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Hiring Minors for Your Business

Hiring minors can be a good way to increase summer employment. Small businesses like the number of ready workers who need work experience and don't mind irregular hours and minimum-wage jobs.

Before hiring a batch of high school students, small-business owners should review the child labor provisions in their state. Child labor laws may have changed since they were out tossing newspapers off their bike. Federal and state laws limit the nature of labor and hours a minor may work.

FLSA Overview

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), enacted in 1938, regulates a wide range of labor practices, including child labor. In addition, each state has its own child labor laws. These laws protect minors by limiting the types of jobs and number of hours minors may work. If there is a conflict between your state's child labor law and the FLSA, the stricter of the two prevails.

The FLSA child labor laws balance the right to work and the right to education. Young workers have the right to a safe workplace, to receive wages as required by law, and to work hours that do not conflict with their schooling.

Federal child labor laws set the youth minimum wage, limit hiring for hazardous occupations, and restrict the number of days of employment during the school year. The purpose of child labor laws is to avoid the abuses of the 19th century, when children labored 14 hours a day in dangerous work environments.

Federal Age Groups

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) divides minors into age groups for purposes of employment. This provides employers with a convenient marker for hiring and training new hires. Business owners hiring minors as part-time workers can tell at a glance what groups are fit for what jobs by knowing their age bracket.

General Exemptions

The FLSA does not apply to young people (no matter their age) working:

  • As actors in motion pictures, television, radio, or theater productions
  • In newspaper delivery to consumers
  • At home, making wreaths composed of natural holly, pine, or other evergreens (including the harvesting of the evergreens)
  • At a business or farm operated by the parents

Minors Ages 13 and Younger

The federal Labor Department sets the minimum age for employment at 14. This does not prevent parents from paying their own children "wages" for household work. However, most businesses cannot hire minors under the age of 14 in any capacity.

Paying a neighbor's teenage daughter for babysitting your kids for the night is not “employment." However, if it becomes a regular occurrence, it might be. Only parents may hire their younger children for regular work.

Minors Ages 14 and 15

Minors ages 14 to 15 have the most restrictions placed on the hours and type of work they can do. The work hour restrictions depend on whether school is in session.

  • When school is in session, 14- and 15-year-old employees may only work between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. They may only work three hours per day and no more than 18 hours per week.
  • When school is not in session (or between June 1 and Labor Day), 14- and 15-year-old employees may work between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. They may work eight hours per day, up to 40 hours per week.
  • On any non-school day, they may work 8 hours per day, and during any non-school week, they may work 40 hours per week.
  • Employees ages 14 and 15 who work in a business owned by their parents may work any time of day and any number of hours. However, they are still prohibited from working hazardous or manufacturing jobs.

Minors Ages 16 and 17

There are no restrictions on the number of working hours per day or days per week for teenagers ages 16 and 17. However, minors may not perform hazardous jobs.

Hazardous Jobs

Workers under 18 may not work in what the federal government calls "hazardous jobs." Even parents employing their own children must abide by these regulations. Exemptions exist for apprenticeships or student learners in a few jobs where 16- and 17-year-olds are genuine student learners. The following jobs are classified as hazardous:

  • Manufacturing and storing of explosives
  • Driving a motor vehicle or being an outside helper on a motor vehicle
  • Coal mining
  • Forest firefighting and fire prevention, timber tract management, forestry services, logging, and sawmill occupations
  • Power-driven woodworking machines (exemptions for student learners)
  • Exposure to radioactive substances
  • Power-driven hoisting apparatus
  • Power-driven metal-forming, punching, and shearing machines (exemptions for student learners)
  • Mining, other than coal mining
  • Meat and poultry packing or processing (including the use of power-driven meat-slicing machines)
  • Power-driven bakery machines
  • Balers, compactors, and paper-products machines (exemptions for student learners)
  • Manufacturing brick, tile, and related products
  • Power-driven circular saws, band saws, guillotine shears, chain saws, reciprocating saws, wood chippers, and abrasive cutting discs (exemptions for student learners)
  • Wrecking, demolition, and shipbreaking operations
  • Roofing operations and all work on or about a roof (exemptions for student learners)
  • Excavation operations (exemptions for student learners)

Additional Exemptions

Despite the push to keep kids in school, reality sometimes intrudes. There are exceptions to all rules, and in a few cases, exemptions exist for younger workers doing specific jobs in particular circumstances.

Exemptions for Nonagricultural Jobs

There are a few exemptions for minors in nonagricultural jobs where additional conditions apply. In these cases, all other restrictions remain in effect.

  • Minor employees who drive on public roads in a job-related capacity must be at least 17 years old, have a valid driver's license, and have no moving violations on their record.
  • Minors ages 14-17 excused from mandatory school attendance beyond eighth grade may work in businesses that use machinery to process wood products (e.g., sawmills, furniture makers, cabinet makers). They are not allowed to operate or assist in operating power-driven woodworking machinery.

Exemptions for Agricultural Jobs

Because the United States began as a farming nation, there are more exemptions and partial exemptions for minors working in agriculture. The restrictions on hazardous jobs and school hours still apply.

Minors may work on a farm owned or operated by their parents without restrictions. Additionally:

  • At age 14 or 15, student learners in a vocational agriculture program may engage in certain hazardous jobs. The work must be incidental to the training, for short periods, and under direct supervision.
  • Employers may hire workers ages 12 and 13 for nonhazardous work outside of school hours if the minor's parents work on the farm or if the minors get their parents' written consent.
  • The Department of Labor may grant employers waivers to hire workers at age 10 or 11 for hand harvesting. Such employment may not exceed eight weeks in any calendar year.

Agricultural states may have laws more restrictive than the federal laws cited here. Before hiring minors for agricultural work, check with your state's department of labor for the most recent rules in your area.

Note on Paperwork Requirements

Employers should verify the age of all minors in their hiring process. They 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. Meet with an employment law attorney in your area if you have other questions about hiring minors at your company.

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