Restrictions on Hiring Minors to Work in California

If you employ teenagers or other minors in your business, special rules apply.

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.

Required Work Permits

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.

No Opportunity Wage

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:

  • If neither of the above exceptions applies, the minor is entitled to the full state minimum wage.
  • If the California learner exception applies, but the federal opportunity wage exception does not apply, the minor can be paid 85% of the state minimum wage for the first 160 hours of work, because that amount is more than the full federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 an hour). If the federal minimum wage were to increase beyond the California learner wage, the minor would be entitled to the full federal minimum wage.
  • If the federal opportunity wage exception applies, but the California wage learner exception does not, the minor is entitled to the full state minimum wage, because it is higher than the federal opportunity wage.
  • If both wage exceptions apply, the minor is entitled to the higher amount (California’s learner wage) for the first 160 hours of work. After that, the minor must receive the full state minimum wage, because it is higher than the federal opportunity wage.

Work Hours

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:

  • Children who are 12 and 13 may not work on school days. They may work on school holidays and during summer vacation, up to eight hours in a day and 40 hours in a week. They may be employed between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (9 p.m. during the summer) only.
  • Children who are 14 and 15 may work while school is in session only if they have completed the seventh grade. They may work up to three hours on school days, eight hours on non-school days, and 18 total hours per week while school is in session. During the summer and holidays, they may work up to eight hours in a day and 40 hours in a week. They may be employed between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (9 p.m. during the summer) only.
  • Children who are 16 and 17 may work up to four hours on school days, eight hours on non-school days and days preceding non-school days, and 48 hours in a week while school is in session. During the summer and holidays, they may work up to eight hours per day and 48 hours per week when school is not in session, and they may work a wider range of hours than younger children.

Restricted and Allowed Work

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.

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