Learn about the benefits and labor laws associated with hiring minors.
As we approach summer, you may be considering whom you should hire for seasonal work. With unemployment at 13.3% nationwide, those who are looking to hire employees have a wide talent pool to choose from right now – and that includes employing minors. As a business owner, while you might be wary of hiring minors due to their lack of traditional work experience, there are several advantages.
Learn about the benefits of hiring minors, along with the tax and labor laws that apply to them.
What is the minimum age of a minor employee?
Although a minor is typically thought of as anyone under the age of 18, the general minimum age of a minor employee is 14 years old. Keep in mind that child labor laws and limitations vary from state to state, and younger employees often come with a higher number of restrictions.
What are the benefits of hiring minors?
Although minors often lack the traditional work experience that many companies look for when hiring employees, there are a few advantages of hiring minors. One of the most obvious advantages is their ability to perform seasonal work. Since minors typically search for part-time or seasonal job opportunities, their schedules are often more flexible than their adult counterparts who may be looking for full-time employment with fringe benefits. You can hire minors as needed, which allows you to accommodate seasonal staffing needs.
A second advantage of hiring minors is their employment expectations. Minors aren't typically concerned with career growth, which can allow you to hire employees for entry-level positions that don't necessarily have an opportunity for advancement. Their wage expectations are lower, too, which allows you to fill open minimum wage positions. A lesser-known benefit of hiring minors is the potential for tax incentives, which could save you even more money.
"The government encourages small businesses to support the work experience of minors by providing tax incentives," Zachary Weiner, owner and CEO at Restaurant Accounting, told business.com. "Remember that the benefits differ by state, so it is best to consult with a tax agency to determine what applies to your business."
Hiring minors can aid your business in terms of quality. Since minors are often looking for a money-making opportunity to pad their resumes or receive a professional reference, they are likely to be committed to doing a good job. If you are hiring someone for their very first job, you have the opportunity to mold them into a great employee.
Typical jobs for minors
Since minors are ideal candidates for low-wage seasonal work, especially during the summer, they are often hired for seasonal jobs that have low-risk responsibility – like bussers, grocery baggers or movie theater ushers.
Although there are many industries that can legally hire minors, there are limitations and requirements regarding which minors are eligible for jobs at these establishments.
Here are some of the most common business types and jobs:
- Bowling alleys (cashier, attendant)
- Camps (camp counselor)
- Coffee shops (barista, cashier)
- Farms (farmhand)
- Grocery stores (shelf stocker, grocery bagger)
- Movie theaters (cashier, usher)
- Public and community pools (lifeguard)
- Public libraries (librarian assistant)
- Restaurants (server, busser, host/hostess, dishwasher, valet)
- Retail stores (retail sales associate)
Labor laws and job restrictions for minors
There are several labor laws and job restrictions for minors that small business owners should be aware of. The primary federal law that regulates and protects young workers is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA applies to every state.
"The child labor provisions of the FLSA are designed for the purpose of protecting children's health, safety and their opportunities for education," said Jonathan Melmed, employment lawyer and founding shareholder of Melmed Law Group. "In addition to the FLSA, states (or even cities or counties) may enact their own sets of laws concerning the employment of minors."
To stay compliant, it is important that you understand federal child labor laws, in addition to state and local restrictions. If you live somewhere that has conflicting child employment laws, then the law that is more protective of the minor employee generally applies.
The minimum age a minor can work is typically 14 years old, but there are restrictions as to what job functions minors of certain ages can perform. When we spoke with Melmed, he listed a few general minimum age restrictions for certain job functions:
- Minors under 14 years old can babysit, perform household chores, and do nonhazardous work in businesses owned by their parents. [Read related article: Should I Hire a Family Member?]
- Minors under 16 years old can work in radio, television, movies and theatrical productions.
- Minors between 14 and 16 years old can be hired for clerical work, deliveries, supermarket positions and lifeguarding. (They must be at least 15 to work as a lifeguard.
The above job functions may vary, depending on the labor standards in your specific area. Melmed added that the FLSA also permits minors to perform "artistically creative" work, such as computer programming, software writing, tutoring, serving as a teacher's assistant, playing a musical instrument or drawing.
Hazardous job restrictions
Minors are protected from working hazardous jobs. Although the definition of what constitutes "hazardous" varies by state, individuals under the age of 18 are generally prohibited from working in excavation, explosives, coal mining, firefighting, forestry, logging, mining, operating heavy machinery and tools, roofing, slaughtering and meatpacking.
Melmed said that employers are also prohibited from hiring minors under age 16 to operate motor vehicles or work in construction, communications, hazardous farm work, transportation or warehousing.
"Some states include their own prohibitions on hazardous work for minors," said Melmed. "For example, in California, minors under 16 are prohibited from working in, among others, construction; manufacturing; operating or assisting with specified pieces of machinery; working on a railroad, vessel, car, or other vehicle; or working in proximity to toxic substances, such as acids, dyes, and gas."
Restrictions on working hours
A major consideration when hiring minors is the number of hours they are legally allowed to work. This is especially important if you own a business that operates late hours or needs employees to work extended shifts.
The FLSA limits 14- and 15-year old minors to the following working hours:
- Three hours on a school day
- Eight hours on a nonschool day
- Eighteen hours in a school week
- Forty hours in a nonschool week
- Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., during nonschool hours (except from June 1 through Labor Day, when nighttime work hours are extended to 9 p.m.)
Your state may have additional restrictions about how many hours a minor can work. Visit the U.S. Department of Labor's website to learn more information about child labor laws specific to your state.
Expert advice for hiring minors
When hiring and managing minors, be mindful that many of these employees are entering the workforce for the first time. They are still children, and you will have to manage your expectations accordingly. Mentor them in a way that sets them up to be great employees.
"Seasonal work is an excellent platform to help minors get used to the real world," said Weiner. "Small businesses should keep that in mind, and use the opportunity to guide minors and equip them with the necessary work ethic and attitude essential for their future employment."
Small business owners should also pay close attention to the applicable child labor laws and restrictions. Melmed said the best way to determine whether it is legal to hire a minor to perform a particular job function is to speak with an employment lawyer who can evaluate particular job scenarios. This evaluation can include a review of your industry, the occupation and the age of the minor.