Young people have rights on the job.
Workers often teach their children the value of hard work. Many teens want to work to earn their own spending money. Some teens are forced to take on employment to help their family meet its obligations. Due to age, lack of experience and workplace protections, some employers take advantage of young workers and break the law in doing so.
The rules differ for youth working in nonagricultural occupations and those engaged in agricultural work.
Generally, anyone age 16 and older may work for any amount of time, subject to standard U.S. labor and employment laws as provided by the child labor laws of the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor. Some 14- and 15-year-olds may also work, subject to the following conditions: 1) No more than three hours on a school day, 2) No more than 18 hours in a school week, 3) No more than eight hours on a nonschool day and 4) No more than 40 hours on a nonschool week. Between June 1 and Labor Day, those ages 14 and 15 may work from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. At all other times, however, those ages 14 and 15 may only work from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Different rules apply to youth engaged in agricultural work. Anyone ages 16 and above may work at any time and in any occupation on a farm. Children ages 14 and 15 may also work on a farm outside of school hours and provided they do not work in any occupation the secretary of labor has deemed hazardous. Children ages 12 and 13 may work on farms outside of school hours, if they obtain a parent’s written consent. Children under the age of 12 may be employed outside of school hours, with written parental consent, on any farm that is not subject to the federal minimum wage provisions. A child of any age may work in any occupation on a farm owned by the child’s parent.
Children who engage in entrepreneurial activities, such as cutting a neighbor’s lawn or babysitting, are usually not subject to federal labor standards.
Federal law prohibits young workers under 18 years of age from working in any occupation the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has determined to be hazardous. Occupations such as excavation, mining, meat packing or slaughtering and operating many types of power-driven equipment are off limits to youth. Each state has specific child labor laws. States must comply with both the federal and state laws regarding young workers.
More information regarding child labor rules—including information about which agricultural occupations the secretary of labor has deemed hazardous, which agricultural employers are exempt from the federal minimum wage requirements and more stringent individual state regulations—can be found on the Department of Labor’s website.