Guidelines for Working Minors

Image shows kids of various ages performing different jobs. One is a girl in a corn field, the other is a girl in a library, the other is a girl wearing roller skates and serving fast food, the last is a tall man working at a coffee shop. Text reads:

Image by Elnora Turner © Jacara 2019

How young is too young for a part-time job? What hours are minors allowed to work? A lot depends on the teenager in question, their parents' feelings about teenagers having jobs, and school and after-school commitments. However, even the most responsible teenager, with willing parents and enough free time to devote to a part-time job, will run up against one limitation to their employment: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This law regulates the days, hours, and times that 14, 15, 16, and 17-year old employees can work.

Ages Teens Are Legally Allowed to Work

The FLSA places restrictions on employment for minor workers (workers under age 18), depending on their age, the time of year, the day of the week, and more.

The FLSA sets the minimum working age at 14 for non-agricultural jobs. Workers from ages 14 to 18 cannot work in occupations that are deemed hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. These include mining, excavation, manufacturing explosives, and using some power-driven equipment. Minors occasionally can work at work sites in hazardous industries, but only in limited tasks that have been declared safe.

State labor laws often differ from federal laws. When they do, the law that is "more protective of the minor" applies. For example, if your state says workers under age 18 cannot work in any hazardous industries (even if the task has been declared safe), then this is the rule you must follow. Check your state's labor laws for more information.

Hours Teens Are Legally Allowed to Work

There are also employment restrictions that refer only to minors of particular ages.

Under Age 14:
Children under age 14 cannot work any non-agricultural jobs unless employed by their parents in a non-hazardous industry.

Ages 14-15:
Children ages 14-15 can only work hours when they are not in school. There are also rules about how many hours they can work each day. They can work up to 3 hours per day on a school day, and 18 hours total during a school week.

They can work up to 8 hours on a non-school day, and 40 hours total during a non-school week.

One exception to this is that they can work extra hours if they are working for a state-sponsored career exploration program or work-study program through the Department of Labor.

Finally, there are limits on the specific hours of the day they can work. Generally, they can only work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. However, from June 1 through Labor Day, they can work between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Ages 16-17:
There is no limit on the hours that someone age 16 or 17 can work. However, if you are under 18, you cannot work in a job that the Labor Department considers hazardous, as mentioned above.

Age 18 and over:
There are no limits on the hours you can work if you are 18 or older.

Exceptions to Restrictions

Generally speaking, age-based work restrictions don't apply to minor workers who are employed by their parents or guardians. The exception to the exception? Those hazardous industries listed above.

Employees under the age of 18 cannot work in mining or manufacturing, for example, even if they would be employed by their family.

Teen Wages

Generally, teenagers who work should be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Workers under the age of 20 can be paid a youth minimum wage (or statutory minimum wage) of $4.25 for the first 90 consecutive calendar days; this youth minimum applies to every job the teen holds, not just their first job. If a worker under the age of 20 changes jobs, their new employer may pay them the lower rate for the first 90 days of their new job.

Many states and some cities have set minimum wages higher than the federally mandated minimum, but these don't necessarily apply to younger workers. Recently, a few states have proposed minimum wage exceptions for teenagers, partly in response to these minimum wage increases.

"I don't think voters approved an increase thinking in terms of a first job for high school students," Nebraska state Sen. Laura Ebke told The International Business Times. "It really refers more to the working poor, people who can't make ends meet."

Whether you agree or disagree, it's in your best interests to familiarize yourself with both state and federal laws applying to young workers in your area before applying for a job or allowing your teenager to do so. In most cases, employers will have to abide by both state and federal law.

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