Wondering if hiring minor age workers is legal in your state? Check out our federal and state guide to child labor laws for small businesses!
This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
Many small businesses hire candidates that are considered minors (those anywhere from the ages of 14- to 17-years-old). Due to their underage status, the Department of Labor (DOL) has developed child labor laws concerning minors such as work hours and job restrictions that all employers must know and follow. Understanding these rules will empower you to employ this eager, resourceful, and underutilized people group, safely, legally, and successfully.
In 2018, some alterations were made to the Wage and Hour child labor provisions focusing on 16- and 17-year-olds working in the healthcare field. The new rules paved the way for minors to expand the number of hours allowed and to acquire more training and apprenticeship opportunities, all mandated by the FLSA.
Federal Child Labor Laws
The FLSA determines all work rules (wages, hours worked, safety requirements) for all age groups of minors and the subsequent enforcement and fines for employers who violate these laws.
In addition to the legal aspects of hiring and managing any employee, employers need to go a step further with minors to ensure compliance:
- Minors may not work beyond the legal number of hours for their age.
- Their workspace must meet safety regulations.
- Employers must take reasonable measures to ensure that a minor’s job doesn’t interfere with their education.
In most cases, age-specific work restrictions do not apply to minors working in a family business or employed by their parents or legal guardians. The notable exception to the rule is jobs within hazardous industries.
Jobs for Which Minors Are Not Eligible
The FLSA prohibits minors under the age of 18 to work in any occupation that is deemed hazardous. Among these jobs are:
- Storing or manufacturing explosives
- Driving or working as an outside helper on motor vehicles
- Coal mining/mining in general
- Logging and sawmilling occupations
- Fighting or prevention of forest fires
- Forestry service or timber tract
- Operating a forklift
- Operating metal-forming, shearing, or punching machines
- Operating power-driven saws, shears, chippers, and abrasive cutting discs
- Operating jobs in the wrecking, demolitions, and ship-breaking fields
- Operating power-driven slicing machines in meatpacking or processing
- Slaughtering or rending of poultry
- Jobs with exposure to radioactive substances of ionizing radiation
- Trenching and excavating
For a more comprehensive list, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s OSHA Education Center.
While the federal government does not require work permits or proof-of-age certificates for a minor to be employed with your company, several states do require youth work permits for workers of certain ages. The purpose of these permits is to protect the employer from prosecution when hiring minors. It is advised that you check with your state on work permit and age certificate requirements.
The DOL will issue age certificates if the minor employee’s state does not issue them. More times than not, however, youth work permits or age-verification certificates are issued by individual states.
Minimum Wage for Minors
The FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards for minors in the workplace and requires at least the federal minimum wage, $7.25 per hour, to be paid to all covered and nonexempt employees. Additionally, overtime pay at a rate of not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay is required for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Some occupations, such as babysitting, do not require a specific minimum wage.
“Youth Minimum Wage”
An exception to the minimum wage requirement is the Youth Minimum Wage. This DOL rule permits employers to pay anyone under the age of 20 a training wage of not less than $4.25 an hour during the first 90 consecutive calendar days after initial employment, except where prohibited by state or local standards. The law contains certain protections for employees as well that prohibit employers from displacing any employee to hire someone at the youth minimum wage.
Federal Work Rules: Hours and Job Type
Knowing what types of occupations minors are allowed to work and for how many daily and weekly hours are essential to staying within compliance with the DOL (as well as taking proper care of your youngest workers). It should also be noted that some work rules differ depending on the time of year and related circumstances. For example, summer vacation hours are different from when school is in session.
Under a special provision, 14- or 15-year-olds who are in a “Work Experience and Career Exploration” program may work up to 23 hours during school weeks and three hours on school days (including during school hours).
Unpaid internships are a way to provide opportunities for youth to explore new careers and gain on-the-job experience. The determination of whether an internship or a training program meets the hours worked exclusion depends on all the facts and circumstances of each such program. If all of the factors for unpaid internships are met, then standard regulations governed by the FLSA, such as minimum wage and overtime provisions, do not apply to the intern.
Penalties for Violations
Violators of child labor laws are subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each employee where a violation was present. Additionally, penalties can include imprisonment for willful repeat offenders for certain violations. When violations are found in the workplace, the FLSA may impose changes to employment practices to bring an employer into compliance.
We recommend developing a policy for hiring minors in your workplace. You can also include specific new hire materials as a part of your onboarding process for underage workers that include employment stipulations.
It is a violation to fire or otherwise discriminate against any employee who files a complaint or participates in any legal proceedings under FLSA law.
State-Specific Child Labor Laws
When it comes to state-specific child labor laws, we recommend using the DOL resources that offer a comprehensive list of all of the state labor offices.
There are highlighted areas (or vocations) that both the DOL and many state child labor programs provide additional instructions for employers. These include:
- Non-agricultural: Several state-level new child labor laws went into effect as of January 2021. Among these include extended hours on non-school days.
- Agricultural: The DOL requires that all child labor laws, whether it was created at the federal or state levels, equally apply to migrants and, “local residents regardless of farm size or number of days of labor used on that farm.”
- Entertainment: The entertainment industry has its own set of rules when it comes to child labor work rules and each state has different laws. It is important that employers know what can and cannot be done with minors to remain compliant. Included in these rules are written parental consent and working no more than five consecutive days.
- Door-to-door Sales: This is another category where there are several additional work rules for minors at the state level. For instance, in Florida, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, and North Dakota, minors under the age of 16 cannot perform this type of work at all.
State labor laws often overlap what federal laws have initially declared for the employment of minors. When this occurs, the law that is more protective of the minor will always take precedence. We recommend that you check the state child labor laws that might impact your workforce.
Labor Law Posters
Every employer in every state must visually post labor law posters as required by law. There are labor law posters for both federal and state regulations. Employers may also be required to display special child labor law posters depending on the type of work performed by the minor.
All FLSA-covered employers are required to post the Employee Rights Under the Fair Labor Standards Act poster, which includes a section on child labor and minimum wage requirements.
Child Labor Law Resources
- Department of Labor (DOL)
- Child Labor Guidelines (DOL)
- Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA)
- Enforcement (FLSA)
- Youth Rules! (DOL)
- FLSA Compliance Assistance Toolkit (FLSA)
- State-mandated labor laws
- Minors working in agriculture (DOL)
- OSHA Education Center
Why Child Labor Laws Were Created
Federal child labor laws, launched in 1938 by the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA), were created to protect minors in the workplace. They are designed to ensure that when young people work, the work they take part in is safe and age-appropriate and does not jeopardize their health, well-being, or educational opportunities.
Since then, several states have imposed additional requirements that add to what the federal government requires. These restrictions include work permits, limiting the times and hours minors can work, and imposing additional safety regulations. No matter the rules in place, all employers must follow the federal or state rule which provides the most protection to the minor.
Federal child labor laws are set in place to ensure the safety, well-being, and educational opportunities for minor employees. In addition to federal laws, there are many state laws in place that companies must follow to remain compliant. As such, many companies have developed child employment policies that are not only helpful to employers but also present wonderful opportunities for young workers looking for work experience and money in their pockets.