FLSA regulations of teen labor going into the summer

teen-labor-flsa-450x350pxThe labor market is still tight and employers are having a rough time hiring. You might be tempted to hire 14- and 15-year-olds this summer to work jobs older teens and young 20-somethings traditionally work. Be careful, because the Department of Labor is watching. After a newspaper exposé on young teens working long hours in dangerous occupations, it’s beginning to crack down on child-labor-law violators.

The Fair Labor Standards Act sets the rules for minimum wages, overtime, and restrictions on child labor. States, of course, are free to enact any wage-and-hour and child-labor laws they want. But if a state enacts a law that conflicts with the FLSA by, say, allowing young teens to work longer hours or in dangerous occupations, the FLSA prevails.

Why are we reviewing these FLSA basics now? Because it seems some state legislatures have forgotten the interplay between their laws and the FLSA. And guess who loses? You, if you rely on a state law the FLSA preempts.

FLSA rules for young teens

Between June 1 and Labor Day, 14- and 15-year-olds can work up to eight hours a day and 40 hours a week; they can’t work past 9 p.m. Bottom line: These teens can never qualify to work overtime.

The FLSA puts the burden of accurate record-keeping for all employees on you. So if your payroll system pays young teens 1.5 times their regular rate for overtime work during a week, you have a problem.

You should ensure your payroll system accounts for teen workers. The DOL won’t be sympathetic if it doesn’t, and teens don’t even need your payroll system’s time tracker. They can track their work hours and pay by downloading the DOL’s free time-sheet app to their smartphones.

The FLSA also restricts 14- and 15-year-olds from working on or with dangerous equipment, like meat slicers and deep fryers, for example. They can cook using electric or gas grills and clean kitchens, provided equipment, surfaces, containers and liquids are below 100̊ F. Fifteen-year-olds can lifeguard at swimming pools, but not the beach, if they’re properly certified.

Provided you want your teenager under your feet all day, they can work in your office and operate equipment like copiers.

You can pick up the list of allowed and prohibited occupations here.


Camp was a big part of our childhood. Who doesn’t remember color wars?

FLSA § 13(a)(3) exempts employees of amusement or recreational establishments if one of the following criteria is met:

  • The establishment doesn’t operate for more than seven months a calendar year.
  • During the preceding calendar year, the establishment’s average receipts for any six months weren’t more than 33⅓% of its average receipts for the other six months of the year.

This takes care of day camps.

What about sleep-away camps? The same section of the FLSA applies, but the DOL fleshes out the definition of a camp:

An organized camp characteristically provides room and board in a rustic setting over a sustained period of time. An organized camp is one with a program of activities and sustained supervision…

What the states are doing

Some states, like Arkansas, Indiana, Minnesota, and New Jersey, have dropped the requirement for teens to get work permits or working papers.

Warning: You’d be wise to ask for proof of age from all teen workers. The federal penalties for illegally employing child labor can be harsh.

Other states are opening up more jobs to young teens. Iowa, for example, now allows teens under 18 to operate power-driven pizza dough rollers equipped with safety features they can’t override. They can’t set up, adjust, repair, oil, or clean pizza dough rollers.

Warning: You’d be wise to approach these state laws with caution. Some new choices may very well be on the DOL’s prohibited occupations list.