Federal Requirements for Employing Minors

From: Staffing

Federal Requirements for Employing Minors

Federal and state laws closely regulate the employment of minors, imposing special restrictions on the terms and conditions of their employment. These laws also impose additional administrative duties on employers. For instance, an employer may be subject to criminal penalties, civil liability, and a substantial penalty under workers’ compensation statutes if a minor is injured while working illegally. Accordingly, employers must fully comply with both federal and state employment-of-minors laws. This article reviews the federal laws regarding employment of minors, including prohibited employment and limitations on work hours.

Covered Employees

Child labor laws generally cover all employees under age 18. However, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets a 14-year minimum age that applies to all employment subject to FLSA’s child labor provisions in any occupation other than in agriculture and limits the number of hours worked by minors under age 16. The FLSA also sets an 18-year minimum age for any employment in an occupation found and declared by the Secretary of Labor to be particularly hazardous for the employment of minors or detrimental to the health or well-being of a minor.

The FLSA allows for exceptions to the regulation of minors when the minors are:

  • Employed in agriculture during nonschool hours for the school district where they live.
  • Employed by their parents in occupations not prohibited to minors.
  • Participating in a vocational program approved by a state department of education.
  • Employed for any of the following:
    • Delivering newspapers.
    • Mowing residential lawns.
    • Shoveling snow on a casual basis.
    • Acting or performing in motion pictures or in theatrical, radio, or television productions.
    • Wreath making.
    • Loading scrap balers or paper box compactors (if certain requirements are met).

Certification and recordkeeping requirements do not apply to minors who perform volunteer work for a nonprofit organization.

The FLSA generally permits the employment of children younger than 16 years of age in agricultural work, provided that certain conditions are met. Nevertheless, hazardous agricultural work may not be performed by minors under age 16, except where such minors are enrolled in certain vocational or training programs. The rules governing child labor in agricultural occupations sets a 14-year minimum for a minor to be employed on farms outside of school hours except in occupations designated as hazardous.

Certificates of Age

Employers may obtain a certificate of age to provide protection against unwitting violations of the FLSA’s minimum age standards. An unexpired certificate of age validates that the minor is above the oppressive child labor age, and furnishes an employer with proof of the age of a minor employee upon which the employer may rely in determining whether the minor is at least the minimum age for the occupation in which the minor will be employed. Employers should be aware that expired or revoked certificates of age have no force or effect under the FLSA after notice of revocation.

Employers may obtain either a federal or a state certificate of age. A person authorized by the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division must issue a federal certificate of age. The certificate must demonstrate that the minor is above the oppressive child labor age applicable to the occupation in which the minor is employed. A state certificate, which may be in the form of and known as an age, employment, or working certificate or permit, must be issued by or under the supervision of a state agency.

The FLSA advises employers to always obtain a certificate where the minor claims to be only one or two years above the applicable minimum age for the occupation in which the minor is to be employed. A certificate should also be obtained for every minor claiming to be older than two years above the applicable minimum age if the minor’s physical appearance indicates otherwise.

Contents and Retention of Certificate

Certificates of age must contain the following:

  • The name and address of minor and the minor’s parent(s).
  • The place and date of birth of the minor, together with a statement indicating the evidence on which this is based.
  • Sex of the minor.
  • Signature of the minor and issuing officer.
  • Date and place of issuance.

If the minor is less than 18 years old, the certificate must also contain the following:

  • The name and address of the employer.
  • Industry of employment.
  • Occupation of the minor.

The U.S. Department of Labor will send a certificate of age for a minor under age 18 to the minor’s prospective employer. The employer must then keep the certificate on file at the minor’s place of employment. Additionally, the employer must return the certificate to the minor when the minor terminates employment. The minor may subsequently present the previously issued certificate to future employers as proof of age.

If an employer receives a certificate of age from an employee age 18 or 19, the certificate must be returned to the employee upon termination of employment.

Hours of Employment

Minors Under 16

Minors under 16 may:

  • Only be employed three hours a day and 18 hours a week when school is in session.
  • Be employed up to eight hours a day and 40 hours a week when school is not in session.
  • Work until 9 p.m. from June through August.

Minors under 16 may not:

  • Be employed during school hours except as part of certain vocational training programs.
  • Work more than three hours in a day between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during the school year.

Minors 14 and 15

Minors 14 and 15 years old may be employed as follows:

  • Outside school hours.
  • When school is not in session, no more than 40 hours in any one week and no more than 8 hours in any one day.
  • When school is in session no more than 18 hours in any one week and no more than 3 hours in any one day, including Fridays.
  • Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. in any one day, except during the summer (June 1 through Labor Day) when the evening hour will be 9 p.m.
  • Those who are enrolled in an approved work-study program may be employed for no more than 18 hours in any one week when school is in session, a portion of which may be during school hours in accordance with the following formula based on a continuous four-week cycle:
    • In three of the four weeks, the participant is permitted to work during school hours on only one day per week, and for no more than for eight hours on that day.
    • During the remaining week of the four-week cycle, such minor is permitted to work during school hours on no more than two days, and for no more than for eight hours on each of those two days.
    • The employment of such minors would still be subject to the time of day and number of hours standards.
    • To the extent that these provisions are inconsistent with the hours of work and conditions of employment permitted, these work-study formula provisions are controlling.
  • Performing sports-attending services at professional sporting events outside the scope of the time restrictive regulations. For example, minors 14 and 15 may be employed where the duties of the sports-attendant occupation consist of the following:
    • Pre- and post-game practice.
    • Set up of balls and equipment prior to or during a sporting event.
    • Clearing the field or court of debris or moisture during play.
    • Providing ice, drinks, or towels to players during play.
    • Working in concession stands.
    • Selling or promotional activities.

State Regulations

Although the FLSA does not limit the number of hours or times of day for minors 16 years and older, stricter state child labor law may regulate such employment. Because states have enacted child labor laws as well, in situations where both the FLSA child labor provisions and state child labor laws apply, the higher minimum standard must be obeyed.


The minimum wage laws applicable to adults generally cover minors with a few noted exceptions as follows:

  • Student Learners. Student-learners that are at least 16 years old who are enrolled in cooperative, vocational education programs approved by a state board of education may be paid 75 percent of the minimum wage, for as long as the student is enrolled in the vocational education program.
  • Full-Time Students. Full-time students employed in retail or service stores, agriculture, colleges, or universities may be paid 85 percent of the minimum wage. Full-time students are limited to working only eight hours in a day and no more than 20 hours a week when school is in session and 40 hours when school is out. Employers must abide by all child labor laws and once students graduate or leave school for good, they must be paid the federal minimum wage.
  • Youth Minimum Wage Program. The FLSA’s youth minimum wage program provides for a temporary subminimum wage for youth. The youth minimum wage must be at least $4.25 an hour and applies only to workers under 20 during the first 90 consecutive calendar days after the employee is initially hired. After the 90 consecutive days of employment, or when the worker reaches 20 — whichever occurs first — the worker must receive the federal minimum wage. It is unlawful for an employer to displace a current employee or reduce the employee’s work hours or benefits to pay the opportunity wage.
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The act exempts employees of organized camps, amusement or recreational establishments, and religious or nonprofit educational conference centers from minimum wage and overtime requirements if the facility does not operate for more than seven months in a calendar year or if its average receipts for any six months of the previous year do not exceed 33? percent of the receipts for the remaining six months of that year. However, private entities providing services or facilities in a national park, forest, or wildlife refuge are not exempt from federal wage requirements unless the services or facilities are related to skiing.

Prohibited/Permitted Occupations

Minors Under 18

The U.S. Department of Labor has adopted detailed regulations prohibiting the employment of any minor in occupations potentially hazardous or detrimental to the minor’s health. (Readers should consult state laws and regulations for additional restrictions.) Minors under 18 may not be employed in the following occupations declared hazardous by federal regulations:

  • Occupations in or about plants or establishments manufacturing or storing explosives or articles containing explosive components, including ammunition, black powder, blasting caps, fireworks, high explosives, primers, and smokeless powder.
  • Occupations as a motor vehicle driver or helper.
  • Occupations in connection with mining, including coal mining.
  • Occupations in logging, sawmill, lath mill, shingle mill, or cooperage mill operations.
  • Occupations in forest fire fighting and forest fire prevention, in timber tracts, in forestry services, logging, and the operation of any sawmill, lath mill, shingle mill, or cooperage stock mill.
  • Occupations involved in the operation of power-driven hoisting apparatus (for example, an elevator or crane).
  • Occupations involving the operation of power-driven woodworking machines.
  • Occupations involving the operation of circular saws, band saws, or guillotine shears.
  • Occupations involving the operation of power-driven hoisting apparatuses, including operating or assisting to operate certain elevators, cranes, derricks, hoists, riggers, or high-lift trucks.
  • Occupations involving the operation of power-driven metal forming, punching, or shearing machines.
  • Occupations involving the operation of power-driven meat processing machines, involving slaughtering, meat packing, processing, or rendering, or handlifting or handcarrying any carcass of beef, pork, horse, deer, or buffalo.
  • Occupations involving the operation of bakery machines, setting up or adjusting a cookie or cracker machine.
  • Occupations involving the operation of paper-products machines, scrap paper balers, and paper box compactors. However, employees age 16 or 17 may load, but not operate or unload, a scrap paper baler or paper box compactor that meets standards set by the American National Standard Institute.
  • Occupations involving the manufacture of brick, tile, or similar products.
  • Occupations involving wrecking, demolition, or shipbreaking operations.
  • Occupations involving exposure to radioactive substances or ionizing radiations.
  • Occupations in roofing operations and on or about a roof, including all work performed upon or in close proximity to a roof.
  • Excavation operations.

Motor Vehicle Occupations for Minors Between 16 and 18

With exception, minors between 16 and 18 may not be employed as a motor vehicle driver and outside helper on any public road, highway, in or about any mine (including an open pit mine or quarry), place where logging or sawmill operations are in progress, or in any particularly hazardous excavation.

However, a 17-year-old minor may drive automobiles and trucks on public roads in the course of employment if all the following conditions are met:

  • The minor holds a state license valid for the type of driving involved in the job performed and has successfully completed a state-approved driver education course.
  • The minor has no record of any moving violation at the time of hire.
  • The automobile or truck is equipped with a seat belt or similar restraining device for the driver and any passengers and the employer has instructed the minor that the seat belts must be used.
  • The minor’s driving is restricted to daylight hours and the automobile or truck does not exceed 6,000 pounds of gross vehicle weight.
  • The driving is only occasional and incidental to the minor’s employment. The term occasional and incidental mean no more than one-third of a minor’s work time in any workday and no more than 20 percent of a minor’s work time a week.
  • The driving does not include the following:
    • Towing vehicles.
    • Route deliveries or route sales.
    • Transporting for hire of property, goods, or passengers.
    • Urgent, time-sensitive deliveries. Urgent, time-sensitive deliveries are trips, which, because of such factors as customer satisfaction, the rapid deterioration of the quality, or change in temperature of the product are subject to timelines, schedules, and turn-around times that might cause the driver to hurry to complete the delivery. Urgent, time-sensitive deliveries would not depend on the delivery’s origin and termination, and includes the delivery of people and things to and from the workplace. Prohibited trips include, but are not limited to, delivery of the following:
      • Pizzas or prepared foods.
      • Materials under a deadline (such as deposits to a bank at closing).
      • Shuttling of passengers to and from transportation departments to meet transport schedules.
    • More than two trips away from the primary place of employment a day to transport passengers (other than employees) or to deliver goods to a customer of the employer (other than urgent, time-sensitive deliveries, which are completely banned).
    • Transporting more than three passengers, including employees of the employer.
    • Driving beyond a 30-mile radius from the minor’s place of employment.

Minors under 16 may not be employed to drive a motor vehicle in any capacity. However, certain exceptions are available for training programs in agriculture. In addition, minors under 16 may not:

  • Deliver goods, merchandise, commodities, papers (except newspapers), or packages from a motor vehicle regardless of the vehicle’s size or type.
  • Serve as helpers on motor vehicles.
  • Be employed in occupations that must be performed on any form of transportation.

Minors Between 14 and 16

Student learners may be between the ages of 16 and 14; however, apprentices must be at least 16 years old to participate in apprentice programs.

Student Learners

Student learners must be enrolled in an approved cooperative vocational training program. They must be employed under a written agreement that states all of the following:

  • The student learner’s work in the hazardous occupation is incidental to the training.
  • The work must be intermittent, brief, and closely supervised by a qualified, experienced person.
  • Safety instructions must be given by the school and correlated by the employer with on-the-job training.
  • A schedule of organized and progressive work processes to be performed must be prepared.

Additionally, the written agreement must contain the student learner’s name and the signatures of the employer and school coordinator or principal. Copies of the agreement must be kept on file by both the school and the employer.


Apprentices must be at least 16 and in an approved apprenticeship program of a recognized apprenticeable trade. However, individuals must usually be 18 years old to be an apprentice in hazardous occupations. Apprentice work must be intermittent and for short periods under the direct and close supervision of a journey-level employee.

The apprentice must be registered by the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training of the Department of Labor or by a state apprenticeship agency as employed in accordance with the bureau’s standards or be employed under a written apprenticeship agreement and conditions that the Secretary of Labor finds to conform with such standards.

Minors Between 14 and 15

Minors between 14 and 15 may not be employed to work in the following occupations as prohibited by federal regulations:

  • Manufacturing, mining, or processing, including duties of any kind in workplaces where goods are manufactured, mined, or processed.
  • Occupations that the Secretary of Labor may find and declare to be hazardous for the employment of minors between age 16 and 18 or detrimental to their health or well-being.
  • Operating or tending to a hoisting apparatus or any power-driven machinery other than office machines.
  • Work performed in or about boiler or engine rooms or in connection with the maintenance or repair of the establishment, machines, or equipment.
  • Occupations that involve operating, tending, setting up, adjusting, cleaning, oiling, or repairing any power driven machinery, included but not limited to, lawn mowers, golf carts, all-terrain vehicles, trimmers, cutters, weed-eaters, edgers, food slicers, food grinders, food choppers, food processors, food cutters, and food mixers. However, minors age 14 and 15 may operate office equipment, vacuum cleaners, and floor waxers.
  • Operating motor vehicles or serving as helpers on motor vehicles and the riding on a motor vehicle, inside or outside of an enclosed passenger compartment.
  • Outside window washing that involves working from window sills, and all work requiring the use of ladders, scaffolds, or their substitutes.
  • All baking and cooking activities, with exception.
  • Work in freezers and meat coolers and all work in the preparation of meats for sale. However, the employment of minors age 14 and 15 is not prohibited if their duties require them to occasionally enter freezers only momentarily to retrieve items.
  • Youth peddling (the selling of goods at locations other than the workplace). For example, door-to-door sales and street sales. This ban does not cover charitable or fundraising efforts such as selling Girl Scout cookies.
  • Loading and unloading of goods or property onto or from motor vehicles, railroad cars, or conveyors, except the loading and unloading of personal nonpower-driven hand tools, personal protective equipment, and personal items to and from motor vehicles.
  • Catching and cooping of poultry in preparation for transportation or for market.
  • Public messenger services.
  • Transporting persons or property by rail, highway, air, water, pipeline, or other means.
  • Warehousing and storage.
  • Communications and public utilities.
  • Construction, including demolition and repair.

Note: Minors 14 and 15 may work in the above industries in the occupations generally permitted to them only if their duties are not performed on any media of transportation or at the actual site of construction.

Food Service, Retail, and Gasoline Service

Prohibited Occupations

Minors between 14 and 15 may not be employed in the following occupations and types of work in retail, food service, and gasoline service establishments as provided in federal regulations:

  • Work performed in or about boiler or engine rooms.
  • Work in connection with the maintenance or repair of the establishment, machines, or equipment.
  • Work requiring the use of ladders, scaffolds, or their substitutes, including outside window washing that involves working from sills.
  • Baking and cooking such as, but not limited to, cooking with rotisseries, broilers, pressurized equipment, fryolators, and cooking devices that operate at extremely high temperatures. However, cooking is permitted with electric or gas grills that do not involve cooking over an open flame. Additionally, cooking is permitted with deep fryers that are equipped with and utilize a device that automatically lowers the baskets into the hot oil or grease and automatically raises the basket from the hot oil or grease.
  • Work that involves operating, setting up, adjusting, cleaning, oiling, or repairing power-driven food slicers and grinders, food choppers, cutters, or bakery-type mixers.
  • Work in freezers and meat coolers or in preparing meat for sale. Wrapping, sealing, labeling, weighing, pricing, and stocking goods are permitted only if performed in areas physically separate from freezers and meat coolers.
  • Loading or unloading goods on and off trucks, railroad cars, or conveyors.
  • Occupations in warehouses, except office and clerical work.

Permitted Occupations

Minors between 14 and 15 may be employed in the following occupations in retail, food service, and gasoline service establishments as provided in federal regulations:

  • Office and clerical work.
  • Work of an intellectual or artistically creative nature such as, but not limited to, computer programming, the writing of software, teaching or performing as a tutor, serving as a peer counselor or teacher’s assistant, singing, the playing of a musical instrument, and drawing, as long as such employment complies with all the other applicable requirements. Artistically creative work is limited to work in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor.
  • Cooking with an electric or gas grill which does not involve cooking with an open flame. Cooking is also permitted with deep fryers that are equipped with and utilize a device which automatically lowers the baskets into the hot oil or grease and automatically raises the baskets from the hot oil or grease.
  • Cashiering, selling, modeling, artistic work, work in advertising departments, window trimming, and comparative shopping.
  • Price marking and tagging by hand or by machine, assembling orders, packing, and shelving.
  • Bagging and carrying out customers’ orders.
  • Errand and delivery work by foot, bicycle, or public transportation.
  • Clean up work, including the use of vacuum cleaners and floor waxers, and maintenance of grounds (not including the use of power-driven motors, cutters, trimmers, edgers, or similar equipment).
  • Cleaning kitchen equipment (not otherwise prohibited), removing oil or grease filters, pouring oil or grease through filters, and moving receptacles containing hot grease or hot oil, but only when the equipment, surfaces, containers, and liquids do not exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Minors may also occasionally enter freezers momentarily to retrieve items in conjunction with restocking or food preparation.
  • Kitchen work and other work involved in preparing and serving food and beverages, including the operation of machines and devices used in the performance of work, such as, but not limited to, dishwashers, toasters, dumbwaiters, popcorn poppers, milk shake blenders, coffee grinders, automatic coffee machines, devices used to maintain the temperature of prepared foods (such as warmers, steam tables, and heat lamps), and microwave ovens that are used only to warm prepared food without the capacity to warm above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Loading onto and unloading from motor vehicles light-weight, nonpower-driven hand tools and personally protective equipment that the minor will use as part of their employment at the worksite.
  • Lifeguard, but only for minors age 15 and older.
  • Work in connection with cars and trucks (if confined to dispensing gasoline and oil), courtesy service, and car cleaning.
  • Cleaning vegetables and fruits.
  • Work inside or outside business where machinery is used to process wood so long as the minor is exempt by statute or judicial order from compulsory school attendance beyond 8th grade, supervised by an adult relative (or adult member of the same religious sect or division as the minor), does not operate or assist in the operation of power-driven woodworking machines, is protected from wood particles or other debris by appropriate barriers, and is required to use personal protective equipment.


Prohibited Occupations

Minors between 14 and 15 may not be employed in any of the following agricultural occupations declared hazardous by federal regulations:

  • Operating a tractor of more than 20 PTO horsepower or connecting or disconnecting an implement or any of its parts to and from such a tractor.
  • Operating or helping operate (including starting, stopping, adjusting, feeding, and any activities involving physical contact with the operations) any of the following machines:
    • Corn pickers, cotton pickers, grain combines, hay mowers, forage harvesters, hay balers, potato diggers, or mobile pea viners.
    • Feed grinder, crop dryer, forage blower, auger conveyor, or the unloading mechanism of a nongravity-type self-unloading wagon or trailer.
    • Power post-hole diggers, power post-drivers, or nonwalking-type rotary tillers.
    • Trenchers or earthmoving equipment.
    • Forklifts.
    • Potato combines.
    • Power-driven circular, band, or chain saws.
  • Working on a farm in a yard, pen, or stall occupied by any of the following:
    • Bull, boar, or stud horse maintained for breeding purposes.
    • Sow with suckling pigs or cow with newborn calf (with umbilical cord present).
  • Felling, bucking, skidding, loading, or unloading timber with butt diameter of more than 6 inches.
  • Working from a ladder or scaffold (including painting, repairing, or building structures; pruning trees; and picking fruit) from a height of more than 20 feet.
  • Driving a bus, truck, or automobile when transporting passengers or riding on a tractor as a passenger or helper.
  • Working inside any of the following:
    • A fruit, forage, or grain storage designed to retain an oxygen-deficient or toxic atmosphere.
    • An upright silo within two weeks after silage has been added or when a top-unloading device is in operating position.
    • A horizontal silo while operating a tractor for packing purposes.
    • A manure pit.
  • Handling or applying (including cleaning or decontaminating equipment, disposing or returning empty containers, or serving as a flagman for aircraft) agricultural chemicals classified under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act as Category I of toxicity, identified by the word “poison” and the skull and crossbones on the label, or Category II of toxicity, identified by the word “warning” on the label.
  • Handling or using a blasting agent, including dynamite black powder, sensitized ammonium nitrate, blasting caps, and primer cord.
  • Transporting, transferring, or applying anhydrous ammonia.

Note: The terms describing machinery, equipment, or facilities in these agricultural occupations are defined in the current edition of Agricultural Engineering, a dictionary and handbook published by Interstate Printers and Publishers, Danville, Illinois. Copies are available for examination in the regional offices of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

Exception: Parents and guardians have a special exemption when employing their children in agricultural occupations.

Minors Under 14

Employers may not employ children under 14 unless they are specifically permitted, as detailed in Covered Employees at the beginning of this article.

Recordkeeping and Postings

In addition to compliance with recordkeeping and posting obligations imposed by the FLSA, employers should consult with legal counsel to confirm compliance with state law obligations regarding the employment of minors, if applicable.


Complaints regarding federal child labor standards and federal wage and hour standards may be filed with the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor.


Violations of the prohibited employment of minors and recordkeeping requirements subjects an employer to substantial civil monetary penalties. See the current civil money penalties for violations.

Note: Additional sanctions may also be imposed under state law for violation of state restrictions.