If you plan to hire teenagers to work for your California company, you'll need to know the basic child labor rules. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulates the employment of minors (those under the age of 18), including what hours they can work and in what industries. Some states have their own child labor laws, which are often more restrictive than the FLSA – and California is one of them.
This article provides an overview of child labor regulations in California. You can find more information on employing minors at the website of the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement.
With a few exceptions, California employers must get a work permit issued by the minor's school before hiring a teenager. (This rule applies to those who are under the age of 18 and have not yet graduated from high school; early graduates don't have to get a work permit.)
Typically, once you agree to hire a teenager, he or she must complete a form provided by the school. You must also fill in some information on the form, including your contact information and the nature of the work to be performed by the teen. Your company and the teen's parents must sign the form.
Once the form is returned to the school, it will decide whether to issue a work permit. This decision is discretionary, in recognition of the public policy that education should be a minor's first priority. The school may decide to issue a permit for the maximum hours allowed by law, or it may limit the hours the teen may work or refuse to issue a permit at all.
Teens who do odd jobs in private homes (like mowing lawns, babysitting, or dog walking) don't have to worry about this requirement. Nor do teens who are self-employed, including most of those who deliver newspapers.
Federal law allows employers to pay workers who are not yet 20 years old an "opportunity wage" that is less than the regular minimum wage during their first 90 days of work. California law doesn't have this type of provision. California employers may, however, pay "learner" employees 85% of the minimum wage for their first 160 hours of work. A learner is someone of any age who has no previous similar or related experience to the work being performed.
When it comes to labor laws, the law that provides the most protection to workers applies. Here's how it works:
Unlike adults, minors are not allowed to work unlimited hours. Instead, the work hours of a minor employee depend on his or her age and the school calendar. Here are the general rules:
Young minors – those under the age of 14 – may generally work only in very limited jobs, such as delivering newspapers or doing odd jobs in people's homes. Once a minor turns 14, however, a wider range of typical teenage work is allowed, including retail, food service, and office and clerical work. Minors in this age group are not allowed to do any hazardous work, including mining, manufacturing, repairing equipment and machines, working on ladders, work involving power-driven machinery, and much more.
There are also special restrictions that apply to teens who will engage in door-to-door sales, including that they must work in pairs.
Minors who are 16 and older may work in a wide variety of fields, except those deemed hazardous under federal law (which includes roofing, excavation, working with explosives, and working with radioactive substances). They also may not sell alcohol or work in certain areas of gas stations, among other things.
For more information on all of these restrictions, check out this summary chart of child labor restrictions from the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement.