Youth Labor Rules – Know the Law Before Summer Help Arrives

Date: April 01, 2024

Summer is approaching fast, and you may be looking or preparing to bring aboard seasonal employees, including teen workers looking to gain experience and earn some extra income. While hiring youth can be beneficial for both parties, it is imperative that small businesses owners familiarize themselves with the legal boundaries of employing a minor. Ranging from labor laws, safety guidelines, and more, we will dive into what you need to know before your summer reinforcements arrive.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Rules on Youth Employment

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that governs the conditions for child labor. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is the federal agency that enforces the FLSA and youth labor rules.

Currently, the FLSA dictates that the minimum age someone can work in a non-agriculture setting is 14. This, however, does not come without many restrictions that can vary between the ages of 14 and 17.

13 Years of Age or Younger

Fourteen is generally the minimum age for employment under the FLSA. However, there are some jobs that are specifically exempted from the youth employment rules and may be performed by those under 14. Workers under 14 may generally:

  • Deliver newspapers;
  • Work as a baby-sitter on a casual basis;
  • Work as an actor or performer in motion pictures, television, theater, or radio; and
  • Work in a business solely owned or operated by the youth’s parents. However, parents are prohibited from employing their children in manufacturing, mining, or any other occupation declared hazardous for young workers by the Secretary of Labor.

Limits on Hours for 14- and 15-Year Olds

You can find DOL’s rules on hours for youth ages 14 and 15 here. But in summary, 14- and 15-year-olds may not:

  • Work outside of school hours, and more than 3 hours on school days, including Fridays;
  • Work more than 18 hours per week when school is in session;
  • Work more than 8 hours per day when school is not in session; and
  • Work more than 40 hours per week when school is not in session, and before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. on any day, except from June 1, to Labor Day, when nighttime hours are extended to 9:00 p.m.

Limits on Hours for 16 and 17-Year Olds

For employees between the ages of 16 and 17, the law is less strict, and teens this age can be employed for unlimited hours in any occupation that is not declared hazardous by the U.S. Department’s Secretary of Labor.

Job Restrictions for Employees Under 18

We encourage business owners to read the Department of Labor’s non-farm jobs fact sheet for youth employees, which outlines hazardous occupations unavailable for minors. These include but are not limited to tasks such as:

  • Manufacturing or storing explosives;
  • Mining;
  • Roofing operations and work performed on or around a roof; and
  • Driving a motor vehicle.

While these tasks seem obvious and easy to follow, it’s the not-so-obvious restricted tasks and jobs that will likely cause some confusion for employers. For 14- and 15-year-olds, these include tasks like baking and using a ladder, among others. While most would not consider a 15-year-old putting muffins in the oven at a local bakery or cleaning leaves out of a gutter for a landscaping company to be hazardous, these sorts of tasks aren’t permitted for employees under 16.

This is why it is key for employers to take time to read through the DOL’s rules and regulations on permitted jobs for minors.

State Regulations

Be aware, many states exercise more stringent control over minor work than the U.S. Department of Labor, and it is imperative you follow state law(s) as well as the federal rules. This is especially important for 16- and 17- year-olds, as federal law does not set a maximum work-hour requirement, but many states do. Also, many states require that minors obtain a work permit before they are eligible to be employed. Check to see if your state has such a requirement.

Penalties and Fines

Failing to adhere to child labor laws, can result in serious liabilities including fines, civil and criminal penalties, and loss of your business licenses or permits. This is why it is crucial to ensure you’re in compliance and be diligent about keeping accurate records of your youth employees.


If you have specific questions concerning child labor laws, we encourage you to reach out to an attorney licensed in your state. For general questions, reach out to the NFIB Legal Center at [email protected]. Also, download the FREE NFIB Guide to Wage & Hour Laws here.

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