Summertime Advice: Three Best Practices Regarding the Employment of Minors

By Lilian Doan Davis

School’s out for summer. While some students will sit by the pool, others are seeking summer employment. Youth employment may provide a relatively simple and cost-effective resource that can help fill seasonal staffing needs. However, employers should be mindful of federal and state laws that regulate the employment of minors (generally individuals under 18 years of age) to avoid being subject to considerable penalties.

For instance, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) sets federal wage, hours worked, and safety requirements for minors. The regulations vary based on the minor’s age and the particular job involved. Generally, the FLSA provides: 

  • Minors under 14 years of age can only be employed in certain jobs such as babysitting on a casual basis, working for a parent, or delivering newspapers;

  • Minors ages 14 to 15 can only work a limited number of hours outside of school time in certain jobs including, but not limited to, retail occupations, errands or delivery work, and work in connection with cars and trucks such as dispensing gasoline or oil and washing or hand polishing. Minors ages 14 to 15 must be paid at least the federal minimum wage; and

  • Minors ages 16 to 17 may work unlimited hours in any nonhazardous occupation and must be paid at least the federal minimum wage.

Additionally, many states regulate the employment of minors, and employers are required to comply with both state and federal law. In instances where state law provides more stringent protections than the FLSA, the employer must adhere to the state law to ensure compliance.

Finally, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”) provides that employers of minors must: 

  • Ensure that minors receive training to recognize hazards and are competent in safe work practices. Training should be in a language and vocabulary that minors can understand and must include prevention of fires, accidents, and violent situations and what to do if injured.

  • Implement a mentoring or buddy system for minors. Have an adult or experienced young worker answer questions and help the new minor employee learn the ropes of a new job.

  • Encourage minors to ask questions about tasks or procedures that are unclear or not understood. Tell them whom to ask.

  • Remember that minors are not just "little adults." Employers should be mindful of the unique aspects of communicating with minors.

  • Ensure that equipment operated by minors is both legal and safe for them to use. Employers must label equipment that minors are not allowed to operate.

  • Tell minors what to do if they are injured on the job.

In light of the various regulations surrounding youth employment, employers should consider the following best practices: 

  1. Consider requesting age certificates from minors as a document for proof of age.

  2. Implement training directed to minor employees regarding safety, emergency, and workplace standards. What may be obvious to an adult employee may not be clear to a minor employee entering the workforce for the first time. Clearly communicate workplace policies, practices, and procedures. 

  3. Ensure minor employees are completing tasks safely. Once a minor employee demonstrates that they can complete a task safely, check again later to be sure they are continuing to do so.