Working with minors and restrictions on child laborBy: Shaliz Sadig

Maybe you’re looking for some help around the office or shop and you receive applications from some bright high school students.  Maybe you have a friend who wants you to do them a favor and take on their teenaged son or daughter as a summer intern.  Whatever the situation may be, there are some key considerations for business owners before taking on a minor.

What is a minor?

 A minor is a person who has not reached full legal age and is not yet considered an adult.  The age of majority varies based on the state, but in most states, is 18 years old.

What should you know before hiring a minor?

There is a difference between hiring a minor and taking on an unpaid intern.  You should understand whether the minor is eligible for an unpaid internship.  If they are not eligible, you will need to pay them at least minimum wage.

Federal and state restrictions on hiring a minor vary based on the:

(1) nature of the work,

(2) age of the minor, and

(3) location where the minor will be working.

If there is a conflict between the federal and state restrictions, the laws offering a more stringent standard apply.  Unless there is an exemption, a covered minor employee is entitled to the same minimum wage, overtime, safety, health and nondiscrimination rights as an adult.

Federal Restrictions

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) child labor provisions apply to employers who have more than $500,000 in annual revenues, or engage in interstate commerce.  With the Department of Labor’s broad definition of interstate commerce, the act applies to the majority of employers.

The FLSA generally sets the minimum age for employment at 14 (with a few exceptions for jobs like acting, delivering newspapers, occasional babysitting and working for parents).  Fourteen and 15 year olds have strict hourly guidelines, depending on when school is in session or not, and are only permitted to work in non-manufacturing and non-hazardous jobs.  Sixteen and 17 year olds have no limits on hours worked, but are not permitted to work in hazardous occupations.

State Restrictions

Guidelines and laws regulating employment of minors vary greatly from state to state.  It’s important to know what your particular state guidelines are.  New York has very strict child labor provisions that trump the federal guidelines.

New York has greater limitations on hours that minors can work, and also requires employment certificates or “working papers.”  Minors must apply for the appropriate employment certificate (varying by age and specific occupation) at their local high school.  They must show proof of their age and have a written statement from a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant that they are physically fit to work.  New York has its own list of prohibited occupations for workers under 18.

California not only requires work permits for all minors under 18, but it also requires the employers to possess a valid permit to employ.  Both the minor and employer must complete and sign a “Statement of Intent to Employ Minor and Request for Work Permit.”   Minors between the ages of 15 and 18 must have entertainment work permits issued by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

Violating these child labor laws can have steep fines.  In New York, you could see $1,000 for the first violation, $2,000 for the second, and $3,000 for the third and subsequent violations.   Under the FLSA, you could see fines up to $11,000 for each employee who is the subject of a child labor violation.   For willful violations, criminal penalties include fines up to $10,000 and imprisonment for up to 6 months.

Bottom Line:

Young workers have a lot to learn and gain from work experience.  They can bring new energy and fresh ideas to your business.  If it makes sense for you to hire a minor, check the federal and state requirements to understand the laws, prepare all the required paperwork and consider the implications of entering into a contract with a minor.

Contributing Editor: Jessica Cox

Shaliz Sadig, Esq

Shaliz Sadig

Associate Attorney

(212) 865-9848

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