The Fair Standards Labor Act (FLSA) protects youth workers against child labor violations by setting the requirements for:

  • Age;
  • Minimum wage; and
  • Types of work.

It is important to note that child labor laws by state may vary. In some states, the child labor laws have additional restrictions to the federal requirements.

The FLSA provides that children who work in non-agricultural work should, in general, be 16 years of age. Under certain conditions, however, even 14 year olds are permitted to work in certain occupations, as long as there is no overlap with school hours.

For agricultural work, for example, farming, the minimum age for children is 12 under federal laws. For a youth to be employed, their parents must permit them to work.

The youth’s working hours must not coincide with school hours.

Further Limitations on Child Labor in Hazardous Occupations

The Fair Standards Labor Act prohibits children under 18 years of age from working in certain occupations that are deemed to be hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. These rules apply even to individuals who hire their own children.

Job-related activities that have been deemed to be hazardous include:

  • Manufacturing and storing explosives;
  • Activities related to motor vehicles, such as driving or helping to unload;
  • Forestry and firefighting-related occupations;
  • Working with power-driven machines, for example:
    • woodworking;
    • hoisting;
    • metal-forming;
    • saws;
    • bakery machines; and
    • 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; and
  • Excavation activities.

There are 17 categories of hazardous occupations that children under the age of 18 cannot perform.

Can I Hire a Person Under 18 to Work for Me?

Whether or not an employer can hire an individual under the age of 18 to work for them will depend on the type of work and the job that is being performed. The United States Department of Labor (DOL) has published laws that outline the age-dependent regulations for employing a minor.

These laws are provided in the FLSA. It is important to note that there are many businesses that are interested in hiring minors.

In fact, it is common for minors to be hired to work at a small business, especially during months that the minor is not attending school. As long as the job the minor is hired to do does not involve any potential hazardous working conditions, a minor who is at least 14 years old may be hired for the job.

14 years of age is the federal minimum employment age.

Typical Restrictions on the Labor of Children

There are certain restrictions that apply to minors in different age categories, including:

  • Children ages 14 and 15: Because this is the youngest category of minor permitted to work, except for children in agriculture, the most regulations apply, including:
    • 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 prior to 7 a.m. or end after 7 p.m.;
    • When school is not in session, a 40-hour week that has a maximum of 8 hours per day is permitted. Between June 1st and Labor Day, 14 and 15 year olds are not permitted to work later than 9 p.m.; and
    • So long as there is not a conflict with school hours, possible jobs are limited to:
      • restaurant work;
      • food service;
      • retail; and
      • gasoline service work;
  • Children ages 16 and 17: There are fewer regulations that apply to this age group. The hours of work are not capped at this age. However, they are still not permitted to work in an industry deemed to be hazardous;
    • Federal law provides that 16 is the basic minimum age, so there are no limits on the hours of work permitted in non-hazardous occupations;
  • Individuals who are 18: Special federal child labor laws are not applicable to individuals over 18 years of age. However, general federal employment laws and labor laws for employees will still apply.

What Determines Working Hours for Minors?

The FLSA sets the labor standards for:

The FLSA also regulations how many hours per week or day that an employee is permitted to work. Although the FLSA does not specifically provide the number of hours that employees over the age of 16 can work, it does provide a number of strictly enforced provisions that are associated with employing individuals who are under the age of 16, as discussed above.

It is important to note that the labor code in each state labor code may contain additional restrictions regarding the employment of minors. Employers are required to adhere to state restrictions on employing minors, in addition to those that are enforced by the FLSA.

Federally Mandated Minimum Wage for the Youths

After their initial employment, an individual who is under the age of 20 may be paid a lower minimum wage of $4.25 per hour for 90 calendar, but not working, days.

What Are Some Exemptions to Child Labor Laws and Regulations?

There are some exceptions to federal child labor laws. For example, there are exceptions that apply to:

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

How Do I Report Child Labor Law Violations?

If an individual needs to report a violation of child labor laws, they can file a complaint with The Wage and Hour Division. A complaint can be filed online or by phone.

An individual may also be able to file a complaint with their state department of labor. This can typically be done online or by phone.

If an employer willfully violates the child labor rules, the FLSA allows for fines up to $10,000. If a second offense is committed after a conviction for a first offense, an individual may be imprisoned for not more than 6 months.

Employers that violate the FLSA’s child labor laws may face the following civil penalties:

  • Not more than $11,000 for each youth who is employed in violation of child labor laws; or
  • No more than $50,000 if a youth is employed in violation of the child labor restrictions and suffers serious injury or death;
    • It is important to note that this penalty may be doubled if the violation is a repeat violation or a willful violation.

Seeking Legal Help

If you believe that your child’s labor rights have been violated at work, it may be helpful to consult with a labor lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you of your child’s rights as well as the various laws that may apply to their situation.

Because there are strict federal laws that apply to child’s work, many work-related issues including, discrimination, harassment, or injuries may require a more nuanced approach that a lawyer can provide. In addition, as the penalties for violating child labor laws may be severe, it is essential to have a lawyer protecting your interests in court if you are an employer.