There are laws and regulations that determine how old a teenager can be to legally work. Child labor laws restrict how old children must be to work when they can work and what jobs they can do. These laws are in place to ensure that children do not do any work that's dangerous or bad for their health and to guarantee that children’s focus remains on education.
These laws determine when a teenager can get a job, what kinds of jobs are allowed, and what paperwork is necessary. The federal government, as well as most state governments, have laws that define child labor. These laws vary from state to state, so, be sure to check with your state before accepting any position.
Child Labor Law: Age Restrictions
Age plays a big role in child labor laws. While older children can work unlimited hours in jobs that are determined to be safe, younger children can only work in certain jobs and have restricted hours.
As a general rule, children must be at least fourteen years old to do any non-agricultural work. Most of these laws are enacted by a federal law called the Fair Labor Standards Act. However, note that some of the specifics of these rules can differ from state to state. Consult your state's department of labor for more information, as well as the United States Department of Labor.
Children Under 14 Years Old
Generally, children under fourteen years old cannot be employed in any non-agricultural jobs. However, there are a few jobs that children of any age are allowed to do. For example, children under 14 years can be employed as actors or performers, they can deliver newspapers, and they can babysit on a casual basis.
Children under 14 can also work in agricultural jobs or work for any business owned by their parents, as long as the job is not hazardous.
14 or 15 Years Old
Of course, 14- and 15-year-olds are allowed to work, but there are limits to the kinds of jobs they can have, and the hours they can work. During the school year, their hours are limited to three hours on a school day and 18 hours per week. On days when there's no school and in the summer, working hours can increase to 8 hours a day and 40 hours per week.
There are limits on when 14- and 15-year-olds can work, too. They can only work between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during the school year, and between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. in the summer (between June 1 and Labor Day).
But 14- and 15-year-olds can only work certain kinds of jobs. For example, they can be employed in retail jobs, teaching and tutoring jobs, errand or delivery jobs, and more. They cannot do any jobs that are considered hazardous.
16 or 17 Years Old
Notably, 16- and 17-year-olds may be employed for unlimited hours in any occupation other than those declared hazardous by the federal government. The goal behind this restriction is to make sure that children aren't placed in any danger at work.
Some occupations that are on the prohibited list are mining, excavation, and forest firefighting. There are also restrictions on the types of equipment children in this age bracket are allowed to use. For instance, in food service establishments, 16- and 17-year-olds cannot use power-driven meat processing machines (meat slicers, saws, patty forming machines, grinders, or choppers), commercial mixers, or certain power-driven bakery machines.
18 Years Old
Once a youth reaches 18 years of age, he or she is no longer subject to the federal youth employment and child labor law provisions.
In terms of labor laws, an 18-year-old is considered an adult. Therefore, he or she is free to work any hours and in any legal job.
Jobs Exempt from Child Labor Law Regulations
In general, children of any age are permitted to work for businesses entirely owned by their parents. They can work these jobs any time of day for any number of hours. However, those under age 16 cannot be employed in mining or manufacturing, and no one under 18 can be employed in any occupation the Secretary of Labor has declared to be hazardous. Also, those under 16 cannot work during school hours.
Children can also work at any time in agricultural jobs. Again, if you are under age 16, you cannot work during school hours, and you cannot work certain jobs that are deemed hazardous agricultural jobs. These jobs include handling explosives, handling certain chemicals, operating certain tractors, and more.
There are other jobs that children of any age are allowed to perform. For example, children of any age can deliver newspapers or work at home, making evergreen wreaths. They can also work as actors or performers in films, theater, radio, or television.
There are other exemptions, so, check the DOL Exemptions from Child Labor Law Rules for the full list.
Youth Minimum Wage
Federal law allows employers to pay employees under 20 years of age a lower wage ($4.25) for a limited period (90 consecutive calendar days, not work days) after they are first employed.
Any wage rate above the $4.25 minimum wage for youth an hour may be paid to eligible workers during this 90-day period. After this 90-day period, the employee must receive at least the federal minimum wage. It applies to every job a child has until he or she turns 20. It does not just apply to his or her first job.
Working Papers (Employment or Age Certificates)
In some states, workers under eighteen may need to obtain working papers (officially called Employment or Age Certificates) in order to legally be able to work.
The form may be available at your child's school. Otherwise, child workers can get one at their state’s department of labor. Check and see which guidelines apply to you.
If you need a certificate, and it is available at your school, check with your guidance counselor or guidance office. If the certificate is available at your state’s department of labor, check with your state department of labor.
The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current legal advice, please consult with an attorney.