Getting a first job is an exciting and important rite of passage for teens in America. After all, everyone needs some exaggerated job stories to tell their kids and grandkids in later years! Your business may have the perfect opening for teenagers on summer break or throughout the school year. But there are special rules to understand when employing minors.
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FLSA: The Fair Labor Standards Act
Good help is hard to find, so expanding your applicant pool to applicants under 18 can be an excellent way to fill those positions. But there are rules employers must follow to be legally compliant. Let’s examine some rules and tips around employing minors.
The federal government created the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to help guard workers. This act specifically outlines rules to protect children and ensure that employment doesn’t hinder their education.
The FLSA rules represent the minimum acceptable terms when employing minors, but many states have additional restrictions. No state law can reduce the minimums in the federal law, so the higher standard always applies. For instance, the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Many states have enacted a higher minimum wage, but no state can decrease that amount.
Likewise, states cannot allow 14-year-olds to work more than three hours on a school day because that is a federal restriction. They can, however, reduce that limit to one or two hours. They can also outlaw hiring that age group entirely, so check with your state for additional restrictions.
Employing Minors Under the Age of 16
In most cases, federal law requires employees to be at least 14 years old. Fourteen- and 15-year-olds can work under federal statutes, but there are limits on their work hours.
Minors in this age range can work up to three hours per day or 18 hours per week when school is in session. Those work hours need to fall between 7:00 am and 7:00 pm.
Restrictions shift a bit when school is out, such as during winter and summer vacations. Between June 1st and Labor Day, 14- and 15-year-olds can work up to eight hours per day and 40 hours per week. The time frame also extends to 9:00 pm during those periods.
There are also restrictions on the types of work children under age 16 can legally do. Federal law prohibits employers from allowing them to work in hazardous occupations. These limits include:
Working with many kinds of machinery, such as tractors and forklifts
Working on ladders
Working with toxic chemicals
Driving a vehicle to transport passengers
Employers always need to keep the safety of their employees in mind, but it is imperative with younger workers.
Employing 16- and 17-Year-Olds
The FLSA does not restrict the total hours a 16- or 17-year-old can work, regardless of whether school is in session. Kids in this age group can clock 44 hours per week.
For the most part, workers in this age range are also restricted from work that the Secretary of Labor deems hazardous. There is an exception for some students and apprentices when enrolled in an approved training program.
Wages for Younger Workers
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, but companies can hire workers under the age of 20 at a training wage of $4.25 per hour for the first consecutive 90 days of working for a new employer.
Keep in mind that your state may have instituted a higher training wage. For example, in Minnesota, the training wage is $8.42 per hour. As with the standard minimum wage, you need to pay the higher amount.
The FLSA provides some exceptions for agricultural work. Children up to age 15 are allowed to work any time outside of typical school hours. This exception is true regardless of what type of school the child attends - public, home, or no school. After they turn 16, children may work on a farm without any school-time restrictions.
Children age 15 and under may not operate hazardous machinery as part of their employment. They also may not undertake clearly dangerous tasks, such as being in a pen with a bull or stud horse. But, unlike in other occupations, hazard restrictions lift for farm workers once the person is 16 years old.
Federal minimum and training wages apply to farm work. If the employer pays a piece rate, such as fifty cents per plucked chicken, the average compensation must meet the minimum wage.
Tips for Employers When Hiring Minors
Understanding some of the legal rules around employing minors is crucial to keeping children safe and your business protected. If you plan to hire children to work in your company, consider these practical tips:
1. Keep an eye on them, at least for a while.
The 15- or 16-year-old you hire probably has little or no experience in the workplace. They will need extra supervision and patience while learning the job details. Be prepared to over-explain and over-instruct to ensure they understand their tasks and responsibilities.
2. Expect schedule conflicts.
Most teenagers are involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. Work with your teen employees to make sure their obligations don’t overlap and be crystal clear with them about how to handle the following:
Requesting time off
Switching shifts with other workers
Calling in sick
A first job is often a teen’s first chance to manage their own schedules. They’ll learn about planning around basketball games and studying for tests but expect a few hiccups in the first weeks of employment.
3. Closely track their total hours worked.
If you choose to hire a person younger than 16, keep track of their daily and weekly hours. Also, make sure the employee understands the restrictions so they don’t accidentally pick up an extra shift that could send their hourly totals above the maximum.
4. Be cautious with their work assignments.
There are many jobs that teens can do, but some tasks are off-limits. Review the rules to ensure a minor employee isn’t doing something they shouldn’t. For example, a 16-year-old may have a driver’s license, but that doesn’t mean you can send them to run errands in a company car.
5. Remind them to ask questions.
First jobs can feel really overwhelming to young people. Many of us are too far removed from that experience to remember it! Remind your workers that they can ask questions when needed if they are ever unsure of their tasks. A supported employee is a happier employee, regardless of their age.
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