What is the Legal Age to Work?
As one grows older, they find that their needs and requirements in order to live a comfortable life also grow.
By the time someone is in their teens, their social life becomes important and their expenses increase.
In a bid to foot their expenses without having to rely on their parents for an allowance, a teenager might decide to get a job.
If you are a teenager thinking about getting a job, the good news is that many employers love teenage workers.
Teens are motivated and they have a lot of energy, and you will therefore find lots of employers who are eager to hire teenagers for summer jobs and other part-time jobs.
In addition, minor workers generally have the same rights as adult workers.
However, before you start sending out applications, it is good to note that there are some laws and regulations that determine the kind of job you can apply for based on your age.
These laws and regulations are put in place in order to protect children from working in jobs that may be potentially dangerous or harmful to their health and to ensure that the jobs do not interfere with the child’s education.
If you are a teenager looking for work, understanding these laws and regulations will help ensure that you have a positive work experience.
Most of the employment restrictions in regards to age are covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act, though many states also have their own independent child labor laws.
THE FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT
Also known as the FLSA, this is an Act that provides guidelines regarding the employment of individuals who have not attained the age of 18.
Enacted in 1938, the FLSA sets hours worked, recordkeeping, wage, overtime, and safety requirements for minors working in jobs that are covered by the act.
The rules and regulations set out in the FLSA vary depending on the age of the individual and the kind of job involved.
Aside from providing guidelines regarding the employment of minors based on their particular age and the kind of job involved, the FLSA also protects minors from working in jobs that have been declared by the Secretary of Labor to be hazardous, such as those involving operation of motor-driven equipment, mining and excavation operations, or those involving exposure to radioactive substances.
In addition, the FLSA has some laws and regulations that only apply to certain types of jobs, such as agricultural employment, and several exceptions to some of the general rules stipulated within the statute.
As a general rule, the FLSA the age of 14 as the minimum working age for most types of non-agricultural jobs.
In other words, minors below the age of 14 are only allowed to work in agricultural jobs.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule.
Aside from agricultural work, minors below the age of 14 can work in any job if the business is owned by their parents, provided the business is in a non-hazardous industry.
In addition, minors below the age of 14 can be employed in jobs such as theatrical productions or performing on television, radio, or movies, newspaper delivery, performing minor chores around a private home, or babysitting.
While children between the age of 14 and 15 are legally allowed to work, there are limits to the times of day that they can work and the number of hours they are allowed to work.
Generally, they can only work for only up to three hours per day for school days (up to 18 hours per school week), or up to eight hours per day for non-school days (up to 40 hours per week).
In addition, minors between the age of 14 and fifteen cannot take shifts during school hours. During the school year (between Labor Day and May 31), children in this age bracket can only work in the hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
During the summer (between June 1 and Labor Day), children within this age bracket can work between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.
There is one exception to the above rules concerning minors between the age of 14 and 15.
Once children reach the age of 16, many of the employment restrictions are lifted.
For instance, the hourly minimums are lifted, allowing these minors to work as many hours per week as they would like.
However, they are still restricted against working in jobs considered hazardous by the Secretary of Labor or using certain types of equipment.
For instance, while food service is not considered to be a hazardous industry, 16 and 17 year olds working in food service establishments are not allowed to hold jobs that require them to operate power driven meat processing machines, power driven bakery machines, or commercial mixers.
Once an individual reaches the age of 18, all employment restrictions are lifted and the person can legally work the number of hours they work and in whatever industry they want to work.
Since the individual is no longer a minor, adult employment rights and rules become applicable to them.
Aside from the FLSA, many states also have their own child labor laws that may have a higher minimum age for employment compared to the FLSA.
In states where this is the case, the law with the higher minimum standard automatically applies.
It is also good to note that any non-agricultural employers are also required to post a Minimum Wage Poster issued by the Department of Labor.
The poster, which lists the federal minimum wage and minimum age requirements among other information, should be posted in a prominent place at the workplace.
We saw above that 14 is the minimum working age for most types of non-agricultural jobs.
When it comes to agricultural jobs, however, different age requirements come into play, though the kind of work and hours of work permitted still vary according to the particular age of the individual.
Before we get into the agricultural employment restrictions, it is good to note that these restrictions are also subject to parental exception.
In other words, minors can be employed in a farm owned or operated by their parents regardless of the minor’s age.
When it comes to agricultural employment, there isn’t really a minimum legal working age.
Minors under the age of 12 may be employed on a farm provided there is parental consent, they work outside of school hours and provided the employees at the farm are exempt from federal minimum wage provisions.
Minors between the ages of 12 and 13 may also be employed on agricultural jobs outside of school hours and provided there is written parental consent or the minor’s parent or caregiver is also employed within the same farm.
Once they reach the age of 14, minors can be employed outside of school hours in any agricultural job, except those considered hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.
In the above provisions, the term school hours refers to the hours set by the official school calendar of the district in which the minor lives while working in an agricultural position.
The FLSA prohibits any exceptions being made that would allow students to be individual children to be released from school early so that they can work in agriculture.
However, children can work in agricultural jobs before or after school hours, during weekends, and on any other days when they are not required to attend school.
For instance, if the district where a minor lives while working in an agricultural job has set the school hours to be between 9.00 a.m. and 3.00 p.m. the minor is not allowed to work in an agricultural job between 9.00 a.m. and 3.00 p.m. on a school day.
However, they can work before this time block or after.
The requirements that minors should not work in an agricultural position during school hours applies to all minors living within the district, even if they do not attend public school.
This means that even minors who attend private school, those who are schooled at home and those who have completed their formal education are not allowed to work during these hours.
Minors who have reached the age of 16 are legally allowed to be employed in any agricultural occupation, including those that the Secretary of Labor has declared as hazardous.
There are no hourly requirements for minors above the age of 16 in regards to agricultural employment. They can work at any time, including during school hours.
Hazardous Agricultural Occupations
We have seen above that minors under the age of 16 are not under any circumstances allowed to be employed in agricultural occupations that may be hazardous to their health and well-being.
According to the Secretary of Labor, agricultural jobs that are considered hazardous or dangerous to minors below the age of 16 include:
- Operating tractors that exceed 20 PTO horsepower, or any other occupation that may require the minor to connect or disconnect any parts or implements to or from such tractors.
- Operating or providing assistance in the operation of any of the following machines:
- Hay mower, potato digger, cotton picker, corn picker, mobile pea viner, grain combine, hay baler, or forage harvester.
- Auger conveyer, forage blower, crop dryer, feed grinder, or the unloading mechanism of self-unloading non-gravity type trailer or wagon.
- Power post driver, power post hole diggers or rotary tiller.
- Operating or providing assistance in the operation of any of the following machines
- A trencher or any other earthmoving machinery
- A potato combine
- A power-driven circular chain or band saw.
- Working on the farm in a stall, pen, or yard occupied by a:
- Cow with a newborn calf, or a sow with suckling piglets.
- A bull, stud horse, or boar that is being reared for breeding purposes.
- Working in an occupation that requires the felling, skidding, bucking, loading or unloading of timber with a butt diameter exceeding 6 inches.
- Doing any jobs that may require the use of a ladder or scaffold (such as repairing, painting, picking fruit, pruning trees, building structures, and so on) at a height exceeding 20 feet.
- Driving an automobile, truck, or bus to transport passengers or riding on a tractor as a helper or a passenger.
- Working inside:
- A grain, forage, or fruit storage that may contain a toxic or oxygen deficient atmosphere.
- A silo at any time when a top unloading device is in operating position within the silo or within the first two weeks after silage has been added in the silo, or when a tractor is in operation within the silo for packing purposes.
- A manure pit.
- Applying or in any way handling agricultural chemicals that might be toxic (including return or disposal of empty containers, cleaning and decontaminating equipment used in the application, or in any other way helping in the application of such chemicals). The chemicals referred to in this case are those that may be labelled with the word “warning,” or “poison,” or those with a drawing of the danger sign (skull and crossbones).
- Using or in any way handling a blasting agent, including but not limited to blasting caps, black powder, dynamite, primer cord, or sensitized ammonium nitrate.
- Applying, transferring, transporting, or in any way handling anhydrous ammonia.
EMPLOYMENT BY PARENTS
You might have noticed that there is a parental exception for age requirements in both agricultural and non-agricultural jobs.
This is because the minimum age requirements stipulated by the Fair Labor Standards Act do not apply to minors employed by their parents or caregivers/guardians.
In other words, a minor can be employed by their parent in any occupation regardless of their age, except for occupations in manufacturing and mining where anyone below the age of 18 years is not allowed to work.
Many state child labor laws also have similar exceptions when it comes to minors working for their parents and guardians.
Aside from the restrictions discussed previously, minors who are 16 and 17 years old are restricted from working in or with the following: cranes, excavators, logging, roofing, mining, manufacturing masonry, explosives, power saws, transport trucks, and radioactive substances.
In addition to all the above, 14 and 15 year olds are also restricted from working in or with the following: warehousing, manufacturing, ladder work, baking, janitorial services, public utilities, amusement park attendants, washing windows, and loading trucks.
DOCUMENTATION REQUIRED TO WORK
Some states will require any person below the age of 18 to have working papers before they can legally be allowed to work.
The working papers are legal documents that show that a minor has been certified as employable. They are usually two types of certifications:
- Age Certification
- Employment Certification
The rules and regulations regarding the need for working papers will vary depending on your state.
In some states, anyone below the age of 18 needs the papers before they can get employment.
In other states, the working papers are only required of people below the age of 16. Yet in some other states, you can get hired without the need for working papers, regardless of your age.
If you are a teenager looking for work, you can find out whether you need working papers by visiting your state Department of Labor or consulting your school guidance office. Some schools even help students in obtaining these papers.
THE HISTORY OF US CHILD LABOR LAWS
The United States has not always had child labor laws.
The laws were developed at some point in order to prevent minors from exploitation through child labor.
The history of these laws shows how the values of the nation have changed over time.
Today, child labor laws are seen as a necessity in guaranteeing that children get education. They help ensure that work experiences enhance the educational process, rather than hindering it.
When the first European settlers came to America, they brought with them some new social values, many of which still remain in place even today. One of these is the value of work in society.
The European settlers equated idleness with negligence and irresponsibility, and so it became a norm to have children help out their parents in the farm or with their trade to help support the family.
In 1641, a law was passed in Massachusetts Bay Colony requiring families to provide their children and apprentices with education.
According to this law, children were supposed to be taught how to read and some form of trade.
The idea behind this law was that by providing children with education, it prepared them to grow into hard-working and industrious adults who would positively contribute to the society.
Families that could not afford to provide their children with education were forced to have their children enter apprenticeships at young ages so that they could also get educated.
With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, America transitioned from a predominantly rural nation to a predominantly urban nation. More people started working in factories than were working in farms.
Driven by the need for huge profits, many factories turned to women and children as a source of cheap labor.
Since children could not speak up for themselves, and considering that many families were still dependent on the meager earnings of their children to supplement the family income, the exploitation of children increased while their working conditions grew deplorable over time.
Minors, some as young as 6 years, worked for over 12 hours in dangerous and unhealthy conditions for paltry wages.
When this became too bad, people started challenging the deplorable working conditions and calling for better treatment of children. In 1836, the State of Connecticut passed a law that made it mandatory for children to attend school for 3 months every year.
This social awareness continued growing, and towards the end of the 19th century, over 1600 laws had been passed by different states either limiting or abolishing child labor.
However, this did not change the situation much, since many of these laws did not apply to everyone, such as immigrants, while others were simply ignored.
In the early 20th century, there was renewed fight for social reform.
People felt that it was the responsibility of the federal government to protect children, and many women started protesting against children working in factories.
Two of the strongest women leading this activism were Marry Harris “Mother” Jones and Florence Kelly.
These two women organized numerous protests asking for President Theodore Roosevelt to ban child labor, as well as boycotts of any goods that relied on child labor for production.
Their efforts paid off. By 1913, most states, except just 9, had passed laws declaring 14 as the minimum legal age for working in a factory.
Still, children were not fully protected from child labor until the Fair Labor Standards Act was enacted in 1938. Today, the country has changed drastically in regards to child labor.
Many families have become fairly wealthy, so they are no longer forced to rely on their children to help supplement the family income.
Instead, today majority of the teenagers working today do it primarily to earn their own sending money.
If you are a teenager looking for work, you might be wondering whether you are within legal working age.
If you are above 14 years, you are legally allowed to work, provided you do not work within school hours and provided you are not seeking employment within industries deemed by the Secretary of Labor to be hazardous.
If you are 16 year or older, you can work as many hours as you look, although you are still not allowed to work within industries considered hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.
If you are looking for employment within agriculture, you can start working at a much earlier age, though you will need to follow the regulations relating to agricultural employment as explained within this article.
Finally, it is good to keep in mind that these regulations are put in place, not to prevent you from legally being employed, but to protect you from being exploited by employers.
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