So your teenager is bugging you to get a job at the local grocery or ice cream shop to make extra money. Video games don’t buy themselves. It is not as if children working is a foreign concept–children worked on family farms for centuries. Of course, more recently, the U.S. federal government decided that there should be limits on what work a child could do (including age requirements) and how many hours a week. There are child labor laws at both the federal level and the state of Washington level.
What are the federal rules?
The child’s age will dictate what they can do and how many hours they can work. The federal child labor law is within the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The age categories are broken down into Under 14, Ages 14 & 15, Ages 16 & 17, and Age 18.
If a child is under the age of 14, they can deliver newspapers; perform in radio, television, movie, or theatrical productions; work in a business owned by their parents; babysit; or perform minor chores around a private home, with the consent of the parent/legal guardian. An interesting quirk with the federal law is that it specifically allows a child of any age to “gather evergreens and make evergreen wreath.”
For minors who live in households with parental businesses, the business cannot employ the minor if it involves mining or manufacturing. The Department of Labor prohibits children using motor vehicles, power-driven machinery, working with explosives, working on roofs, or excavating. All children under 18 are also prohibited from fighting forest fires, working in logging industry, using radioactive materials (probably a good thing), or making brick, tiles, or related products.
Ages 14 & 15
Along with the jobs for Under 14 children, 14 and 15-year-olds can work in retail stores, do computer programming and tutoring, run errands by foot, bicycle, or use buses or subways. This age group can also do yard work, but are not allowed to operate motorized equipment. They can wash dishes and clean equipment in kitchens as well as cleaning and preparing fruits and vegetables, so long as they aren’t working inside a freezer or meat cooler. Fifteen-year-olds can also be lifeguards at swimming pools and amusement parks as well.
The FLSA requires school-age children to attend school, so work hours must be after school on school days and during the weekends. On school days, children cannot work longer than 3 hours, with a limit of 18 hours a week. They are also limited to working between the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. If school is not in session, then 14 and 15-year-olds can work up to a 40-hour work week.
Ages 16 & 17
Sixteen and 17-year-olds can work in any job that the Secretary of Labor has not declared hazardous. These are listed above in the Under 14 section. The difference between 16 and 17-year-olds and the younger age category is that there are no federal rules limiting the hours these teens can work.
Once a child turns 18, there are no limits on what jobs a child can do or how many hours they can work.
If your teenager wants more information, they can check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s Youth’s Rules! Website. If they (or you) have a problem with their job as a minor, then you should consider contacting an employment law attorney for guidance.