Are you planning to work during the summer or during the school year? If you are a minor – someone under the age of 18 – and you are looking for a job, you’ll need to know the rules about child labor. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) dictates the hours and types of jobs minors can work. The FLSA also allows employers to pay minors less than the minimum wage, at least in some situations.
Types of Work Minors Can Do
Once you turn 18, you are legally considered an adult for purposes of the FLSA. The law doesn’t put any restrictions on the types of jobs for which you may be hired. Until you turn 18, however, you may not do certain types of hazardous work, including working with explosives, mining, logging, meat-packing and processing, roofing, and excavation. Employers that work in these potentially hazardous fields will ask for proof that you are no longer a minor.
For other types of work, what you can do depends on your age:
- You must be at least 17 years old if you will have to drive on public roads for your job. You must also meet other requirements, including having a valid driver’s license and no moving violations. And, you may drive during daylight hours only, with restrictions on the type of work you are allowed to do. For example, you may not drive a towing vehicle, make route deliveries, carry more than three passengers, or make urgent deliveries (including pizza), among other things.
- Once you are 16, you may be hired for any job not defined as hazardous, as long as it doesn’t require driving on public roads.
- Once you are 14, you may be hired for jobs that don’t involve hazardous work, manufacturing, processing, factory work, warehousing and storage, and other occupations deemed too dangerous for younger teens. You may do office work, food preparation and cooking, cleaning, lifeguard work, cashier and bagging, and a variety of other types of jobs.
- If you are under 14, your job options are quite limited: Certain types of agricultural work are allowed, however, if your parents agree.
Once you turn 16, you can work unlimited hours all year round. If you are 14 or 15, however, your work hours are limited. The limits depend on the school calendar:
- During the school year, you can't work during school hours. Also, you can't work more than three hours on a school day, eight hours on a non-school day, or 18 hours during a school week.
- On weeks when school is not in session (summer and holidays, for example), you may work up to 40 hours per week.
- You may not start work earlier than 7 a.m. or finish work later than 7 p.m. during the school year. From June 1 through Labor Day, you may work until 9 p.m.
Minimum Wage Requirements
The general rule is that everyone – including minors – must be paid at least the highest minimum wage that applies where they work. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. If your state or local government has passed a higher minimum wage, you are entitled to earn that higher amount.
However, there is an exception to the federal minimum wage requirement for younger workers. If you have not yet turned 20, an employer may pay you an “opportunity wage” no lower than $4.25 per hour for the first 90 calendar days of your employment, as long as no employees are displaced to hire you at this lower wage. Once the 90 days are up (or you turn 20, if it happens during the 90-day period), you must be paid at least the full federal minimum.
A number of states have higher minimum wages, and many do not allow employers to pay a lower amount to younger workers. In California, for example, the minimum wage is currently $10 for everyone, minor and adult alike. If you work in California, you are entitled to that higher minimum wage.
State Law Requirements
The FLSA doesn’t require you to get a work permit or other papers to work as a minor. However, some states require minor employees to present a certificate from their school or the state labor department. In California, for example, minors must complete a form and get a parent or guardian to sign it so their school will issue a work permit. To find out your state’s requirements, contact your state labor department.
Some states have their own child labor laws. If these laws differ from the federal FLSA, the most protective law applies. For example, if your state lists additional types of hazardous work that minors may not perform, you can’t do those types of work in your state, even if the FLSA would allow it.
Resources on Federal and State Laws for Minors
For information on the laws that protect you at work, see the U.S. Department of Labor’s Youth Rules. For your state’s minimum wage requirement, see the website of the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Are the rules different for emancipated minors?
- Can my school refuse to give me a work permit based on my grades?
- I finished high school early, so I’m only 15; will I be treated as an adult for purposes of work?