In October 2015, 23.7% of US high school students age 16-19 had jobs. Where are these young people working? According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, industries in accommodation and food services (e.g. restaurants, hotels), retail (including grocery and food stores) and arts, entertainment and recreation (including amusement parks) see the highest numbers of youth workers. These tend to be companies looking for entry-level, minimum wage and temporary workers, maybe even yours.
Teenagers may act and sound like adults, they may even do some of the same jobs adults can do, but underage workers are different in the eyes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state labor laws. If you choose to hire workers younger than 18, be sure you know the rules and best practices for hiring minors.
- Know Federal and State Child Labor Laws for Each Age Group
Federal child labor laws are part of the FLSA and additional laws at the state level also apply to child workers. In some cases federal laws may match your state laws, but when they don’t, the more strict law takes precedence. For example, while the FLSA does not require a minor to obtain a work permit, that child’s state department of labor might, so the permit is necessary. Always check your state’s child labor laws.
Under federal law, breaks and meal periods are not required, but states may have their own requirements you must follow. According to the Department of Labor’s FLSA Q&A page, “if you work in a state that does not require breaks or meal periods, these benefits are a matter of agreement between the employer and the employee.”
Like adults, minors are entitled to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, though employers may opt to use youth minimum wage for new hires under age 20. This provision lets employers pay $4.25 per hour for the first 90 consecutive days of employment, starting from the employee’s first day of work.
Restrictions on non-agricultural jobs apply to a child’s age, the number of hours they may work (and sometimes the time of day) and the type of work. Note that agricultural jobs have different restrictions outlined by the Department of Labor (DOL).
- Children under 14 are the most restricted group of workers. They may deliver newspapers, perform (e.g. TV, radio, theater), babysit or work for a company wholly owned by their parents that is not in mining, manufacturing or other hazardous occupations (see DOL’s list here).
- 14 and 15-year-olds are restricted to maximum numbers of hours per day and week and may only work outside of school hours:
- Up to three hours per day on a school day
- Up to 18 hours per school week
- Up to 8 hours per day when school is not in session
- Up to 40 hours per week when school is not in session
- Not before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. during the school year (and until 9 p.m. in summer)
- Job options expand to some types of retail and food service work, and other expressly permitted jobs.
- 16 and 17-year-olds may work unlimited hours and in any job not considered hazardous by the DOL (find the DOL’s list of hazardous occupations here).
- 18-year-olds are not covered by child labor laws, so there are no restrictions on hours or types of work. However, employers can still choose to use a cost-saving youth minimum wage policy for workers under age 20.
- Understand FLSA Enforcement
Under the FLSA, the Department of Labor can investigate possible child labor violations by checking employer records and interviewing employees. Civil money penalties up to $11,000 per violation or up to $50,000 in the case of a child’s serious injury or death resulting from a violation can be issued.
Employers who violate child labor laws repeatedly or willfully can be fined up to $100,000 and could face prison time. Federal district courts play a role in enforcement also. District judges may issue injunctions to compel an employer to comply with child labor laws and they may also halt shipment of “hot goods” manufactured in the US with “oppressive child labor.”
- Check your compliance
If you employ minors in a restaurant, grocery store or other non-agricultural business, you can check your compliance online through the DOL’s Youth Rules employment site. This quiz-style resource can help you identify equipment and work conditions that may be considered hazardous and working hours that fall outside FLSA child labor requirements.
- Keep your workers safe
All of your employees are protected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which means you need to take steps to keep them safe. In the case of underage workers, this means careful training in terms teens understand. Training “should include prevention of fires, accidents and violent situations and what to do if injured,” according to OSHA’s Young Worker’s website. Encourage young workers to ask questions about workplace safety and make sure the equipment and tasks assigned to them meet legal requirements.
- The EEOC applies to minors too
According to HR Specialist.com, “it's dangerous to assume that a teen will report harassing behavior under the same circumstances as would an adult employee. The reason: Teens think of the workplace in terms of school, where they think nothing of a boy pulling the pigtails of the girl he likes and name-calling is an unpleasant reality.” The takeaway? Make sure your minor employees understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to workplace harassment and discrimination. Teen workers can learn more about what constitutes discrimination, harassment and retaliation at the EEOC’s Youth@Work website.
Take steps to provide a safe work environment for all of your employees. “Do your due diligence when hiring adults who will supervise teens. Be sure to conduct background checks; check references; check sex offender registries; and check personnel files for complaints before transferring or promoting an employee or rehiring a former employee,” cautions HR Specialist.com.
Hiring teens and youth workers requires special compliance knowledge, extra training and likely some patience while “soft skills” are still developing. But as the nonprofit Bridgespan Group notes, these younger workers can help your business stay connected to current trends, engage with your next generation of customers and inject energy into the workplace. If you keep the rules and restrictions in view, your minor employees can be a lasting asset to your company. Horizon Payroll Solutions can help you along the way.