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Employers often believe that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations cover worker age limits; however, it is the Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state regulations which set these guidelines.
As the term implies, child labor laws impact employees who are under the age of 18.
Summary of requirements
The Federal youth employment provisions do not:
- Require minors to obtain “working papers” or “work permits,” though many states do;
- Restrict the number of hours or times of day that workers 16 years of age and older may be employed, though many States do;
- Apply where no FLSA employment relationship exists;
- Regulate or require such things as breaks, meal periods, or fringe benefits;
- Regulate such issues as discrimination, harassment, verbal or physical abuse, or morality, though other federal and state laws may.
The FLSA prohibits workers under the age of 18 from operating hazardous equipment in non-agricultural operations. Under the FLSA, the age of the young worker typically determines which child labor rules apply. In particular, age determines how many hours in a day or week, or what hours in the day a youth may work.
Work hour restrictions. In addition to restrictions on hours, certain jobs are too hazardous for anyone under 16 years of age to perform. FLSA's section on Prohibited Occupations outlines what jobs are considered hazardous for young people (14 years old is the minimum age covered by the FLSA). The basic rules for when and where a youth may work are:
- Youth 18 years or older may perform any job, whether hazardous or not, for unlimited hours.
- Youth 16 or 17 years old may perform any non-hazardous job for unlimited hours.
- Youth 14 and 15 years old may work outside school hours in various non-manufacturing, non-mining, non-hazardous jobs. They cannot work more than:
- 3 hours a day on school days;
- 18 hours per week in school weeks;
- 8 hours a day on non-school days;
- 40 hours per week when school is not in session.
Also, 14- and 15-year-olds may not work before 7:00 a.m., or after 7:00 p.m., except from June 1 through Labor Day, when their permissible hours are extended to 9:00 p.m. Under a special provision, youth 14 and 15 years old who are enrolled in an approved Work Experience and Career Exploration Program may be employed for up to 23 hours during school weeks and 3 hours on school days (including during school hours).
Children under 14 years of age may not be employed in non-agricultural occupations covered by the FLSA. Permissible employment for such children is limited to work that is exempt from the FLSA (such as delivering newspapers to the consumer and acting). Children may also perform work not covered by the FLSA such as completing minor chores around private homes or casual baby-sitting.
Hazardous job restrictions. In addition to restrictions on hours, the Labor Department has determined that certain jobs are too hazardous for anyone under 18 years of age to perform. These rules must be followed unless one of the FLSA's child labor exemptions applies.
- 18 years or older may perform any job, whether hazardous or not.
- 16 or 17 years old may perform any non-hazardous job. (See the list of hazardous occupations.)
- 14 and 15 years old may not work in the manufacturing or mining industries, or in any hazardous job. In addition, this age group may not work in the following occupations:
- Communications or public utilities jobs;
- Construction or repair jobs;
- Driving a motor vehicle or helping a driver;
- Manufacturing and mining occupations;
- Power-driven machinery or hoisting apparatus other than typical office machines;
- Processing occupations;
- Public messenger jobs;
- Transporting of persons or property;
- Workrooms where products are manufactured, mined or processed;
- Warehousing and storage.
Hazardous occupations. Eighteen is the minimum age for employment in non-agricultural hazardous occupations. The rules prohibiting working in hazardous occupations apply either on an industry basis, or on an occupational basis no matter what industry the job is in.
Parents employing their own children are subject to these same rules. Some of these hazardous occupations have definitive exemptions. In addition, limited apprentice/student-learner exemptions apply to occupations marked with an asterisk.
- Manufacturing and storing of explosives.
- Driving a motor vehicle and being an outside helper on a motor vehicle.
- Coal mining.
- Occupations in forest fire fighting, forest fire prevention, timber tract, forestry service, and occupations in logging and sawmilling operations.
- Power-driven woodworking machines.*
- Exposure to radioactive substances and ionizing radiation.
- Power-driven hoisting apparatus.
- Power-driven metal-forming, punching, and shearing machines.*
- Mining, other than coal mining.
- Power-driven meat-processing machines, slaughtering and meat packing plants.*
- Power-driven bakery machines.
- Balers, compactors, and power-driven paper-products machines.*
- Manufacturing brick, tile, and related products.
- Power-driven circular saws, band saws, guillotine shears, chain saws, reciprocating saws, wood chippers, and abrasive cutting discs.*
- Wrecking, demolition, and shipbreaking operations.
- Roofing operations and work performed on or about a roof.*
- Excavation operations.*
For more details about work hours and hazardous occupations, see the child labor regulations at 29 CFR Part 570.
Note: All states have child labor rules and mandatory school attendance laws. Some of these state rules are more restrictive than the federal requirements.
Work certificates. The FLSA does not require that young workers have a state permit to work. These permits certify that they are old enough to participate in a particular job. Some states, however, do require work permits prior to accepting a job applicant.
To protect themselves, employers should request a work permit when there is any reason to believe that the youth's age may be below the minimum of the job for which he/she is applying. Additionally, employers should always request certificates when the youth:
- Claims to be only one or two years above the minimum age for the job, or
- Claims to be older than two years above the minimum age if his/her physical appearance indicates that this may not be true.
Youth of any age. Although the FLSA sets 14 as the minimum age for most non-agricultural work, youth of any age may:
- Deliver newspapers;
- Perform in radio, television, movie, or theatrical productions;
- Work in businesses owned by their parents (except in mining, manufacturing or hazardous jobs); and
- Perform babysitting or perform minor chores around a private home.
Protecting young workers. Young workers are often at greater risk of on-the-job injury than their older counterparts. Youths commonly perform tasks outside their usual work assignments for which they may not have received training, or they may take it upon themselves to perform these tasks. They may lack the experience and physical and emotional maturity needed to recognize and deal with hazardous situations. Additionally, they may:
- Be unfamiliar with work requirements and safe operating procedures; and
- Not know their legal rights and that there are certain jobs and work hours prohibited by child labor laws.
As an employer of teens, take the following steps to make the workplace safe for young workers:
- Reduce the potential for injury or illness by assessing and eliminating hazards;
- Make sure equipment used by young workers is safe and legal;
- Make sure that young workers are appropriately supervised;
- Make sure that supervisors and adult coworkers are aware of tasks minors may or may not perform;
- Label equipment that minors cannot use, or color-code their uniforms so that others will know they cannot perform certain jobs;
- Provide training in hazard recognition and safe work practices;
- Have minors demonstrate that they can perform assigned tasks safely and correctly; and
- Ask them for feedback about the training.
Finally, every employer needs to understand and comply with state and federal laws regarding minor workers. A study found that over three-quarters of employers with minor workers were unfamiliar with child labor laws.
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