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“Know the law and don’t treat minors as adults” when employing youth, recommended Laura O’Donnell, an attorney with Haynes and Boone in San Antonio, Texas, in an interview.
The primary federal law restricting work by minors is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). “Start with the FLSA, and read it in conjunction with state laws that are more stringent,” Kristin Gray, an attorney with Ford Harrison in Spartanburg, S.C., told SHRM Online.
“The goal of the FLSA’s work restrictions is to protect minors’ educational opportunities and prevent their exposure to dangerous working conditions,” O’Donnell noted. “As a general rule, the FLSA prohibits most nonagricultural employment of minors less than 14 years of age. Minors of any age, however, are allowed to deliver newspapers; perform in radio, television, movie or theatrical productions; and perform nonhazardous work in businesses owned by their parents.”
Gray added that the minimum age for employment varies by occupation, but generally 16 years old is the youngest permitted age for hazardous agricultural work; 18 for hazardous nonagricultural work.
Many of the requirements for employing minors, though, depend on the state. “It’s very important to check state laws,” Gray remarked. She observed that the laws can vary significantly depending on the age of the minor, type of occupation and time of year—minors can work later in the evening in summer when school is not in session, for example.
Some states, such as Indiana, require employment certification for minors, Gray said. And other states, such as Massachusetts and New Mexico, require permits.
In California, “Any employer who employs a minor under 18 years of age who is required to attend school must obtain a permit from the minor’s school before the minor performs any work,” noted Barbra Arnold, an attorney with Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP in Los Angeles. “The employer must obtain a new permit each year. Special permits must be obtained to permit minors to work in the entertainment industry. Permits are not required for casual intermittent jobs in private homes such as lawn-mowing and babysitting.”
Type of Occupation
Under the age of 14, minors can’t be employed in nonagricultural positions with the exceptions for newspaper delivery, acting and babysitting, noted Bret Cohen, an attorney with Mintz Levin in Boston and Washington, D.C. Under the age of 16, minors can’t work in manufacturing, mining and processing, he said. But 14- and 15-year-olds can work in office or clerical positions, as a cashier, and in bagging and carrying groceries, he added.
They also can do errand or delivery work and cooking that does not involve an open flame or deep fat fryers, Jeffrey Ruzal, an attorney with Epstein Becker & Green in New York City, noted.
“States provide their own laws pertaining to the type of work in which minors may engage, oftentimes uniquely dependent on state-specific occupations or activities,” he added. “For example, under Florida law, 14- and 15-year-olds are prohibited from working in, among other industries, sawmills or logging operations, or alligator wrestling, or work in conjunction with snake pits or other similar hazardous activities. Other states, however, simply adopt the requirements and restrictions set forth in the FLSA.”
As for 16- and 17-year-olds, they can “do pretty much everything except occupations deemed hazardous,” such as roofing operations or operating power-driven machines, like saws, Cohen remarked.
A 17-year-old may drive a car for work under limited conditions, but is generally restricted to driving during daylight hours, he said.
When Minors May Work
Under the FLSA, a 14- or 15-year-old can work no more than three hours during school days and eight hours on nonschool days, Cohen said. Workweeks are capped at 18 hours when school is in session but 40 hours when school is not in session. Minors under the age of 16 may work only between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during most of the year, but the end time is extended to 9:00 p.m. during the summer—defined as June 1 through Labor Day, O’Donnell noted.
“States including Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Pennsylvania and several others limit minors under the age of 16 to working six days per week,” O’Donnell observed.
At 16 or 17, minors can work overtime any time, unless their states have more stringent laws, Cohen remarked. For example, Massachusetts has a statute that limits 16- and 17-year-olds’ work to no more than six days and 48 hours in a week with no more than nine hours in a given day.
“Under New York law, a 16- or 17-year-old may work during the school year four hours per day on any day preceding a school day other than a Sunday or holiday, and eight hours on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or holiday,” Ruzal said. Similarly, in California, a 16- or 17-year-old may work no more than four hours in any day in which the youth is required to attend school, Arnold said. The exception is that a 16- or 17-year-old may work up to eight hours on a school day that precedes a nonschool day, such as a Friday, if the work occurs outside of school hours.
Massachusetts also sets limits on the times when minors may work. For example, for 16- and 17-year-olds, it’s only between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on nights preceding a regularly scheduled school day. On nights not preceding a regularly scheduled school day, it’s between 6 a.m. and 11:30 p.m., with an exception extending the time until midnight for restaurants and racetracks.
Mantras When Employing Minors
“School comes first!” Arnold observed. “Minors should not engage in any activities that are hazardous or otherwise detrimental to their well-being and should not be overworked.”
“Make sure you get the parents’ permission” for the minor to work, Cohen recommended.
“Employment of minors can be a mutually rewarding experience, but employers must be cognizant of federal and state-specific laws governing minor employment,” Ruzal said. “Before hiring minors, employers should carefully scrutinize their business needs and objectives, as well as the potential legal ramifications of noncompliance.”
Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.
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