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How to Comply With Federal Teen-Labor Rules

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in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

White Paper published by The HR Specialist, copyright 2007


THE LAW. Teens are a great source of labor, especially during the summer. But the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets strict limits on the hours they can work and the jobs they can perform—and those limits are different during school months and non-school months. Some states also have their own laws.

WHAT’S NEW? Your risks of running afoul of the law have increased, and penalties can be harsh. A 2007 study by the National Institute of Occupationals Safety and Health (NIOSH) found a surprisingly high percentage of  teen employees who were working beyond the number of hours allowed by federal law, and also in jobs deemed too dangerous by law. This study will likely raise more interest among federal and state safety investigators in child-labor compliance.

Because youth employment swells in summer, many enforcement efforts are aimed at amusement parks, restaurants and retail shops. But the Labor Department is using other tactics.

For example, its “Safe Child” initiative asks school districts to identify local companies that hire lots of teens. Then the agency works with the companies—and keeps a watchful eye—to make sure they comply. Also, the Labor Department has just launched a new Web site, www.youthrules.dol.gov, that aims to educate your potential hires and their parents about child labor rules.

HOW TO COMPLY. In most cases, children ages 13 and under are off-limits to employers. They’re not allowed to work except in odd jobs or in special circumstances, including delivering newspapers, baby-sitting, doing chores around a private home, performing in radio, TV, movies or theater productions or working for their parents’ solely owned business.

Youths ages 14 and 15 may work outside of school hours in various jobs (except manufacturing, mining and hazardous positions), but the hours they work are limited to:

  • 8 hours on a nonschool day, and 40 hours in a nonschool week.
  • 3 hours on a school day, and 18 hours in a school week.
  • Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (except from June 1 through Labor Day, when nighttime work hours are extended to 9 p.m.).

Once workers reach 16, the employment picture gets less restrictive. The FLSA says 16- and 17-year-olds can work
unlimited hours. However, they still can’t perform certain hazardous duties. For a list of off-limits jobs, go to

Once workers reach age 18, they can work any job for unlimited hours, regardless of whether it’s considered “hazardous.”

STATE RESTRICTIONS. Many states also have their own child labor laws. They often mirror the FLSA, but some are more restrictive. For example, unlike the FLSA, more than half of states regulate the daily or weekly number of hours that 16- and 17-yearolds can work.

Rule of thumb: In situations where the federal and state laws differ, your company must follow the stricter of the two laws. Check state laws by visiting www.dol.gov/esa and clicking on “State Labor Laws” on the right side of the page.

PERMITS/CERTIFICATION. Federal law doesn’t require work permits or proof-of-age certificates for a minor to be employed. But many states do require permits for workers of certain ages. Contact your state labor department or local high school guidance counselors to find out if permits or proof-of-age certificates are required.

These certificates are one of your best forms of protection from prosecution for employing an underage worker. To find out what your state law requires, go to www.dol.gov/esa/programs/whd/state/certification.htm .


Teen safety checklist

  • Know which hazardous jobs under-18 workers aren’t allowed to perform, plus the hours they’re allowed to work in summer and the school year.
  • Stress safety among front-line supervisors. They have the best opportunity to influence teens and their work habits.
  • Develop an injury and illness prevention program. Think about work redesign or simple, low-cost ideas. Example: A chain of convenience stores in Pennsylvania issues different-colored smocks to employees under age 18. That way, supervisors know who isn’t allowed to operate the meat slicer.
  • Don’t assign teens to tasks or tools that account for lots of injuries, like driving a car or truck, using power tools or operating heavy equipment.

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