It’s that time of year again – summer vacation is over and kids are back in school. For many teens who plan to work during the school year, it means having to strike a balance between class time, homework, extracurricular activities and a job. It’s important to know that there are certain federal and state laws governing work for young people, especially during the school year. Teens, their parents and their employers all need to be aware of those rules, so I’ll address many of them here.
One thing that we’re often asked about here at the Department of Labor is whether or not young people need work permits. Federal law does not require a work permit for teens. However, some states do require work permits prior to getting a job. Check with your school guidance counselor about whether one is needed in your state.
It’s very important for young people and their employers to know what hours they’re allowed to work, and this varies by age. Federal law says that, in general, 14- and 15-year-olds can only work during non-school hours and no more than 3 hours on a school day, including Fridays, and18 hours total in a week. On weekends, holidays and school breaks, they can work 8 hours a day and up to 40 hours in a week. And though the law is more permissive during the summer, they can only work between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during the school year. Federal law does not limit the number of hours or times of day for workers 16 years and older, but again, many states have enacted more restrictive labor laws and the higher minimum standard must be obeyed.
There are also rules delineating what jobs and tasks are allowed according to a young person’s age. Federal law says 14 is the minimum age for most non-agricultural work. However, at any age, young people may do things such as deliver newspapers, perform in plays, work in non-hazardous businesses owned by their parents, or babysit.
While those 18 and over can perform work in any hazardous areas like roofing or even mining, younger workers are limited in what they can do and must not be placed in hazardous occupations or given certain tasks deemed hazardous. For example, 17 year-olds may drive cars and small trucks on public roads as part of their jobs, but only in limited circumstances such as during daylight hours. Workers 16 and under may not drive motor vehicles on public roads as part of their jobs, even if they possess a valid state driver’s license. Fourteen- and 15-years-old may work only in certain specified jobs such as those found in retail or food service. Finally, different age requirements apply to the employment of youth in agriculture.
It’s important to note, however, that many states have enacted laws that are more restrictive so be sure to check state regulations for young workers. Also check Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules, which apply to all workers. The rules are intentionally designed to keep kids safe on the job, provide assurance to parents and give employers an opportunity to remain free from liability in the case of an injury.
Finally, what should a young worker be paid? The law says that employers must pay young workers the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour, unless the state minimum wage is higher, in which case they must pay that wage. There is a limited federal exception that allows for a youth minimum wage on a short-term basis.
I’ve outlined the basics here, but you can find much more information on our YouthRules! website. I hope you’ll check it out and pass it on. If you have additional questions or need to file a complaint about unsafe working conditions, work hours or wages, please call us at 1-866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Most of all, I wish for all of the young workers in the U.S. a successful school year and all the best in their jobs!
Laura Fortman is the principal deputy administrator for the Wage and Hour Division.