Child labor laws exist to ensure the safety, well-being, and educational opportunities of minor employees. If your small business employs minors (those aged 14 to 17), you must know and follow federal and state child labor laws. These laws limit work hours and restrict the types of jobs minors can hold, among other things.
This guide explores existing laws—as well as new regulations and ongoing proposals, as several states are working to weaken child labor laws. We also give suggestions for hiring minors and creating a more minor-friendly workplace.
Federal Child Labor Laws
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) from the US Department of Labor (DOL) dictates the working laws for all age groups of minors and the subsequent enforcement and fines for employers that violate these laws.
To ensure compliance, employers must know:
- How many hours minors are allowed to work: Work hours for minors are restricted depending on their age.
- How late minors can work: Minors are only allowed to work at certain times of the day.
- Wages a minor must be paid: Minors must be paid minimum wage, with certain exceptions.
- Safety requirements for protecting minors: Minors are prevented from working certain jobs and may have more safety requirements.
- Measures necessary to ensure that a minor’s job doesn’t interfere with their education: This includes restrictions on time of day, days of the week, and seasons of the year when school is in session.
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 in hazardous industries.
Federal Work Rules: Hours & Job Type
Knowing what types of occupations minors are allowed to work and for how many daily and weekly hours is essential to staying in compliance with 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 those when school is in session.
Did you know? The FLSA, passed in 1938, can trace its history in part to the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), which was founded by social reformers in 1904 to advocate for the rights of children as it relates to work.
Internships can be paid or unpaid. Usually held for a limited time, they may last a summer or be part of a high-school program. Most often, internships are for minors 16 and up, in part because of the hour restrictions on younger workers. Internships, paid or unpaid, provide opportunities for youth to explore new careers and gain on-the-job experience.
Unpaid internships may not be restricted by the FLSA hours exclusion rules, depending on the facts and circumstances of the program. If all 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.
Related Article: How to Hire an Intern
Jobs for Which Minors Are Not Eligible
The FLSA Act 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 preventing forest fires
- Forestry service or timber tract
- Operating a forklift
- Slaughtering or rending of poultry
- 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
- Jobs with exposure to radioactive substances of ionizing radiation
- Trenching and excavation
Minimum Wage & How It Relates to Minors
Minimum wage is not a modern concept—as early as the mid-nineteenth century, states were establishing minimum wages. In 1938, the federal government established a national hourly wage minimum through the FLSA. Now, the FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards for minors in the workplace.
Today, it requires at least the federal minimum wage, $7.25 per hour, to be paid to all covered and nonexempt employees. Some occupations, such as babysitting, do not require a specific minimum wage. 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.
Many states, however, are building toward a minimum wage of $15 an hour or more, and some cities have also set their own minimum wage standard since the federal minimum wage has been stagnant since 2009. State laws and city ordinances take priority over the federal rule when their minimum is higher.
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 requires you to pay full minimum wage when the employee turns 20, even if it’s within the 90-day period, and prohibits employers from displacing any employee to hire someone at the youth minimum wage.
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. Willful violators may also face criminal prosecution. In addition, the FLSA permits a maximum civil money penalty of $50,000 for each violation that causes the death or serious injury of a minor; it may be doubled when the violations are determined to be willful or repeated. When violations are found in the workplace, the FLSA may also impose changes to employment practices to bring an employer into compliance.
Note: 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
We’re going to start with the 2023 updates. At least 10 states have enacted or have bills working through the state legislatures that would weaken child labor laws. This is an important and pressing issue because child labor law violations are on the rise according to news reports and government statistics.
What’s changing? It depends on the state. Wisconsin, for example, is considering legislation that would allow minors as young as 14 to work longer hours during the school year and in expanded roles, including serving alcohol in bars and restaurants. One of the most drastic lifting of requirements happened in Arkansas. Its new law eliminates the requirement for an employer to verify a child’s age and removes the requirement that a child under 16 get a work permit.
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. You should check with your specific state to ensure you are compliant with all child labor laws. For example, child labor laws in Florida read that, when school is in session, individuals between the ages of 14 and 15 may work only up to 15 hours per week (30 hours per week for those 16 and 17).
When state and federal labor laws have different requirements for the employment of minors, the law that is more protective of the minor will always take precedence.
There are also highlighted areas (or vocations) where both the DOL and many state child labor programs provide additional instructions for employers. These include:
- Non-agricultural: States have different hours and allowed work times. Check out the state-level child labor laws as of January 2023.
- Agricultural: The DOL requires that all child labor laws, whether created at the federal or state levels, equally apply to migrants and local residents “regardless of farm size or the number of days of labor used on that farm.” Find the list of state-specific laws here.
- Entertainment: Each state has different laws when it comes to child labor in the entertainment industry. 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. Alaska prohibits it for anyone under 18.
Did You Know? The fight for better working conditions for children started among private-interest groups and unions and got its legal grounding with the states first. In 1836, Massachusetts enacted the first child labor law by requiring that children under 15 who worked in factories attend school at least three months out of the year. By 1842, it was limiting work hours per day, and other states started following suit. While these were not well enforced, it was a start until the FLSA created a national standard.
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.
State laws on work permits vary. For example, in California, all minors under the age of 18 are required to have a work permit. In Maine, all minors under the age of 16 must obtain a work permit before starting a job. However, in Florida, no work permit is required for the employment of a minor of any age. 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 often than not, however, youth work permits or age-verification certificates are issued by individual states.
How to Hire Minors
When hiring minors, the exact steps will vary based on your work location. Generally, you’ll follow these three steps:
- Obtain a Work Permit: The minor or their parent may need to apply for a work permit. Information needed typically includes the minor’s age, the type of work they’ll perform, and the hours they’ll work. Most often, this permit is obtained by submitting an application to the state labor department. Sometimes, an employer or a school may be able to help. Some states require a new work permit for each new job a minor takes.
- Complete Necessary Paperwork: Once the work permit has been obtained, there are certain documents the employer must complete, like an employment certificate and parental consent form. These documents are often issued by the state labor department and can be provided by a school. It’s crucial that employers keep these documents in their personnel records.
- Verify the Employee’s Age: The employer must verify the employee’s age using a government-issued ID or a birth certificate. Keep a copy of the document used to verify the employee’s age in their personnel file.
Where to Find Minor Employees
While hiring minors can be beneficial to both you and your young employee, getting your jobs on their radar can be difficult, especially as online privacy controls start tightening where minors are concerned. It can take some creativity, but there are other places that are willing to work with you in your search for teen employees.
Did You Know? The rate of young adults entering the workforce spikes between April and July, as students take summer jobs or graduate and look for employment opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), on average, 55.3% of young adults (ages 16–24) were employed in July 2022.
Best Practices for a Minor-friendly Workplace
In addition to having a company culture that encourages growth and harmony, there are specific tasks that can make the employer-employee relationship easier when dealing with minors:
- Keep paperwork: Some states require you to keep paperwork on the minors you hire, such as work permits or parental permission or proof of age. If you use hiring or onboarding software that lets you collect these documents, be sure to click the settings that request this information and be sure you’re not collecting or requesting protected information.
- Familiarize with restricted duties: Even if a particular job is allowed under law, some duties may not be. For example, in some states, minors cannot work on certain large machinery or work around construction vehicles.
- Maintain a teaching attitude: For many minors, yours may be their first job. Regardless, they may require extra coaching on the basics of being on time, double-checking work against standards, and how to talk to managers or co-workers. Even knowing how to ask for help can be a new skill.
- Assign mentors: Taking the teaching attitude further, assigning an older or more experienced worker to mentor the teen can lead to a better learning experience for them and a better (and potentially long-term) employee for you.
- Be ready to deal with parents: Most minors will still live at home and bring their frustrations from work back to their parents. You’ll need to be ready to accept calls from irate parents or parents calling on behalf of their child (such as for days off). While you should be polite, you also need to impress on the employee and the parent that it’s the employee’s responsibility to address issues in the workplace with a manager or human resources.
- Stay on top of scheduling: Scheduling minors goes beyond following state and federal laws. Many minors also have sports or other extracurriculars that impose time restrictions, plus times they may need extra study like finals weeks. You’ll want to impress on your young employees how much notice you need for time off requests. Also, having a strong scheduling software or scheduling app can help with those times when they need to swap shifts or find a replacement quickly.
Labor Law Posters
As required by law, every employer in every state must visually post labor law posters. 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
Hiring Minors Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
When there’s a difference between federal and state law, the rule providing more protection or benefit to the minor will apply. In fact, the DOL has an alert noting that recent laws passed in some states conflict with federal law, and employers must comply with the more restrictive federal law, even in a state where these new, less restrictive laws have passed.
While not always required, it’s generally a good idea to provide additional training to minor employees, particularly around workplace safety and the specific responsibilities of their job. For many, this is their first job, so taking a little extra time to help them get acquainted will go a long way. Besides any accommodations required for a disability, you’ll need to work around their schedule to comply with child labor laws, ensuring they have appropriate breaks.
Minors are covered by workers’ compensation insurance just like adult employees. If a minor gets injured on the job, they are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Employers should include minors in their workers’ compensation insurance policy.
Minor employees are subject to the same tax withholding as adult workers. Employers are responsible for withholding income tax and FICA. Minors who earn above a certain wage may also need to file a tax return, though there are ways to make a minor’s tax burden zero, providing they’re not making too much money.
Companies that hire minors must follow federal and state child labor laws to remain compliant, following the laws that provide more benefits and protection to minor workers. We recommend developing a policy for employing minors in your workplace. You can also include specific new hire materials that include employment stipulations as a part of your onboarding process for underage workers.