Home /Blogs/Here’s Looking at You, Kid.  What To Know Before Employing Minors in New York.
September 29, 2022 | Contract DraftingFrom the blogNew York

Here’s Looking at You, Kid.  What To Know Before Employing Minors in New York.

post image
Marc D. Ostrow

Of Counsel

Olivia Loftin

Associate Attorney

Behind child actors such as Iain Armitage, and child influencers such as Ryan’s World and Niana Guerrero, there are the contracts that made their success possible.  New York Labor Laws also require that contracts with minors include provisions to ensure that the children are not exploited because of their youth.  While not every employed minor is a model or entertainer, business owners and managers who wish to hire minors may all be wondering the same thing: If I sign a contract with a minor, will it be enforceable?

All parties to a contract must have the legal ability to do so for the agreement to be valid.  Minors (who, in New York and many other jurisdictions, are under the age of 18) are deemed to lack the mental capacity required to enter into binding agreements under the law.  Among the reasons for this are that minors typically have insufficient understanding of the legal terms and obligations.  Moreover, they often lack the judgment and experience to fully comprehend the consequences that contracts may impose upon them.

So, while a minor may be able to enter into a contract, this “lack of capacity” gives them the option to cancel (or disaffirm) it.  A contract entered into by a parent or guardian on behalf of a minor can still be disaffirmed by the minor if the minor can prove that the parent or guardian lacked the authority to enter into the contract.  However, if the contract is judicially affirmed, the minor cannot argue that the parent or guardian lacked authority to enter into the contract.

Some Contracts With Minors May Be Enforceable

In New York and as a general rule, many courts will enforce minor agreements if they concern “necessities.”  Necessities may include things like food, clothing and shelter.  Some states also have statutory exceptions, where minors’ rights to cancel agreements are limited, including those in connection with insurance, educational loans and healthcare.

Additionally, if the minor does not cancel a contract prior to turning 18 (or a reasonable time thereafter), the contract can no longer be disaffirmed just because the individual was under 18 when the agreement was executed.

Entertainment Contracts With Minors in New York

In New York, entertainment contracts with minors are governed by the Department of Labor’s Child Performer Laws.  These laws were originally based on California’s child performer protection laws, commonly known as Coogan Laws, named for Jackie Coogan, a famous child actor in the 1920s whose millions in earnings were squandered by his parents.

New York law provides for judicial approval of minor contracts regarding personal services for performing artists (like actors, musicians and models) and athletes.  The definition of “performing artist” in this context may soon be amended to include child social media influencers.  Once an agreement has been approved by the court, the child may no longer disaffirm on the basis that he or she lacked contractual capacity at the time of signing.

The New York courts take many factors into consideration before approving minor contracts.  The court may even refuse to approve agreements until parents (or minors) agree to set aside a portion of the child’s earnings for future use.  However, after court approval, a judge may modify the agreement, or even revoke approval, if the child’s obligations under the contract become damaging.

Other Considerations When Working With Children

In the entertainment business, employers may be required to:

(i)     obtain Child Performer Permits,

(ii)     confirm that certain educational requirements are met,

(iii)    limit the number of hours and timeframe the child works, or

(iv)     ensure that the child has established a trust account for certain employment funds (commonly referred to as a Coogan Account).

All of these are required in New York.  In other businesses, state or federal labor laws may limit the type of work minors are permitted to conduct, require additional employer permits or licenses or dictate special working conditions for minors.  For example, New York Labor Law Sec. 130, with some exceptions, generally prohibits employing children under the age of fourteen.

Carefully Consider Any Contract With a Minor Before Signing

For the reasons stated above, allowing minors to disaffirm contractual agreements is generally good public policy.  However, a contract cancelled by a minor may have serious repercussions, both for the child’s family and for the other party.  Before signing a contract with a minor, both parties should closely review the employment laws of their jurisdiction, consider the minor’s rights to cancel and think about the consequences of any such cancellation.  Experienced entertainment and employment attorneys at Romano Law are ready to help.  Contact us to speak with a member of our team!

Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash
Share This