Federal and state laws limit your right to hire employees younger than 18 years of age. Generally, these laws seek to protect younger workers by restricting the type of work they can do and the number of hours they can work.
Prior to hiring any worker younger than 18, you should check both federal and state law. The federal law is described below, but your state's laws may be more protective of younger workers. To find out about your state's child labor laws, contact your state department of labor.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § § 2201 and following) is the federal law that governs child labor. Virtually all employers and businesses must follow the FLSA, although a handful of businesses, including small farms, are not required to. To find out about exceptions to FLSA requirements, refer to the website of the U.S. Department of Labor, the federal agency that enforces the FLSA, at www.dol.gov.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, workers younger than 18 may never perform the following types of hazardous jobs (some exceptions are made for apprentices and students):
- manufacturing or storing explosives
- driving a motor vehicle and being an outside helper on a motor vehicle
- coal or other mining
- logging and sawmilling
- anything involving power-driven wood-working machines
- anything involving exposure to radioactive substances and to ionizing radiations
- anything involving power-driven hoisting equipment
- anything involving power-driven metal-forming, punching, and shearing machines
- meat packing or processing (including anything involving power-driven meat slicing machines)
- anything involving power-driven bakery machines
- anything involving power-driven paper-products machines
- manufacturing brick, tile, and related products
- anything involving power-driven circular saws, band saws, or guillotine shears
- wrecking, demolition, or ship-breaking operations
- roofing and work performed on or near roofs, including installing or working on antennas and roof-top appliances, or
- excavation operations.
If you own or operate a farm or other type of agricultural business, the following child labor rules apply to you. (To learn whether your business qualifies as "agricultural," see What Are Agricultural and Hazardous Agricultural Jobs?)
- You may hire a worker who is 16 years or older for any work, whether hazardous or not, for unlimited hours. (To learn which agricultural jobs are "hazardous," see What Are Agricultural and Hazardous Agricultural Jobs?)
- You may hire a worker who is 14 or 15 years old for any nonhazardous work outside of school hours.
- You may hire a worker who is 12 or 13 years old for any nonhazardous work outside of school hours if the child's parents work on the same farm or if you have their written consent.
- You may hire a worker who is 10 or 11 years old if you've been granted a waiver by the U.S. Department of Labor to employ the youngster as a hand harvest laborer for no more than eight weeks in any calendar year.
- If you own or operate the farm, you can hire your own children to do any kind of work on the farm, regardless of their ages.
If you seek to hire a youngster for work that is nonagricultural, the following rules apply:
- You may hire a worker who is 18 years or older for any job, hazardous or not, for unlimited hours.
- A worker who will do job-related driving on public roads must be at least 17 years old, must have a valid driver's license, and must not have any moving violations.
- You may hire a worker who is 16 or 17 years old for any nonhazardous job, for unlimited hours.
- You may hire a worker who is 14 or 15 years old outside school hours for certain retail, food service, and service station jobs, but some restrictions apply. The teen cannot work more than three hours on a school day, 18 hours in a school week, eight hours on a nonschool day, or 40 hours in a nonschool week. Also, the work cannot begin before 7 a.m. or end after 7 p.m., except from June 1 through Labor Day, when evening hours are extended to 9 p.m.
For More Information
For a complete guide to your legal rights and responsibilities as an employer, see The Employer's Legal Handbook: Manage Your Employees & Workplace Effectively, by Fred Steingold (Nolo).