Hiring young people can be beneficial for all parties. But before you make any job offers, be fully aware of how youth employment is regulated under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). When employers fail to comply with these obligations, they can be prosecuted by the Department of Labor (DOL). And if the prosecution is successful, the DOL will likely publicize the results as a sobering reminder to all employers of the FLSA requirements.
For instance, a fast food franchisee in the Midwest was recently charged with multiple labor law violations. They permitted several dozen employees under the age of 16 to work shifts longer than three hours on school days. The underage workers were allowed to operate certain dangerous equipment. And, the company failed to maintain proper employee work records. The result? The employer was fined nearly $50,000.
In another case, the local government of a small town was penalized for employing minors to perform hazardous jobs, which included riding in the back of trucks and operating chainsaws. The case reminds employers of “the importance of preventing employees under the age of 18 from participating in prohibited work,” the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division stated.
There are two age brackets for youth workers:
- 14- and 15-year-olds, and
- 16- and 17-year-olds.
Different rules apply to each bracket. Minors who work for a family business (assuming the work is considered nonhazardous) are exempt from these rules. Otherwise, children generally must be at least 14 to work, according to the FLSA.
The maximum hours of work for 14- and 15-year-old employees in various non-manufacturing, non-mining, nonhazardous jobs are as follows:
- 40 hours per week when school isn’t in session,
- 8 hours per day when school isn’t in session,
- 3 hours per day when school is in session, and
- 18 hours per week when school is in session.
Also, after Labor Day and before June 1, 14- and 15-year-olds aren’t permitted to work before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. During the summer months, they can work until 9:00 p.m. Exceptions are made for certain work study and career exploration programs.
Workers ages 16 to17 don’t have restricted work hours. However, like 14- and 15-year-olds, they aren’t permitted to work in hazardous jobs, such as:
- Assisting with or operating power-driven machinery,
- Lifeguarding in a lake, river, ocean beach or other natural environment.
Other examples of hazardous jobs are: work involving the use of ladders and scaffolding, cooking, baking, loading goods off or onto trucks, building maintenance, and warehouse work (unless clerical).
The DOL’s website provides a full list of jobs that 14- and 15-year-old workers are permitted to do. It’s important to reference this list before hiring a teenager in that age bracket, because it isn’t permissible to hire these workers for any job that doesn’t appear on the approved job list.
If young employees are participating in a special work experience program, they might not be subject to all the usual FLSA restrictions, including the number of hours they can work during a school week.
An example is the “work experience and career exploration” program for 14- and 15-year-olds. State education departments can apply to the DOL’s Wage and Hour Administrator to set up such programs. Their purpose is to “provide a carefully planned work experience and career exploration program for students who can benefit from a career-oriented experience.”
Employers also have more flexibility with 14- and15-year-olds who are in a DOL-approved work study program, which is geared to academically oriented students. Individual schools can apply to the DOL for approval of those programs.
6 Practical Tips
Here are six practical tips offered by seasoned employers of workers who are under age 18, compiled by the DOL’s “Youth Rules” website resource center.
1. Color coding. Different colored vests are issued to employees under the age of 18 by one chain of convenience stores. That way, supervisors know, for example, who isn’t allowed to operate or clean the electric meat slicer.
2. Tracking. An employer in the quick service industry, with over 8,000 young workers, developed a computerized tracking system to ensure that workers under 16 years of age aren’t scheduled for too many hours during school weeks.
3. Policy cards. One supermarket issues teens a laminated, pocket-sized “Minor Policy Card” on the first day of work. The card explains the store’s policy and requirements for complying with the youth employment rules.
4. Training. Many employers have taken the simple, but critical, step of training all their supervisors in the requirements of the FLSA. Refresher training at periodic intervals is equally important.
5. Warning stickers. Some employers place special warning stickers on equipment that young workers may not legally operate or clean.
6. Self-check for compliance. Some companies conduct their own compliance checks of their businesses to ensure they adhere to all federal, state and local youth employment rules.
If you’re prepared, there could be a wealth of mutual benefit in hiring young teens for certain jobs. Employers benefit from their youthful exuberance and vigor. And, while a young worker’s focus might be earning some spending money, everyone needs to make a successful entry into the working world. As with any labor policy, check your state and possibly even local government’s laws and regulations pertaining to hiring minors before taking the plunge.