacy rights and myriads of employment laws and rights will all supersede parental rights.”

He says if the bureaucracy were to enforce such a standard it would mean making sure none of the 700,000 businesses in Washington state received any “appreciable benefit” from the children of business owners. It also could lead to minor children filing claims against their parents for work done, Doty says.

A Department of Labor and Industries report points to one of the reasons the government is penalizing Doty.

“Why is the department pushing this audit issue?” the report asks. “By using his children instead of hiring more workers and by not paying workers’ comp on his kids or on his other workers, by cutting these and other corners, Mr. Doty has been able to bid so low on jobs that other businesses couldn’t compete. It’s part of L&I’s effort to ‘level the playing field,’ which helps keeps rates down.”

Doty claims he did pay $7,000 in workers’ comp premiums for that audit period, but had not paid on his sons, since he says they were not employees.

Ron Langley, a spokesman for the Department of Labor and Industries, explained the agency’s position on the case – that Doty has endangered his children with the specific things he directed them to do on the job.

“Current policy – and current state law – in terms of child or teen labor … is that, with the exception of agriculture, the same laws’ protection that apply to any minor under 18 would apply to any business in which family members are working,” he told WND. “Essentially, the same requirements would apply either way.”

Continued Langley: “Doty was cited for violation of state child-labor laws because his boys were engaged along with Mr. Doty in his business in activities that are deemed by law and regulation too hazardous for minors to be doing.”

Langley said he wasn’t able to argue the legal specifics of the case, partly because it is “in the midst of litigation.”

So what specifically were the boys doing to cause the attention of regulators? According to a Seattle Times article, during one house-moving job Doty’s sons were riding on the peak of the house as it moved down the street, witnesses reported, pushing up low-hanging traffic lights. They were flagging traffic at construction sites, driving bulldozers and backhoes, and they seldom – if ever – wore protective gear, according to the report.

Reuel Paradis is the Yakima regional administrator for the state agency.

“My bottom line is that these children should have an opportunity to survive to adulthood,” Paradis told the Times. “I absolutely support [Doty] in his contention that he was in the right to teach his children a work ethic, but I also really believe that there are jobs that aren’t appropriate for some age groups.”

Saying the agency is using delay as a tactic, Doty claims officials have strung out the process on his case in hopes of wearing him down. It has taken 22 months for him to get the $34,000 claim to superior court.

“If it weren’t for numerous letters from senators and representatives in the state, we would have been hung out there in the administrative hearing process,” he told WND.

Doty, who says he has paid over $40,000 in legal fees, relays the financial action the state has taken against him:

“They seized over $100,000 in cash bonds, my bank account, the properties, a contract and equipment. With the liens, I wasn’t bondable, which completely put me out of business! They referred to me as a ‘felon,’ and for 16 months have identified me as a ‘repeat offender’ on their website.”

Said Langley: “Labor and Industry has placed liens on real estate and equipment for collection of premiums, penalties and interest for workers’ compensation coverage. We have not at this point exercised any of those liens.”

Doty closed his business in July 2003 and will likely lose his home tomorrow: “L&I even took title to our family van, and now our home is scheduled for a sheriff’s sale on Feb. 4.”

Said Doty: “By God’s grace we’ve been able to survive and eat. Right now we’ve got the utilities turned off.”

The Doty family could be evicted within a month of the sale, he said. Even so, Doty is optimistic that his arguments will win the day.

On his website, Doty cites what he sees as the bottom-line issue with the state agency.

“The real cause is L&I’s deliberate intrusion into the family, destroying the father’s authority to direct his children’s ‘activities,’ consequently pushing his sons away from his mentorship to more peer-dominated activities,” he writes “This assault on fathers is greatly responsible for the fact that there are more of our nation’s 13 to 17-year-olds killed every three weeks than lost in one year of the war in Iraq. That’s 15 times the casualties of the Gulf War annually, with virtually no one reporting or even recognizing the true enemy.

“We’ve lost our business and this week it may be our home. But when it comes down to losing the opportunity to work with our youth, we will stand. If we do nothing, we will surrender our constitutional God-given right to apprentice our youth, and our children’s rightful inheritance of being with their fathers. Satan wants to rob children of their fathers’ influence, but Scripture encourages: ‘He shall turn the heart of the fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.’ (Malachi 4:6) They’re not my employees, they’re my children!”

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