The Lowdown on Labor Laws and Minors

As a small business owner, you rely on your team of employees to help you keep things up and running. And hiring teenagers can be a smart choice. With their fresh perspective, creativity and willingness to learn, they’ll likely bring a level of vibrancy to your workplace that customers and clients will love.

But remember, hiring minors comes with its own set of rules and regulations. Here are some of the basics to get you thinking before you say “you’re hired!”

Study Up on Federal and Local Labor Laws

Please note that agricultural jobs, family businesses and a couple other professions have different requirements. We’ll touch on those later, for now, let’s leave those businesses out of the equation.

Although there are some federal laws that apply across the country, most rules vary from state to state. So it’s important to understand your state’s rules for hiring minors — this includes regulations on hours, pay, nature of work, etc. If you find a situation where the laws overlap and you’re confused, the law which is more protective of the minor applies.

Federal laws do not require minors to have work permits or papers, but you may find that your state requires this documentation. In this situation, the state rules apply because it is more protective of the minor. Similarly, federal laws do not restrict the number of hours a minor between the ages of 16 and 18 can work. But you may find that your state does have limitations on minors between the ages of 16 and 18. If this is the case, then the state’s restrictions are the ones to follow because they’re more restrictive and provide more protection to your teen workers.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets wage, hours worked, and safety requirements for minors. This applies to everyone under the age of 18. But there are further restrictions on people between the ages of 14 and 16, specifically on how many hours they can work. As a general rule, the FLSA sets age 14 as the minimum age for employment.

If you’re hiring a minor, in addition to following the rules designed specifically for them, they are also entitled to receive the same minimum wage, overtime, workplace safety and health and non-discrimination protections as all other workers.

The Age of the Worker Matters

Not all minors are treated the same. The age of your potential hire plays a big role in what they can and can’t do for your business. In fact, with each age range comes a unique set of federal regulations, and it can get kind of complicated. But we’ve got you covered! Here’s what you need to know.

The age rules and restrictions tend to be an area that causes a bit of confusion and has some conflicting information between federal laws and state laws. Remember that the policy that is most protective of the minor is the one you follow.

An overarching theme throughout the federal child labor provisions is that they are designed to ensure the work is safe and doesn’t jeopardize the child’s health, well-being or educational opportunities. It’s the “educational opportunities” part that can have a big impact on your local rules. Some states consider certain hours of the day to be school hours and you may find there are restrictions on when you can schedule a minor to work.

Consider Your Job Needs When Hiring

Some occupations and work environments are simply too dangerous for minors. The Secretary of Labor has defined specific jobs that are unsuitable for minors. If you are looking to fill one of these positions, you’ll have to hire someone over the age of 18 to comply with federal laws. The Child Labor Bulletin also gives you some specific information about activities that are prohibited and some exceptions to these rules. Matching this data together, and then comparing it to your state regulations, should give you a better picture of what type of job someone under the age of 18 can do.

One big consideration when hiring teens is their individual level of maturation. Not all 16 year olds have developed at the same rate, which means a job that might be perfect for one teen is just too complicated for another. Having a process in place to interview applicants to test their maturity and ability to do the job can be key to their success. Equally important, the training process should be geared to their level of experience, so they fully understand what is expected and how to perform their new job.

Exemptions from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

While the FLSA is a wealth of information and can be a great go-to source when hiring underage employees, it does not cover all professions or situations. There are specific exemptions and situations where the federal child labor provisions do not apply. They are:

  • Children aged 16-17 employed by their parents in occupations that are not pre-defined as hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.
  • Children under age 16 employed by their parents in occupations other than mining, manufacturing, or ones that are declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.
  • Children employed as actors or performers.
  • Children who deliver newspapers to the consumer.
  • Homeworkers engaged in making wreaths composed principally of natural holly, pine, cedar or other evergreens.

Many family farms and family-run businesses fall into these exemption categories and the federal laws do not apply to them when hiring their own children. State laws may come into play here and there are industry-specific guidelines that offer advice on what is considered safe and acceptable for children. These professions require a little extra research for hiring minors.

Working with minors can be a fun and rewarding process for both parties. So take these steps to determine if a young adult would fit in well at your small business! And remember to give yourself a refresher often — it’s important to give young employees a fair and safe work environment so they can thrive.


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Related Topics: Safe Business Tips , Business Insurance , Workplace Wellness