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Wage and Hour Laws for Minors and Teens

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping, and employment standards that affect workers, including youth workers. FLSA provisions are designed to protect the educational opportunities of minors and prohibit their employment in jobs under conditions detrimental to their health or well-being.

Youth Minimum Wage

Under the FLSA, covered employers are allowed to pay employees under the age of 20 a youth minimum wage of no less than $4.25 an hour for the limited period of 90 days. The eligibility period runs for 90 consecutive calendar days beginning with the first day of work for an employer. If an employee turns 20 during the 90 day period, their pay must be raised to no less than the applicable minimum wage.

Unless prohibited by state or local law, employers covered by the FLSA may pay eligible employees the youth minimum wage. If a state or local law requires payment of a minimum wage higher than $4.25 an hour, and doesn't make an exception for employees under the age of 20, the higher state or local minimum wage would apply.

Additionally, a youth under 20 may be paid the youth minimum wage for up to 90 consecutive calendar days after initial employment with any employer. This means that if the youth is employed by two different employers, he or she may be paid the youth minimum wage for the first 90 days at each job.

Worker Protections

Youth workers under 14 are limited to the following work:

  • Delivering newspapers to customers;
  • Babysitting on a casual basis;
  • Working as an actor or performer in movies, TV, radio, or theater;
  • Working as a homeworker gathering evergreens and making evergreen wreaths; and
  • Working for a business owned entirely by the worker's parents as long as it's not in mining, manufacturing, or any of the specified hazardous occupations.

Youth workers aged 14 or 15 are limited in what hours they can work:

  • Must be outside school hours;
  • No more than 3 hours on a school day, including Fridays;
  • No more than 8 hours on a nonschool day;
  • No more than 18 hours during a week when school is in session;
  • No more than 40 hours during a week when school isn't in session; and
  • Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., except between June 1 and Labor Day when the evening hour is extended to 9 p.m.

Child labor regulations limit jobs that 14- and 15-year-olds may hold:

  • Office jobs and retail and food service establishments.
  • Occupations such as bagging groceries, office work, stocking shelves, and cashiering.
  • Intellectual or artistically creative occupations such as teacher, musician, artist, and performer.
  • Limited kitchen work involving the preparation of food and beverages.
  • Only limited cooking duties.
  • Clean cooking equipment and surfaces not otherwise prohibited, and filter, transport, and dispose of grease under certain temperatures.
  • If properly certified, 15-year-olds may work as lifeguards and swimming instructors at traditional swimming pools and water amusement parks.

There are no federal rules limiting the hours 16- and 17-year-olds may work. However, there are restrictions on the types of jobs that may be performed. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds may work any job that hasn't been declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.

Once a youth worker is 18, most youth work rules don't apply. There are no limits to the number of hours 18-year-olds can work or the types of jobs they can perform.

Non-Agriculture Exemptions

Youth under 16 who work in nonagricultural jobs in a business solely owned by their parents or by persons standing in place of their parents, may work any time of day and for any number of hours. However, parents can't employ their child in manufacturing, mining, or in any occupation declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.

Additionally, child labor rules don't apply to youth employed as actors or performers in film, theater, radio, or TV; engaged in the delivery of newspapers; and youth working at home in the making of wreaths composed of natural holly or other evergreens.

Partial Exemptions

Sixteen and 17-year-old apprentices and student-learners are allowed to perform otherwise prohibited hazardous work under certain conditions. The otherwise prohibited work includes work using power-driven woodworking machines; power-driven metal-forming, punching, and shearing machines; balers, compactors, and paper-products machines; power-driven circular saws, band saws, shears, chain saws, chippers, and cutting discs; roofing operations; and excavation operations.

Fourteen and 15-year-olds may be employed in approved school-administered and school-supervised career or study programs. These programs allow variations in the rules that apply to 14- and 15-year-olds and permit employment during school hours. Students in these programs may also be employed in certain jobs that otherwise would be prohibited.

In addition, the FLSA provides for a limited exemption from the youth employment rules for certain minors 14 through 17 who are excused from compulsory school attendance beyond the eighth grade.

Agriculture Exemptions

Youth of any age can be employed at any time and in any occupation in agriculture on a farm owned or operated by their parents or persons standing in place of their parents.

Exemptions from Hazardous Work Prohibitions

Along with the parental exemption, there are only a few exemptions from the hazardous occupations in agriculture and they apply only to youth aged 14 or 15. Fourteen and 15-year-olds can be employed in jobs listed in hazardous order agriculture 1-6 as student-learners in a bona fide vocational agriculture program under a written agreement which provides that:

  1. Work is incidental to the training;
  2. Work shall be intermittent, for short periods of time, and under the direct and close supervision of a qualified, experienced person;
  3. The school shall give safety instruction coordinated by the employer with on-the-job training; and
  4. A schedule of organized and progressive work processes to be performed on the job has been prepared.

Fourteen and 15-year-olds who have completed the 4-H training programs for tractor operation or machine operation can work in occupations listed in hazardous order agriculture #1 and #2 for which they have trained, provided that the youth:

  1. Has been instructed by his or her employer on safe and proper operation of the specific equipment to be used; and
  2. Is continuously and closely supervised by the employer where feasible; or, where not feasible, is checked for safety by the employer at regular intervals.

Considerations

Some states have greater protections for youth workers and may have different rules regarding the youth minimum wage. It is important to refer to your state's laws in addition to the federal rules described above. Violators of the youth employment rules may be subject to civil penalties. The Department of Labor can also obtain injunctions against violators of the youth employment rules. Some youth employment violators can face criminal prosecution, and in some situations may be imprisoned.

For more information, see FindLaw's Wage and Hour Laws section. If you need help in understanding the rules related to youth employment, or legal assistance, you can contact a labor attorney.

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