The Department of Labor’s Fair Standards Labor Act (FLSA) protects against child labor by setting requirements for age, minimum wage, and types of work. Some states’ child labor laws go beyond the federal requirements.

The Fair Standards Labor Act essential provides that children who engage in non-agricultural work should generally be 16 years old. However, under certain conditions, even 14-year-olds may work in certain occupations provided that there is no overlap with school hours.

For agricultural work (such as farming), the minimum age for children is 12 under the federal law. Parents must permit their child to work and the working hours must not coined with school hours.

Further Limitations on Child Labor in Hazardous Occupations

The Fair Standards Labor Act prohibits children under the age of 18 to work in certain occupations deemed to be hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. These same rules apply even if you hire your own children.

The job-related activities that are deemed to be hazardous include:

  • Manufacturing and storing explosives
  • Activities related to motor vehicles (driving, helping to unload)
  • Forestry and firefighting-related occupations
  • Working with power-driven machines (woodworking, hoisting, metal-forming, saws, bakery machines, paper-products machines)
  • Activities that involve exposure to radioactive materials
  • Mining of coal specifically, as well as mining generally
  • Packing and servicing of meats
  • Any work on or about rooftops
  • Demolition and wrecking activities
  • Excavation activities

There are a total of 17 categories of hazardous occupations that are closed to children who are under the age of 18.

Typical Restrictions on the Labor of Children

Below is an outline of the typical restrictions that apply to children in different age categories.

Children Ages 14 and 15: since this is the youngest category of children permitted to work (except for children in agriculture), the most regulations apply here:

  • When school is in session, these children are permitted to work a maximum of 18 hours per week and no more than 3 hours per day. Work during the school year must not begin before 7 a.m. or end after 7 p.m.
  • When school is not in session, a 40-hour week (with a maximum of 8 hours per day) is permitted. Between June 1st and the Labor Day, 14 and 15 year olds are not permitted to work beyond 9 p.m.
  • Possible jobs are limited to restaurant work, food service, retail, and gasoline service work, provided that there is no conflict with school hours.

Children Ages 16 and 17: fewer regulations apply for this age group. These children’s hours of work are not capped; however, they still cannot work in industries deemed to be hazardous. Under federal law, 16 is the basic minimum age, so unlimited hours of work are permitted in non-hazardous occupations.

18-Year-Olds: special federal child labor laws are no longer applicable to those over 18. However, general federal employment and labor laws for employees, of course, still apply.

Federally Mandated Minimum Wage for the Youths

After initial employment, youths under 20 years of age may be paid a lower minimum wage of $4.25 per hour for a period of 90 calendar (not working) days.

What Are Some Exemptions to Child Labor Laws and Regulations?

There are several exemptions to the federal child labor laws. For example, there are certain exceptions for:

  • Children who work for their parent’s solely-owned non-farm business (restrictions on hazardous activities still apply)
  • Children who perform in theater, on the radio, or on television
  • Delivering newspapers for consumers
  • Making evergreen wreaths

Seeking Legal Help

If you think that your child rights had been violated at work, you may need assistance from an employment or labor lawyer. A lawyer can help you understand your child’s rights and the various laws that may apply to his or her situation. Since strict federal laws apply to children’s work, many work-related issues such as injuries, harassment, or discrimination may require a nuanced approach.