With summer being a popular season for youth employment, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently reminded employers hiring youth-aged workers to comply with federal child labor laws to ensure these hires have a safe and beneficial experience.
The DOL’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prohibits employers from allowing youth-aged employees—workers who are under 18 years old—to perform certain tasks and work more than a specified number of hours. However, child labor laws can vary based on the industry and state. Failing to comply with the FLSA can result in significant consequences for employers.
Notably, the DOL’s reminder highlights recent investigations uncovering child labor law violations. Most penalties were related to child labor violations, including:
- Permitting minors to operate heavy machinery
- Allowing minors to work beyond the number of legally permitted hours
- Failing to pay for meal breaks
From 2017 to 2021, the DOL identified more than 4,000 cases of child labor law violations, with more than 13,000 youth-aged workers involved in violations.
What This Means
This recent warning is part of the DOL’s effort to ramp up enforcement and could translate to an increase in investigations this summer and beyond. As such, employers should continue to review relevant child labor laws to ensure compliance. Employers concerned about potential violations are encouraged to speak with legal counsel.
To aid employers in keeping youth-aged workers safe and ensure your compliance with labor laws, review the DOL’s age-specific workforce regulations below:
Rules for Workers Under 14 Years of Age
In general, youth workers who are under the age of 14 are limited on what type of jobs they can do. Workers who are under 14 years of age are only permitted to do the following jobs:
- Deliver newspapers to customers
- Babysit on a casual basis
- Work as an actor or actress in movies, TV, radio or theater
- Work as a homeworker gathering evergreens or making evergreen wreaths
- Work for a business owned entirely by their parents as long as it is not in mining, manufacturing or any of the 17 hazardous occupations
There are different rules in place for minors in this age group who work in agriculture. States also have specific rules for youth workers under 14 years old, and employers must follow both.
Rules for Workers 14 to 15 Years of Age
Similar to workers under 14 years of age, youth workers who are 14 to 15 years old are limited on what types of jobs they can do and what hours they can work.
In general, youth workers within this age range are only permitted to do certain jobs, which include the following:
- Work an approved retail position
- Work an intellectual or creative position, such as computer programming, teaching, tutoring, singing, acting or playing an instrument
- Run errands or complete delivery work by foot, bicycle and public transportation
- Complete cleanup and yard work that does not include using power-driven mowers, cutters, trimmers, edgers or similar equipment
- Work in connection with cars and trucks, such as dispensing gasoline or oil and washing or hand polishing
- Work in a kitchen or the food service industry reheating food, washing dishes, cleaning equipment or doing some limited cooking
- Clean vegetables and fruits, wrap, seal, label, weigh pricing and stock items as long as these tasks are performed in areas separate from a freezer or meat cooler
- Load or unload objects for use at a worksite including rakes, hand-held clippers and shovels
Additionally, 14- and 15-year-olds who meet certain requirements can perform limited tasks in sawmills and woodshops, and 15-year-olds who meet certain requirements can perform lifeguard duties at traditional swimming pools and water amusement parks.
If an occupation is not specifically permitted, it is prohibited for youth between the ages of 14 and 15.
Working Hour Restrictions
Workers who are 14 to 15 years old are also limited in what hours they can work. Generally, all work must be performed outside of school hours. In general, youth in this age range may not work the following:
- More than three hours on a school day, including Friday
- More than 18 hours per week when school is in session
- More than eight hours per day when school is not in session
- More than 40 hours per week when school is not in session
- Before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. on any day, except from June 1 through Labor Day, when nighttime work hours are extended to 9 p.m.
A “school day” or “school week” for youth workers who are home schooled, attend private school or no school, is any day or week when the public school where they live while employed is in session. There are some exceptions to the hours standards for 14- and 15-year-olds if they have graduated from high school, are excused from compulsory school attendance, or are enrolled in an approved work experience, career exploration program or work-study program. Click here for more information on hours restrictions for youth workers in this age group.
In most cases, 14- and 15-year-olds must be paid the federal minimum wage, $7.25 per hour. Minimum wage eligibility varies depending on the type of job and location. Additionally, workers who are younger than 20 and eligible for the minimum wage may be paid as little as $4.25 per hour for the first 90 consecutive calendar days of their employment.
Rules for Workers 16 to 17 Years of Age
Although there are no federal rules limiting the hours 16- and 17-year-olds may work, there are restrictions on the types of jobs they can do.
Workers who are 16 to 17 years old may work any job that has not been declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. Visit the YouthRules! webpage on workplace hazards for more information on banned occupations for workers under 18 years of age.
In most cases, 16- and 17-year olds must be paid the federal minimum wage, $7.25 per hour. Minimum wage eligibility varies depending on the type of job and location. Additionally, workers who are younger than 20 and eligible for the minimum wage may be paid as little as $4.25 per hour for the first 90 consecutive calendar days of their employment.
Rules for Workers 18 Years of Age and Older
Once a youth worker turns 18, most youth work rules no longer apply. There are no limits to the number of hours or types of jobs an 18-year-old can work.
In most cases, 18-year-olds must be paid the federal minimum wage, $7.25 per hour. Minimum wage eligibility varies depending on the type of job and location. Additionally, workers who are younger than 20 and eligible for the minimum wage may be paid as little as $4.25 per hour for the first 90 consecutive calendar days of their employment. States also have rules, and employers must follow both.
Federal and state rules regarding young workers strike a balance between ensuring sufficient time for educational opportunities and allowing appropriate work experiences. Complying with these rules ensures that your organization is providing a safe work environment for teen workers to obtain appropriate early work experience.
Source: YouthRules! and the DOL