As each summer approaches, the number of minors (people under 18 years of age) in the workplace skyrockets, as students who have been in school go on their summer breaks and many look for work. Hiring minors makes business sense to many companies, agricultural producers, and small businesses. Minors can be a source of boundless energy and, just as importantly, cheap labor.
Before hiring employees under age 18, however, be aware that child labor is regulated by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state labor laws. If there seems to be a conflict between your state's child labor law and the FLSA, the stricter of the two prevails. Child labor provisions are designed to protect minors by restricting the types of jobs and the number of hours they may work. For more information on your state's laws, visit your state Department of Labor's website.
Typically, both the FLSA and state labor laws divide minors into two categories: those 14 to 15 years old and those 16-17 years old. Younger workers have more restrictions on the types of jobs they can perform, as well as the number of hours they are allowed to work. For purposes of this article, we will review the FLSA's restrictions and requirements for hiring minors. Your state's laws may be more strict, however.
Once a child reaches the age of 18, they are no longer minors and may work as many hours as they like, in whatever industry they choose. No one under the age of 18 may be employed in a hazardous job, though (see below). For minors age 14 or 15, hours and types of work are restricted to promote educational opportunities and to increase health and safety. Minors ages 16 and 17 are unrestricted in the number of hours they work. The minimum wage as of July 24, 2009 is $7.25 per hour. States may have their own minimum wage, however, and, if so, employees are entitled to the higher of the two.
See Wage and Hour Laws for Minors and Teens for more details.
Minors Ages 16 and 17
There are no restrictions on the number of hours per day or days per week for teenagers ages 16 and 17. All minors are prohibited from performing hazardous jobs, however (see below).
Minors Ages 14 and 15
Those employees ages 14 and 15 have the most restrictions placed upon the amount and type of work in which they can participate. When school is in session, 14 and 15 year old employees can only work between the hours of 7am and 7pm (extended to 9pm from June 1 through Labor Day), and only 3 hours per day and 18 hours per week.
For non-school days, employees may work 8 hours a day and for non-school weeks the maximum is 40 hours per week.
Workers 15 years of age and younger who work in a business owned solely by their parents (or standing in place of their parents) may work any time of day and any number of hours. In addition to the prohibition on hazardous jobs, however, workers 15 and under are also prohibited from being employed by their parents in manufacturing jobs.
Minors Age 13 and Younger
Generally, fourteen is the minimum age of employment under the FLSA. However, there are several blanket exemptions to the FLSA allowing those under 14 years of age to work (see below). In addition, if the business or farm is operated by the parents, children of any age may work there.
The FLSA does not apply to young people (no matter their age) working:
The following jobs have been deemed to be hazardous by the federal government and therefore no minor may perform them. There are certain limited exemptions (explained further below), however, as a general rule, no one under the age of 18 may participate in the following occupations:
For the hazardous occupations denoted with an *, 16 and 17-year-olds are allowed to work those jobs under a limited exemption for apprentices and student-learners. There are no such exemptions for those under 16 years of age.
There is also a parental exemption allowing children of farm operators to work in any occupation in agriculture, regardless of their age (see below).
Partial Exemptions for Non Agricultural Jobs
In addition to the rules for hiring minors and limited exemptions outlined above, for non-agricultural jobs, the following partial exemptions also apply.
Exemptions for Agriculture Jobs
Stemming from the fact that the United States has traditionally been a farming nation, there are more exemptions and partial exemptions for minors working in agriculture. The general rules for minor employees still apply to jobs in agriculture, there are just more exemptions and allowances
There are complete exemptions for minors working on a farm owned or operated by their parents, regardless of the minor's age. Additionally:
Note on Paperwork Requirements
Employers should verify the age of all minors in their employ. You should obtain an age certificate issued by the Wage and Hour division of the Department of Labor to comply with federal law. Some states may also require either the employer or the minor to obtain work permits through the state's Department of Labor.
Discuss Your Questions About Hiring Minors with an Attorney
Small business owners and managers tend to wear a lot of hats, but the complexities and high stakes of employment law matters are often best left to the experts. Consider meeting with an employment law attorney in your area if you have additional questions about hiring minors at your company.