Staples | Hiring Teens

Hiring Teens

With a shortage of workers left to fill lower wage jobs in most parts of the country, you may want to dip into the pool of teens — 14 to 17 year olds — to help staff your store, burger franchise or gardening service.

If you do, know the law and abide by it — or risk the consequences. For example, a grocery chain in Utah recently failed to learn and live by the letter of the law and paid big for it. It used teenagers for hazardous jobs and allowed them to work more hours than the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) permits. The U.S. Department of Labor investigated and slapped it with a hefty fine of $650,000.

The FLSA covers most companies with annual gross sales of $500,000 or greater and those engaged in interstate commerce. While at first glance, this would seem to make it a Big Business regulation, in fact the law covers nearly all workplaces. Courts have interpreted interstate commerce loosely indeed — holding that employers who get or send mail to or from other states are in interstate commerce, as are those who place or send interstate telephone calls. That covers nearly everyone.

The law giveth — and taketh away

There is a tension in the child labor restrictions — between the law's parenting instinct to encourage children to stay in school and employers' needs to mine the available labor supply. Some industries have obtained special exemptions from the usual legal restrictions. For example, workers of any age may deliver newspapers — or become child starlets by performing in television, film or theatre.

And the farming industry has kept up such a vigorous fight against child labor restrictions since the FLSA was first proposed in the 1930s that it has secured less strict laws for child farmworkers; those as young as 12 may work on their parents' farms and kids as young as 10 may work for a time harvesting if their employers secure a special waiver from the Department of Labor. Beyond that, though, the FLSA imposes a number of age–specific restrictions.

  • Fourteen and fifteen year olds may work in nonmining, nonmanufacturing, and nonhazardous jobs. They cannot work more than three hours on a school day outside of school hours, or more than 18 hours in a school week. They can, however, work eight hours on a non–school day and 40 hours in a non–school week. They also must work between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. —except from June 1 through Labor Day, when they can work until 9 p.m.

  • Sixteen and seventeen year olds can work unlimited hours, but only in nonhazardous jobs.

  • Eighteen year olds and over can work in any job for unlimited hours.

Hazardous jobs include those involving mining, wrecking and demolition, logging and roofing — and specific tasks such as operating a meat slicer, baking, driving vehicles and working on a machine shop floor.

The low cost of hiring young

As long as you don't displace older workers to make way for younger ones, the FLSA permits covered employers to hire those under the age of 20 and pay them $4.25 an hour for their first ninety consecutive calendar days of work. After that, you must pay them at least $5.15. Your state's minimum wage may be different from the FLSA standard, so don't be confused by the conflicting figures you may hear.

For more information

Note that even knowing the federal restrictions may not be enough. Some states have more restrictive child labor laws.

If you have any questions or wonder what constitutes a hazardous job for your industry, call the local Wage and Hour office of the U.S. Department of Labor. Find it in your telephone book under United States Government — Labor Department.

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