Child Labor Laws
Child labor laws have been around since the Industrial Revolution. They regulate areas like wages, hours, and working conditions for workers under 18-years-old. The regulations vary between federal and state law, but the stricter regulation will be the one applied in any given situation. The applicable regulations will also differ depending on whether or not the work is agricultural. Some jobs, like babysitting, are not even covered by child labor laws. To learn more about child labor laws, read below:
Yes. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) contains the federal labor standards for young workers, including minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor rules. The rules vary depending upon your age and the type of work.
The FLSA applies to many full- and part-time workers in the private sector and in the federal, state and local governments. (For more information, see who is covered.) While a few states rely solely on the federal laws found in the FLSA, most states also have child labor laws. A summary can be found by following this link: State child labor standards.
State child labor laws may be more restrictive or less restrictive than the federal FLSA. In other words, states may have different minimum ages for employment, different hours of work restrictions, and may identify additional occupations as hazardous.
2. My state’s child labor standards differ from federal child labor standards. Which standards apply?
It depends. If your employment is covered by the FLSA (see who is covered), then both federal and state laws apply–and the law with the most protections (whether state or federal) is followed.
For more information about the child labor laws in your state, see State child labor standards. For more information you may also want to contact your state’s department of labor. You can find the contact information for your state’s labor standards agency at our site’s state government agencies page.
If your employment is not covered by the FLSA, then only state laws will apply.
The Industrial Revolution led to the rise of factories and sent many workers from rural farming communities to urban areas. With the rising need for employment many children were hired to work in factories, mines, and other industrial facilities. Bosses found child labor desirable because they viewed children as more manageable, cheaper, and less likely to strike. The horrendous working conditions and the lack of education for child laborers captured the attention of America’s public. Since the mid-19th century there were a number of political movements to reform or eliminate child labor. A number of laws were passed designed to protect child laborers from bad working conditions and allow children to stay in school and receive an education before entering the workforce.
Under the FLSA, the following age brackets are relevant:
- Under 14 – You cannot work in most non-farm jobs, as covered in question 5
- Between 14 and 16 – You may work, but the number of hours and types of jobs you may do are regulated, as covered in question 7
- Between 16 and 18 – The number of hours you may work is not limited, but you are still restricted from working in hazardous jobs, as covered in question 10
- Over 18 – You are no longer protected by child labor laws
Each state also has its own laws relating to employment, including the employment of minors. A summary of each state’s child labor laws, including which age groups are covered, for non-farm employment can be found by following this link: http://www.dol.gov/esa/whd/state/nonfarm.htm. For more information you may want to contact your state’s labor standards office.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets 14 as the minimum age for most non-agricultural work.
However, there are certain exceptions to the general rules. For example, a 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
Many states have passed their own child labor laws, some of which may have a minimum age for employment which is higher than the FLSA. Where both the FLSA and state child labor laws apply, the higher minimum standard must be obeyed. For more information you may want to contact your state’s labor standards office.
No. An employer can pay you less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, for a limited period of time. The FLSA allows:
a minimum wage of at least $4.25 per hour if you are less than 20 years old in your first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment with an employer.
After 90 days of employment, or when you reach the age of 20 (whichever comes first), you must receive minimum wage. It is against the law for your employer to take any action to displace other employees in order to hire employees at the youth minimum wage, such as reducing employees’ hours, wages, or employment benefits. For further information, please see our site’s minimum wage page.
Some states have a different minimum wage. Where state law requires a higher minimum wage, which many do, that higher standard applies. Each state’s minimum wage can be found by following this link: minimum wage laws in the states. For more information you may want to contact your state’s labor standards office.
Once you reach the age of 16, there are no limits on how many hours a week you can work in non-farm employment under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). (For farm employment, see question 12) Youths 14 and 15 years old may work outside school hours in various non-manufacturing, non-mining, non-hazardous jobs under certain conditions.
Permissible work hours for 14- and 15-year-olds are:
3 hours on a school day; 18 hours in a school week; 8 hours on a non-school day; 40 hours in a non-school week; During the period that starts with the day after Labor Day and ends at midnight May 31, their workday may not begin earlier than 7 a.m. or end later than 7 pm; From June 1 through Labor Day, their workday may not begin earlier than 7 a.m., but it can end as late as 9 p.m.
State laws may be different. A summary may be found by following this link: http://www.youthrules.dol.gov/law-library/state-laws/index.htm. For more information you may want to contact your state’s labor standards office
Under the FLSA, workers under the age of 16 are cannot work between 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., except during the summer. From June 1 to Labor Day, the prohibited hours are from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Once you’re 16, federal law no longer restricts what hours you can work.
State laws vary but are summarized at the following link: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/childlabor101.htm. For more information you may want to contact your state’s labor standards office.
Regulations governing youth employment in non-agricultural jobs are different from those pertaining to agricultural employment (farm jobs). In non-agricultural work, the permissible jobs, by age, are as follows:
Workers 16 and 17 years old may perform any non-hazardous jobs (see the next question for a listing of hazardous jobs); and Workers 14 and 15 years old may work outside school hours in various non-manufacturing, non-mining, non-hazardous jobs
Child labor laws vary from state to state. Often state regulations provide very specific information on hazardous occupations and other safety standards for youth employees. For more information you may want to contact your state’s labor standards office
There are seventeen prohibited jobs for youth under the age of 18 for non-farm employment.
Manufacturing or storing explosives Driving a motor vehicle and being an outside helper on a motor vehicle Coal mining Logging and sawmilling Power-driven wood-working machines Exposure to radioactive substances and to ionizing radiations Power-driven hoisting equipment Power-driven metal-forming, punching, and shearing machines Mining, other than coal mining Meat packing or processing (including power-driven meat slicing machines) Power-driven bakery machines Power-driven paper-products machines Manufacturing brick, tile, and related products Power-driven circular saws, band saws, and guillotine shears Wrecking, demolition, and ship-breaking operations Roofing operations Excavation operations
Not in most cases. Youths under age 16 working in a business solely owned or operated by their parents (or by persons standing in place of their parents, such as guardians and foster parents) can work any time of day and for any number of hours. However, parents cannot employ their child in manufacturing or mining, or in any of the hazardous occupations listed in the previous question.
In most cases the same is true of state law. For more information you may want to contact your state’s labor standards office
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), if you are working for a parent or guardian, there are no age requirements for working on a farm. Youth of any age may be employed at any time, in any agricultural occupation on a farm owned or operated by their parent or person standing in place of their parent. There are no maximum daily and weekly hours and days per week a youth can work under the FLSA.
Under the FLSA, if you are not working for a parent or guardian, you must be 16 years of age to work on a farm during school hours and 14 years of age to work on a farm outside of school hours. You may work on a farm if you are at least 12 years of age with written parental consent, or if you are working on a farm where a parent/guardian is employed. If you are under 12 years old and you have written consent to work on a farm from a parent or guardian, the Federal minimum wage provisions do not apply.
Some farm jobs are considered hazardous, such as operating heavy farm machinery and handling toxic pesticides and fertilizer, and are therefore prohibited for workers under age 18. For a listing of hazardous farm jobs, see occupations involved in agriculture. However, it is possible to obtain an exemption to work in the hazardous jobs if you are being supervised in a school’s vocational agriculture program or have completed a certification program in operating machinery (offered by a Cooperative Service of a land grant university or by your school’s vo-ag instructor.)
State laws vary on this subject. A summary of the state laws regarding agricultural employment can be found by following this link: State agricultural labor standards. For more information you may want to contact your state’s labor standards office.
Work permits and age certificates verify that you are old enough to be employed. Their purpose is to protect the employer from being prosecuted for employing an underage worker, as the employer can use the certificate to show that it attempted in good faith effort to comply with legal minimum age requirements.
Work permits and age certificates are not required by the FLSA, but are required by the laws of some states. Most of the age certificates issued to young workers are issued by states. Some states will fine employers who violate the requirement to obtain work permits and age certificates from their young workers.
You can find your state’s requirements for work permits and age certificates summarized in the following chart: Employment/Age Certificates, or you can contact your state’s labor standards office.
Also, your school guidance counselors might know if work permits or age certificates are required in your state. The Department of Labor will issue you an age certificate if your state does not issue them, or if you are requested by your employer to provide one.
No. Youth employed in the delivery of newspapers to consumers are not covered by the FLSA’s child labor and wage and hour provisions. This exemption applies to
carriers engaged in making deliveries to the homes of subscribers or other consumers of newspapers (including shopping news), and employees engaged in the street sale or delivery of newspapers to the consumer.
However, employees engaged in hauling newspapers to drop stations, distributing centers, and newsstands are not exempt, because they do not deliver to the consumer.
Many states regulate minors employed as newspaper carriers more strictly than the FLSA does. Please consult your state department of labor for more specific information.
No. Youth employed as babysitters are not covered by the FLSA’s child labor and wage and hour provisions. In most cases the same is true of state law. For more information you may want to contact your state’s labor standards office.
16. I want a job, but I don’t have any work skills and I don’t know where to start. Are there any resources that can help me?
The Department of Labor posts special Web pages for young people, both for those old enough to work and those not yet old enough, that provide information on topics ranging from student volunteerism to job safety. For example, Youth Rules would be a good place to start.
The federal government, including the Department of Labor, sponsors a wide variety of job training and job placement assistance programs for America’s youth. The Department’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) is the primary agency responsible for such programs.
You can a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the Department of Labor. If a violation is found, WHD will pursue a complaint on your behalf. The WHD’s enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is carried out by investigators stationed across the United States. These investigators gather data on wages, hours, and other employment conditions or practices, in order to determine compliance with the law. You may also pursue a complaint on your own behalf, or file a lawsuit in court (which may require you to hire an attorney).
It is a violation to fire or in any other manner discriminate against an employee for filing a complaint or for participating in a legal proceeding under FLSA.
Willful violations may be prosecuted criminally and the violator fined up to $10,000. A second conviction may result in imprisonment. Employers who willfully or repeatedly violate the minimum wage requirements are subject to a civil money penalty of up to $10,000 for each employee who was the subject of a violation.
To contact the Wage-Hour Division for further information and/or to report a potential violation of child labor laws, call:
Toll Free: (866) 4USWAGE (866-487-9243)
TTY: (877) 889-5627
(available Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time)
You may also contact your local WHD office.
If you need further information about your state’s child labor laws and/or wish to report a potential state law violation, then you may wish to contact the agency in your state which handles wage and hour/labor standards violations, listed on our site’s state government agencies page.
If your employer has violated child labor practices, the WHD may require your employer to pay punitive damages. These are given in order to punish the employer who has broken the law. Your damages will depend on what your employer’s violations are. Willful violations may be prosecuted criminally and the violators fined up to $10,000. A second conviction may result in imprisonment.
Also, when investigators encounter violations, they recommend changes in employment practices in order to bring the employer into compliance. The Department of Labor can even go to court to make the employer stop violating the child labor laws, and can prevent employers from shipping goods or products made with child labor in violation of the law.
Do not delay in contacting the WHD or your state agency to file a claim. There may be time limits in which charges of child labor violations must be filed. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. Yet if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.