Hiring Employees Under 18 – Know the Laws Regarding Child Labor

As summer approaches and schools are close to letting out for summer vacation, many employers will be hiring teenagers to do summer work. But before hiring an employee who is not yet 18 years old, it is very important for employers to familiarize themselves with child labor laws to ensure they remain in compliance and avoid potential penalties.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), provides some work limitations based on the age of the minor employee:

  • Under 14 years old: generally cannot perform any work (outside of a few exceptions such as newspaper delivery and casual babysitting).
  • 14-15 years old: only permitted to work in specified occupations (such as retail and some kitchen and food service – for a full list of permitted occupations click here). There are also restrictions regarding hours that employees 14 and 15 years old can work:
    • No work can be performed during school hours,
    • No more than 3 hours of work on school days (including Fridays),
    • No more than 18 hours per week during the school year,
    • No more than 8 hours per day during school breaks,
    • No more than 40 hours per week during school breaks,
    • No work before 7 am or after 7 pm (except between June 1st and Labor Day when the nighttime limitation is extended to 9 pm).
  • 16-17 years old: can work unlimited hours with no restrictions or limitations in any job other than those designated as hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. For a list of hazardous jobs, click here.
  • There are separate rules for minors working in the agricultural industry. For more information about those rules, click here.

The FLSA permits employers to pay employees younger than 20 years old less than the regular federal minimum wage for their first 90 days of employment (consecutive calendar days). The current federal youth minimum wage is $4.25 per hour.

The FLSA does not require minors to obtain a work permit to begin employment, however many states have laws that do require work permits.

In addition, many states have their own rules regarding child labor addressing items such as required meal or rest breaks and/or restrictions on hours worked. It is very important to be aware of all applicable state laws in addition to the rules established under the FLSA. For more information regarding state specific laws, click here.