In short, it depends. Whether or not an employer is able to hire a minor depends on the type of job and work being performed. The United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) has published laws that set age-dependent regulations for employing minors. These laws are set forth in the Fair Labor and Standards Act (“FLSA”), which will be discussed further below.
Importantly, there are many businesses that are interested in hiring minors (i.e. individuals under the age of 18). In fact, hiring minors to work at a small business is a common practice, especially during months in which the minor is not actively in school. As long as the job the minor is hired for does not involve any potential hazardous working conditions, then a minor that is at least 14 years old (i.e. the federal minimum employment age) may likely be hired for that job.
The following is a breakdown of general hiring practices for individuals under the age of 18:
- Hiring a Minor 14 – 15 Years of Age: Minors 14 to 15 years of age may be hired for any non-hazardous job with hours that occur during non-school hours.
- It is important to note minors aged 14 to 15 may work for a maximum of 3 hours on a school day and 18 hours in a school week.
- For non-school days, such as during the Summer, minors aged 14 to 15 may work 8 hours a day, and 40 hours total hours for the non-school week.
- Hiring a Minor 16 – 17 Years of Age: Minors aged 16 to 17 years of age may be hired for a job with non-hazardous working conditions for an unlimited amount of hours; and
- Hiring an Employee Over the Age of 18: Individuals over the age of 18 may be hired for any job and may work for an unlimited amount of hours.
What Determines Working Hours For Minors?
Once again, the Fair Labor Standards Act, or “FLSA,” is the Federal Act that sets and governs many of the requirements for various areas of employment. Specifically, the FLSA sets the labor standards for:
In addition to the above list, the FLSA also regulates how many hours per day or week that employees can work. Although the FLSA does not specifically regulate the number of hours that employees over the age of sixteen can work, the Act does contain a number of strictly enforced provisions associated with employing people who are under the age of sixteen.
As mentioned briefly above, the FLSA provides legal protections for individuals aged 14 to 17 years old, under the child labor regulations. Such legal protections include restrictions on maximum work hours, as well as a listing of occupations that are considered to be too hazardous for minors to perform. Examples of hazardous occupations include work involving excavation, work involving driving, and work involving the operation of power-driven equipment to name a few.
The FLSA also states that minors who engage in non-agricultural work should generally be sixteen years old at minimum. However, there are certain exceptions in which fourteen year olds may work in specific occupations, as long as there is no overlap with their school hours. In terms of agricultural work, such as farming, the minimum working age is twelve according to federal law. For such jobs, the child’s parents must permit their child to work and their working hours must not coincide with the minor’s school hours.
It is important to note that each state’s labor code may contain additional restrictions regarding employing minors. Employers must adhere to state restrictions on employing minors, in addition to those enforced by the FLSA.
What Are Common Examples of Federal Child Labor Restrictions?
According to federal labor law, minors who are under the age of sixteen may only work in occupations that are non-mining, non-manufacturing, and non-hazardous. As such, minors may work any of the remaining jobs for the following hours:
- A maximum of three hours during any school day;
- A maximum of eighteen hours during one school week;
- A maximum of eight hours during non-school days;
- A maximum of forty hours during weeks where there is no school; and
- No work hours before 7 AM or after 7 PM, except for June 1st (Labor Day), in which minors may not work past 9 PM.
It is imperative to keep in mind that child labor restrictions and laws are intended to protect minors from as many exploitative instances as possible. These child labor restrictions exist to protect minors from job conditions that could be considered detrimental to their wellbeing or overall health.
As previously mentioned, the FLSA maintains an exhaustive list of occupations in which minors are not allowed to be employed. This list of occupations are considered to be hazardous for children, and as such they are considered to be too dangerous for them to perform.
Examples of dangerous occupations present on the FLSA list include, but may not be limited to:
- Coal mining;
- Any job that involve forest fires, such as fire fighting;
- Jobs that involve excavating operations; and
- Jobs that involve specific types of machinery, such as:
- Power driven metal working machinery;
- Circular saws; and/or
- Bakery machines, such as an extruder.
Specific examples of job related activities that are prohibited by the FLSA for minors include:
- Jobs revolving around manufacturing and storing explosives;
- Any activities related to motor vehicles, such as driving and/or assisting in unloading;
- Any activities involving exposure to radioactive materials;
- Jobs involving packing and servicing meats;
- Jobs that involve work on or about rooftops;
- Jobs that involve demolition and wrecking; and
- Excavation jobs and activities.
What Should I Do if I Have Been Accused of Illegally Employing Underage Workers?
If you have been accused of illegally employing underage workers, you may face criminal charges. Generally speaking, if an employer has violated child labor laws, that employer will face a misdemeanor charge. Misdemeanor crimes are a criminal offense that is considered to be more serious than a citation, but is less serious than felony charges. Misdemeanor crimes are generally punishable by a sentence of up to one year in a county jail facility, as well as criminal fines.
In terms of violating either the FLSA or a state’s laws on child labor, an employer may face impriosnment in their county’s jail plus fines of up to $5,000. The criminal penalties for any subsequent violations will generally be more serious, and may be elevated to a felony charge in certain cases.
Are There Any Legal Defenses to Violating Child Labor Laws?
Criminal defenses to misdemeanor crimes, such as violating child labor laws, may be applicable in certain cases. In terms of violating child labor laws specifically, there are some common exemptions to child labor laws and regulations that may also serve as a legal defense. Examples of common legal defenses to violating child labor laws include:
- Children who work for their parents, specifically when their parents solely own a non-farming business;
- Children who work and perform in theater, television, film, and radio;
- Children delivering newspapers to consumers; and
- Children who specifically make evergreen wreaths.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Employing Minors?
Whether you are an employer, a minor employee, or the parent of a minor employee, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced contract lawyer if you are planning to work as a minor or hire a minor. As can be seen, employers wishing to employ a minor must adhere to federal standards, as well as state requirements, which can vary widely.
An experienced and local employment attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your state’s specific laws regarding employing minors, as well as provide you the most relevant legal advice based on your business’ needs. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, should any legal issues arise.
Finally, if you have been accused of violating the law concerning child labor, you should immediately seek an experienced criminal defense attorney. Once again, illegal child labor is considered a criminal offense. An experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you of your rights and potential legal defenses, as well as represent you in criminal court, as necessary.