HR Management & Compliance

Summer Hiring? Watch for Tricky Child Labor Laws

A recent DOL decision assessed penalties of over $277 thousand against movie theaters for employing youths in dangerous jobs and for working them illegally long hours. Have summer hiring plans? Better review youth hiring rules.

Many companies enjoy adding young workers to their staffs during the summer months, and it’s a win-win as long as you follow the somewhat arcane rules of the Department of Labor.

There are to primary types of restrictions on youth work: hours of work and type of work.

Restrictions: Hours of Work

Minors aged 14 and 15. Children aged 14 and 15 may work only:

  • Outside of school hours
  • For 18 hours during any week when school is in session
  • For 40 hours during a week when school is not in session
  • For 3 hours during any day when school is in session (including Fridays)
  • For 8 hours on a day when school is not is session
  • From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on any day, except from June 1 through Labor Day when the child may work from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Exception: Attendants at professional sports events may work beyond the weekly time and hour restrictions but not during school hours.
Minors aged 16 and older: There are no federal limits on working hours for 16- and 17-year-old workers. Many state laws do restrict working hours for these workers, however. (Find state rules here.)

Work experience students. Students who are enrolled in a work experience or career exploration program during school hours may work for as many as 3 hours on a school day and for up to 23 hours in a school week.

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Restrictions Relating to Type of Work

Minors Under the Age of 14: Only the following occupations are open to children under 14 years of age:

  • Newspaper delivery.
  • Baby-sitting.
  • Acting and performing. Actors and performers are exempt from federal child labor laws (but most states regulate their employment).
  • Agriculture. Nonhazardous agricultural jobs are open to children over 12 if they have written parental consent and do not work during school hours. Under some circumstances, 10 year-olds may work in hand-harvesting jobs.
  • Employment by parent. Parents may employ their own children in any occupation except manufacturing, mining, and other occupations where the minimum age requirement is 18 years.

Minors Aged 14 and 15: Permitted Work

Children who are 14 and 15 years old may do the following types of work (the list is not exhaustive):

  • Office and clerical work, including the operation of office machines.
  • Retail, grocery and restaurant work including:
  • Cooking with electric or gas grills (but not over an open flame) or with deep fryers that automatically lower and raise the baskets to and from the hot oil.
  • Cashiering, selling, modeling, price-marking, assembling orders, packing, and shelving, bagging.
  • Errand and delivery work by foot, bicycle, and public transportation.
  • Cleanup work, including the use of vacuum cleaners and floor waxers, and the maintenance of grounds, but not including the use of power-driven mowers or similar equipment.

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  • Kitchen work, preparing and serving food, but only with permitted machines. Minors may occasionally enter freezers momentarily to retrieve items in conjunction with restocking or food preparation.
  • Work of an intellectual or artistically creative nature such as, but not limited to, computer programming, playing a musical instrument, and drawing.
  • Work in connection with cars and trucks if limited to dispensing gasoline and oil, courtesy service, car cleaning, washing and polishing by hand; but not including work involving the use of pits, racks, or lifting apparatus.

Lifeguarding at 15: The employment of 15-year-olds (but not 14-year-olds) as lifeguards and swimming instructors is permitted at traditional swimming pools when the minors have been trained and certified by the American Red Cross, but not working as a lifeguard or swimming instructor at natural environment swimming facilities, such as rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, quarries, or oceanside beaches.

There is a minimum age of 16 for employment in agriculture during school hours except where the worker is employed by his or her parent.

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