Employing Teens During the School Year: Understanding the Legal Limits

by Christy Rakoczy on September 6, 2013
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Recent studies show that some 80 percent of students in the United States work part-time while they attend school. These workers — who range from high school to university students — clock an average of 19 hours a week on the job during the academic year.

For employees under the age of 18, that’s an hour longer than is legally permitted by the Fair Labor Standards Act when school is in session. And it’s something for small-business owners to keep in mind once classes in their community have resumed.

If you employ teenagers, you are responsible complying with the law. Among other rules, the FLSA stipulates that children under 14 are not allowed to work at any time, with limited exceptions for family farms and family businesses. Students ages 14 and 15 may work a maximum of three hours on school days, but only during non-school hours — and not before 8 a.m. or after 7 p.m. — unless they are part of an approved Work Experience and Career Exploration Program.

Small-business owners also should be aware that state laws may be more restrictive than the FLSA. For example, although federal laws don’t impose limits on 16- and 17-year-olds, some states restrict the hours and total time worked by all high-school students and anyone under 18.

To ensure your business follows the rules, check with your state’s labor department (which may go by another name, such as the Department of Industrial Relations in California). If you break the law, you may be subject to citations, fines, and other legal consequences. Even if you have the next tech superstar on your payroll, no work performed by a teen employee is worth the risk of penalties.

Christy Rakoczy is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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