What are the requirements for getting a work permit, also known as working papers, if you’re a minor (someone under the age of 18)? Working papers are legal documents that certify a minor can be employed. These papers are categorized into two types: employment certificates and age certificates.
What is a Work Permit?
There are two types of work permits for minors. If you need one to get hired will be determined by the law in your state. Employment certificates (example) include the minor’s age and proof of eligibility to work. An age certificate provides documentation that the minor meets the minimum age requirements to be hired.
Documentation requirements for the employment of minors are established by each state's department of labor. You can find the details for your state on the Department of Labor's Employment/Age Certificate chart.
There are no federal requirements that mandate minors get working papers before starting employment, but some states require them. If they are required in your state, you’ll need to provide them to an employer before you can start work.
Federal law does set guidelines for when minors can work, as well as for what jobs they can do. The rules vary based on the age of the minor and the job they would be working.
Review the minimum age requirements, how to get a work permit, where to get working papers, and what information you’ll need to provide to get certification to work.
What is the Minimum Age for Work?
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) states that 14 is the minimum age for most (nonagricultural) work. Exceptions include jobs such as babysitting, chores, delivering newspapers, and a few others. The number of hours per week you can work is limited based on your age. Those hours vary based on school days, school weeks, and between June 1 and Labor Day.
The FLSA also bans minors from certain occupations considered hazardous, such as coal mining, using balers and compactors, roofing work, operating certain power-driving machines, and more.
Additionally, many states have their own child labor laws with higher minimum ages than the FLSA. In these cases, the higher minimum age always applies. Consult your state department of labor for more information about child labor laws in your area.
When You Need a Work Permit
Depending on where you live, you may need a work permit before you can start a job. Some states require work permits for those younger than 16, while others require them for anyone younger than 18. Some states don't require them at all.
The best place to find out if you need working papers is your school guidance office or your state department of labor website.
If you need working papers, the counselors can either give you the form you will need to complete or tell you where to get it.
How to Get Working Papers
If you find out you need working papers, you may be able to get these from your school guidance office. You can also get them through your state department of labor by visiting the office, searching their website, or calling or emailing the office.
This list of State Labor Laws: Employment/Age Certificates explains whether or not your state requires certification and if you can get that certification from your school, your state department of labor, or both.
What Documentation is Required?
Requirements vary from state to state, but in general, here's what you will need to get a work permit and to get it approved:
- Obtain working papers/certificate application from your school or state department of labor.
- Obtain a certificate of physical fitness from your doctor. You may need to have had a physical within the last year.
- Bring the completed application with proof of age (copy of birth certificate, a school record, school identification, driver's license, or another document that lists your age) to either your school or state department of labor.
- A parent or guardian probably will need to accompany you to submit the papers and sign the application. They also may need to accompany you to obtain the papers.
- Each certificate varies, but generally, you will be asked to give information such as your full name, date of birth, grade completed, and your parents’/guardians’ names.
- Often, the certificate will expire after a certain period of time. Most are valid for about one year.
- If you misplace your working papers, you can request a duplicate copy from the office that issued it.
Tips for Working Minors
Before you start a job search, learn what you’ll need to do in order to be hired. If you prepare in advance, the hiring process will be easier and you’ll be able to start work sooner.
- Learn about the labor laws and restrictions that apply to you, given your age, the type of job you’re seeking, and the geographic area in which you’re working. For example, workers aged 14 or 15 are limited to 18 hours of work per week, per federal law, and all workers under the age of 18 are forbidden from working with hazardous chemicals.
- Be a smart job seeker. There are a lot of scams out there and a lot of lousy employers. To avoid both, do your research before interviewing or committing to a job. See if there are complaints against the company with places such as the Better Business Bureau. Talk to current and former employees to see if the company has a good reputation in your community. Above all, remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. No one makes thousands of dollars a week by stuffing envelopes or assembling kits, to name a few examples of common job scams.
- Be realistic about time commitments. Regardless of your plans after graduation, your first responsibility as a young worker is to your education. Don’t take on more work than you can reasonably balance with your commitment to school. It’s unlikely that your part-time job in high school will turn into your full-time career after graduation. So don’t endanger your grades by overcommitting to work.