What you Should Know About Employing Minors

by Jonathan Melmed on Jun. 04, 2020


Summary: A quick summary of regulations and general rules one should know about employing minors.

The main body of law regulating the employment of minors is called the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”).  The FLSA is a federal law that applies to all of the states.  The child labor provisions of the FLSA are designed for the purpose of protecting children’s health, safety, and opportunities for education.  In addition to the FLSA, states (or even cities or counties) may enact their own sets of laws concerning the employment of minors.  If the laws ever conflict, then the typical rule is that the law which is more protective of the minor will apply.


For most types of jobs (not including agricultural work), the minimum age a minor is allowed to work is 14.  However, the law provides some exceptions.  For example, minors who are under 16 can perform work in radio, television, movie, or theatrical productions.  Also, minors under 14 may perform work in businesses owned by their parents (unless the work is “hazardous,” discussed in more detail below).  Minors under 14 may also legally work as babysitters or perform chores in their private homes. 


Typically, minors may not be hired to perform ‘hazardous’ work.  The definition of ‘hazardous’ depends on the minor’s age.  For example, minors under 18 may not be hired to work in mining, logging, slaughtering/meatpacking, roofing/excavation, or with explosives (among others).  Minors under 16 may not be hired to work in these job functions, but also cannot be hired to operate motor vehicles, or to work in transportation, warehousing, communications, construction or hazardous farm work.


Some states include their own prohibitions on hazardous work for minors.  For example, in California, minors under 16 are prohibited from working in, among others, construction, manufacturing, operating or assisting with specified pieces of machinery, working on a railroad, vessel, car or another vehicle, or working in proximity to toxic substances, such as acids, dyes and gas.


Minors aged 14-16 are permitted to work in certain job functions.  For example, the FLSA permits minors aged 14-16 to work in certain clerical jobs, to work as a cashier or a bagger in a supermarket, to run errands/make deliveries, to work in a kitchen, or to work as a lifeguard (must be at least 15 to work as a lifeguard).  Additionally, the FLSA permits minors to perform “artistically creative” work, such as computer programming, software writing, tutoring, serving as a teacher’s assistant, playing a musical instrument, or drawing.


However, all of these various restrictions and rules come with various exceptions, exemptions, and qualifications.  The FLSA is riddled with these various qualifiers.  The best way to determine whether it is legal to hire a minor to perform a particular job function is to speak to a qualified employment lawyer who can evaluate particular job scenarios (including a review of the occupation, and its industry, and the age of the minor).


Jobs that typically hire minors seasonally.  There are a number of fairly common jobs that typically hire minors for seasonal employment.  For example, during the summer months (and year-round in some areas with public or community pools), it is common for minors ages 15 and up to work as lifeguards.  Also, state-law permitting, minors 16 and over can work at restaurants as either cashiers or in the back-kitchen.  It is also fairly common to see retail stores hire minors to work during high-season. 

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