A guide to hiring minors: Working laws, employment permits & penalties

Hiring minors — or individuals under 18 years of age — is a common practice among small business owners, especially during the summer months when high school students who are at least 14 years old (the federal minimum employment age) are out of class and looking to work while they’re on break.

But oftentimes, businesses employ minors throughout the year due to the lower labor costs. This is especially true for retail and restaurant businesses.

If you’re a business owner or manager looking to hire younger workers for the first time, there are both federal and state laws you need to follow in order to stay compliant and avoid serious fines and penalties.

Can a minor be employed?

Businesses can hire minors aged 14 to 18 as long as they follow state and federal laws on working hours, wages, and job restrictions.

Navigating state and federal labor laws may sound headache-inducing. But once you understand the requirements for your business, hiring minors has many advantages. Minor employees often:

  • Have flexible schedules
  • Are happy with short-term contracts
  • Work for lower rates
  • Make your business eligible for tax credits
  • Value getting work experience

How to obtain a work permit for a minor

Some states require either a work permit or an age certificate (or a combination of the two) before a business can hire a minor. Check the Department of Labor’s (DOL) table of employment to see what documents you need for your state.

Typically, employers need to take the following steps to get a work permit:

  1. Go through the application process and make a job offer.
  2. Ask the employee to collect the relevant forms from their school or the state DOL website.
  3. Have the employee request an age certificate from the DOL (using their birth certificate as proof of age).
  4. Have the employee and their parent or legal guardian fill out their section of the forms.
  5. Have the employee get a certificate of fitness from their doctor.
  6. Fill in the employer section of the forms.
  7. Submit the forms to the employee’s school or state DOL for approval.

Don’t stress about the paperwork. In most cases, the state combines all the permits you need into one set of forms. But keep in mind that minors need a work permit for each job they do, and employers must keep a copy on record for four years.

Work permits for minors also have expiry dates. How long they’re valid varies between states, but work permits usually last for either a year or until the end of the school year. After that, employers must reapply.

Federal child labor laws for hiring minors

The federal government’s child labor provisions are laid out in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). However, it’s important to note that most state departments of labor have their own laws around hiring minors. In cases where the rules differ, you need to follow the stricter regulations.

Check your state labor law guide to learn more about the child labor restrictions in your area and determine if you’re subject to federal or local jurisdictionor both. You can also find information about your state labor offices here.

The following table provides an overview of the federal laws for each age group.

Age group Under 18s Under 16s Under 14s
Time restrictions (outside of mandatory school hours)

 

No restrictions

 

Only between 7am and 7pm

 

No restrictions
Hour restrictions

 

No restrictions 18 hours in a school week and no more than 3 hours on a school day

 

40 hours in a non-school week

No restrictions
Wages $4.25 for the first 90 calendar days and then $7.25 $4.25 for the first 90 calendar days and then $7.25 As before for newspaper delivery, farm work, and acting

 

By private agreement for the rest

Job restrictions No power-driven machinery (except lawnmowers)

 

No hazardous jobs i.e. jobs that involve:

  • Roofing
  • Wrecking
  • Demolition
  • Mining
  • Explosives
  • Logging
  • Sawmilling
  • Brick & tile manufacturing
  • Radioactive materials
  • Excavation
No power-driven machinery (including lawnmowers)

 

No hazardous jobs listed for under 18s plus no jobs involving:

 

  • Walk-in freezers or coolers
  • Door-to-door selling
  • Sign waving
  • Using ladders or their substitutes
Only newspaper delivery, household chores, some farm work, acting, and casual babysitting

 

They may work for a family business (provided it doesn’t involve hazardous jobs or power-driven machines)

Restrictions on workers under the age of 18

When considering whether to employ minors, most businesses will look at 16 to 17-year-olds. They’re almost legal adults and have many of the same rights and freedoms as their adult coworkers. But there are still some restrictions for employers to keep in mind.

Hour restrictions

Federal law doesn’t restrict the number of hours 16 to 17-year-olds can work on either school or non-school days.

But state laws tend to be more rigid. Many states have laid down extra guidelines for the 16-to-17 group. And remember, when state and federal laws differ, employers must follow the more prohibitive set.

For example, the State of New York says that nobody under the age of 18 may work more than 28 hours a week when school is in session. That means businesses in New York State can’t schedule a 17-year-old for 40 hours of work without risking a fine.

Job restrictions

The DOL prevents minors under the age of 18 from working jobs the Secretary of Labor deems “hazardous” or “detrimental to their physical safety, mental safety, and health.”

Under these restrictions, minors can’t operate, repair, clean, or set up power-driven machines. These can include:

  • Woodworking machinery
  • Metal forming machines
  • Paper manufacturing machines
  • Circular or band saws
  • Industrial baking equipment
  • Meat-processing machines
  • Hoisting apparatus like forklifts, cranes, or freight elevators

For minors who are 16 or 17 years old, “power-driven machines” don’t include lawnmowers, lawn trimmers, or weed cutters. However, minors 14 and 15 years of age can’t operate these tools as part of their employment.

The DOL also prohibits minors from participating in the following hazardous work:

  • Roofing, wrecking, or demolition
  • Mining operations
  • Areas that store or manufacture explosives
  • Logging or sawmilling projects
  • Brick and tile manufacturing
  • Jobs that require exposure to radioactive substances
  • Excavation work, unless it’s a manual excavation that doesn’t exceed four feet in depth

There are additional FLSA requirements for young workers that only apply to agricultural jobs and the operation of motor vehicles. Take a look at the US DOL site to learn more about the additional regulations.

Note: These restrictions mean that if your business is involved in one of these hazardous practices and you hire a minor, you’ll likely need to keep them primarily in an office setting and limit their work to clerical or custodial tasks.

However, some of these rules come with exceptions for minors who are participating in a recognized apprenticeship. Learn more about these types of programs on the US DOL’s Employment and Training Administration’s website.

Other restrictions

Some states and industries require adult supervision for minor employees. That means an adult employee must have constant access to and sight of any minor employees — not just be on the premises at the same time.

The state of Massachusetts has the strictest child labor laws in the US. As well as prohibiting all under 18s from agricultural work, legislators state that no minors can work unsupervised after 8pm.

In the entertainment industry, parents are required by law to be on set with their minor children. That’s something to consider if your business involves any kind of filming, photography, performing, or modeling.

Restrictions on workers 14 and 15 years of age

Younger teens can be just as much of an asset to your business as older ones. But the various requirements and restrictions are more complicated for this age group. Make sure any potential under-16 hires can both do both the hours and the jobs that you need.

Hour restrictions

There are many restrictions for 14 or 15-year-old employees on the federal level. If a minor is under 16, the FLSA permits the following work hours:

  • 3 hours a day when school is in session
  • 18 hours in a school week
  • 8 hours when school isn’t in session
  • 40 hours in a non-school week and
  • Between 7am and 7pm, except between June 1st through Labor Day, when it extends to 9pm

Again, work time restrictions vary from state to state. Review your area’s rules to determine which set of laws you need to follow to avoid any complications or legal consequences.

Job restrictions

Under 16s are subject to the same restrictions concerning hazardous jobs and power-driven machines as listed above. They’re also prohibited from:

  • Working with coolers or freezers
  • Using lawnmowers and hedge trimmers
  • Using ladders or any of their substitutes
  • Loading or unloading goods
  • Any kind of youth peddling (for instance, door-to-door selling and sign-waving)

Other restrictions

The majority of states have restrictions on how long under 16s can work without a meal or rest break. Check your state’s laws, but the standard is a 30-minute break for every 5 hours of work.

Restrictions on workers under the age of 14

Most small business owners won’t consider hiring minor employees under the age of 14 as there are so many restrictions in place. But in the event you have a potential younger hire, here’s what you should know.

Hour restrictions

At the federal level, there are no hour restrictions for any of the jobs under-14s can do. However, this is largely because under-14s are so limited in the type of work they can carry out — most jobs available to younger teens overlap with common household chores.

For instance, most young teens work for their parents or family friends as babysitters or cleaners and have casual agreements.

Job restrictions

For workers under the age of 14, it’s simpler to list what they can do:

  • Newspaper delivery
  • Babysitting
  • Household chores
  • Some types of agricultural work
  • TV, radio, and stage performances
  • Working for a family business (more on that below)

Jobs for those under 14 may be subject to state-specific laws too. For example, there are minimum age requirements for newspaper delivery in many places.

Federal minimum wage rules for hiring minors

While the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, if you’re only employing a minor temporarily — like for the summer — you are allowed to pay them at a lower rate.

According to the FLSA, you can pay workers under 20 years of age a “youth minimum wage” of $4.25 per hour during the first 90 consecutive calendar days of their employment.

If you employ the worker for more than 90 days OR they turn 20 during that time frame, you must then pay them the standard rate.

In certain circumstances, like a student-learning program or internship, you may obtain a special certificate to pay the participating employees a sub-minimum wage. Learn more about the rules here.

Note: You’re not allowed to displace your existing employees in any way in order to hire temporary workers at the youth minimum wage.

Aside from the youth minimum wage, all the same wage and hour laws that apply to adult employees hold up for minors. This means you must withhold the necessary taxes, pay overtime for employees over 15 who are allowed to work more than 40 hours per week, and provide any benefits they qualify for that you offer the rest of the team.

Penalties for violating minor working laws

The consequences for violating minor working laws are severe. Employers face penalties of $1000 for each violation and $10,000 for each employee who was subject to a violation. The DOL also publishes news releases about businesses that violate child labor laws on their website.

When employers repeatedly and deliberately violate child labor laws, they risk criminal action and imprisonment for up to six months.

Hiring your own children as employees

If the minors you want to hire are actually your own children, some regulations don’t apply unless your business is a corporation, in which case there are no exemptions.

You don’t have to pay your children minimum wage, although the DOL recommends that you pay them a reasonable rate. If you pay them below the minimum amount of compensation, your children aren’t subject to federal income taxes.

It’s important to note that the government doesn’t take child labor laws lightly. Make sure you’re also up to date on the state rules you need to follow to remain compliant. But as long as you employ minors correctly, doing so can result in a great learning experience for them and a lower labor cost for you.

Find employees and stay compliant with Homebase

Teenagers can be great hires for small businesses. They tend to have flexible schedules, are eager to learn, and are often looking for employment during peak summer and holiday seasons. But all the laws and regulations that come along with hiring young employees may deter you from hiring them.

With Homebase’s HR Pro tool, you can stop worrying about penalties and trust that your hiring process is totally compliant. HR Pro gives you access to experts who will review your business and ensure you stay compliant with both federal and state child labor laws. And if you’d like to learn how to manage all those documents yourself, HR Pro has a training program, too.

Homebase also supports businesses with other kinds of regulations like workplace safety and employee rights. Basically, you get all the benefits of having human resources personnel without having to actually hire anyone.

FAQs about employing minors

homebase customer photo homebase customer photo

What is the legal age to work?

According to federal law, the legal age to work is 14 years old. There are some exceptions — like babysitting and newspaper delivery — which minors are permitted to do for work in some circumstances. There are state and industry-specific laws to be mindful of, too. 

Can you put a 14-year-old on your payroll?

Yes, you can put a 14-year-old on your payroll. The rules about hours and wages for minors are the same as for adults, generally speaking, so employers must put minor employees through payroll. Minor employees are also entitled to the same benefits and overtime as their adult coworkers.

Do minors pay taxes if they work?

Minors pay taxes if they work in some cases, but minor employees who earn less than $12,950 per year do not have to pay taxes. However, employers still have to withhold taxes from their earnings. Minor employees then claim the money back in their tax returns.

Can I contact my minor employee’s family?

When you have serious issues with a minor employee, you may wish to contact their families. But employers can only talk to a minor’s parents with their consent or with permission from the court. In these cases, be sure to get permission in writing.

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