The Pitfalls of Hiring Minors and How You Can Avoid Them

Date: May 09, 2023

Summer is almost here, and with it, millions of American businesses are preparing to hire or re-welcome teenagers as temporary help. It works out for everybody—the kids stay busy, learn a valuable skill or two, and businesses can have some much-needed assistance during what could be a very busy season.

Few people probably think of the scenario described above as child labor. To be sure, it’s far from those old black-and-white photos of toddlers working heavy machinery. It’s just as far from the recent story of a fast food restaurant where 10-year-olds were forced to work unpaid until 2 in the morning. Yet when businesses hire minors—even high school seniors—they are, legally speaking, hiring children, and they need to be cautious.

In fact, most instances of child labor violations start out innocently enough. They primarily involve managers who accidentally schedule teenage employees for too late of a shift, or for too many hours during the week. But even small mistakes can land a business in serious legal trouble.

How Can Businesses Avoid Legal Trouble?

This isn’t to say that small businesses should place a hiring freeze on anyone still in high school. With labor shortages making good employees harder to come by, and a down economy, they can hardly afford to turn down help. But businesses should observe a few basic guidelines when employing minors:

1. Ensure on the Front End that Employees are Authorized to Work

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that governs the conditions for child labor, including age. The FLSA sets the minimum age for employment in non-agricultural settings at 14, with severe restrictions on types of permitted occupations and hours worked up until age 18. This means that—unless the job in question is agricultural and isn’t hazardous—it’s illegal to hire anyone under 14.

For small businesses, this means that age verification is crucial, as is ensuring that the minor employee is authorized to work under State law. States have all sorts of additional requirements around employment authorization, including having the student’s school provide an age verification form, or having the State’s labor department issue an employment certificate. Businesses must ensure that all these requirements are met before they let someone under 18 begin work.

2. Be Aware of Scheduling Limits for Minors

Under the FLSA, 14 and 15-year-olds are prohibited from working more than 3 hours on a school day, including Friday, but may work 8 hours a day and 40 a week when school isn’t in session. They are also prohibited from working after 7:00 pm most times of the year.

In addition, States set their own restrictions that may be more stringent than the federal ones, including on 16 and 17-year-olds, which the federal law does not address. It’s important to consider both State and federal limits when deciding how to schedule minors.

3. Comply with Federal Law Regarding Dangerous Jobs

Minors are prohibited from working some jobs under federal law. Obvious examples—those that are prohibited for all minors—include operating meat processing machines, power saws, and forklifts. However, it’s the not-so-obvious examples that will likely cause some confusion. For 14 and 15-year-olds, these include tasks like baking and using a ladder, among others. While many people might not bat an eye at a 15-year-old putting muffins in the oven at a local bakery or cleaning leaves out of a gutter for a landscaping company, these sorts of tasks aren’t permitted for employees under 16.

Employers need to know which jobs are allowed or prohibited for specific employees (a list can be found on the Department of Labor site).

4. Know the Cost of Violating the Rules

The FSLA severely punishes violations of child labor law. If an employer doesn’t comply with the FLSA, he or she faces a civil penalty of $11,000 for each employee who was the subject of a child labor violation. If the minor employee is seriously injured or dies because of the violation, the employer faces fines of up to $50,000. Not only do employers want to keep their employees—especially minors—safe, but also, they don’t want to be on the receiving end of a five-figure fine.

To Sum it Up

Business owners should keep in mind the restrictions, limits, and requirements of federal and State law. They need to verify their age, know when teenagers are allowed to work, and the types of tasks that they’re permitted to do. Above all, they need to keep in mind that violating the rules can be costly and put employees at risk. When you know the rules, employing young people can be a great, fulfilling experience for everyone involved.

If you have additional questions about child labor laws, please reach out to an attorney licensed in your state. For general information you can contact the NFIB Support Line 1-800-NFIB-NOW or email [email protected].


The information provided in this article and on NFIB’s website does not constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available are for general informational purposes only. Links to other third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; NFIB does not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

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