HR Management & Compliance

Teens in the Workplace: What Employers Should Know, Part 1

It’s hard to believe, but summer is almost here. And if you’re planning on hiring young workers to add to your ranks during the summer months, now’s the time to read up on the special safety rules that apply to teens in the workplace. In fact, May is Safe Jobs for Youth Month in California. Below, we review what you should know about jobs teens can’t perform. And next week, we’ll look at the wage and hour rules that apply to teen workers.

Generally, California and federal law prohibit teens from working in hazardous industries and jobs. In particular, teens cannot work in these industries: meat packing, mining, logging, roofing, demolition, and pipe or brick manufacturing. You can also get into trouble for allowing minors to work around explosives; radioactive materials; or power equipment used for baking, meat slicing, woodworking, hoisting, or metal formation.

Minors under age 16 can’t work in industries such as building construction, public utilities, storage warehousing, public communications, transportation, and manufacturing. They’re also barred from operating farm machinery; working from high scaffolds or ladders; or dealing with dangerous animals, large timber, hazardous storage areas, manure pits, or chemicals. Other jobs that are off-limits to 14- and 15-year-olds include retail or food-service positions that involve working around boilers or engineering rooms, operating or maintaining power equipment, washing windows using ladders, loading and unloading goods, or using freezers and coolers.

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Does the job include driving? Take note that teens under age 17 can’t drive on public streets for work purposes. Seventeen-year-olds are permitted to drive but with certain restrictions, including that the driving be during daylight hours and amount to no more than one-third of the youth’s work time in a day or 20 percent in a week.

One more point to keep in mind with respect to teen drivers: Effective July 1, 2008, it will be illegal for individuals under age 18 to drive a motor vehicle while using a mobile phone, even with a hands-free device. The law also bars these teens from driving while using any other mobile service device, such as a broadband personal communication device, a specialized mobile radio device, a pager, a two-way messaging device, or a handheld device or laptop computer with mobile data access. The ban won’t apply if the teen has to make a call for emergency purposes to, for example, a law enforcement agency, a healthcare provider, or the fire department.

For more information, check out federal OSHA’s website focused on teen worker safety and the California labor commissioner’s youth worker website.

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