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This Federal Human Resources Manual is offered to you for free. Find state specific laws and regulations below.

Child labor — Federal

Federal law closely regulates employment of minors, imposing special restrictions on the terms and conditions of employment and additional administrative duties on employers. Employers must be especially careful to strictly comply with these laws because violators are subject to stiff fines.

Protections for child laborers

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) child labor provisions are intended to ensure that children have the opportunity to obtain an education and prevent them from being employed in occupations and under conditions that may be harmful to their health or well-being.

To meet these goals, the FLSA includes restrictions on hours of work for minors under 16 and prohibits employers from hiring minors in hazardous occupations. Different restrictions apply to agricultural and nonagricultural employment.

Minimum age and work-time requirements

Non-farm jobs

For work other than farming, the legal hours of work and degree of hazard are as follows:

  • 18 years old - Any job for unlimited hours, whether work is hazardous or non-hazardous.
  • 16 and 17 years old - Any job for unlimited hours except those declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor (see Too hazardous for minors). The hazardous occupation prohibition also applies in the case of employment by the parent or person standing in place of the parent.
  • 14 and 15 years old - No hazardous, manufacturing, mining jobs or any occupation declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. Various office, clerical, sales, retail or food service jobs according to the following limitations:
    • Work is limited to three hours on a school day (including Fridays), 18 hours in a school week, eight hours on a non-school day, 40 hours in a non-school week.
    • Work is limited to the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., except from June 1 through Labor Day, when evening hours are extended to 9 p.m.
    • Work may not be performed during school hours unless enrolled in an approved Work Experience and Career Exploration Program (WECEP) in which case may work up to 23 hours in school weeks and three hours on school days (including during school hours). Similarly, students enrolled in a school-supervised and school-administered Work-Study Program (WSP) shall still be confined to not more than 18 hours in a school week but may work a portion of those hours in accordance with the following four-week formula: in three of the four weeks, the participant may work during school hours on only one day per week and for no more than eight hours on that day. During the remaining week of the four-week cycle, the participant may work during school hours on no more than two days and for no more than eight hours on each of those two days.
  • Any age - May deliver newspapers, act or perform in television, movies and theatrical productions, work for their parents in solely owned non-farm businesses (except in manufacturing and hazardous jobs), gather evergreens and make evergreen wreaths. Additionally, children of any age may perform work not covered by the FLSA such as completing minor chores around private homes or casual babysitting.

Agricultural jobs

For farming work, the permissible hours and degree of hazard are as follows:

  • 16 years old - Any farm job for unlimited hours, at any time, whether work is hazardous or non-hazardous.
  • 14 and 15 years old - Any non-hazardous farm job outside of school hours.
  • 12 and 13 years old - Non-hazardous farm jobs outside school hours either with the minor’s parents’ written consent or jobs on farms where a parent is also employed.
  • Under 12 years old - Jobs on farms owned or operated by the minor’s parents or with the parents’ consent on farms not covered by the federal minimum wage requirements.
  • Any age - May be employed by their parents on farms owned and operated by a parent or person standing in the place of a parent, whether or not the job is hazardous.

Prohibited hazardous employment

Employment of minors is prohibited in occupations that are potentially hazardous or detrimental to the minor’s health. Whether an occupation is considered hazardous sometimes depends on the age of the minor.

All minors

All minors are prohibited from working in occupations such as:

  • manufacturing bricks, tile and kindred products
  • roofing operations and all work on or about a roof
  • exposure to radioactive substances
  • operating certain power-driven machines
  • meat and poultry packing or processing
  • excavation
  • wrecking and demolition
  • logging and sawmill work
  • forest fire fighting
  • mining
  • operation of certain dangerous machines
  • operation of power-driven hoisting apparatus, including forklifts
  • manufacture, storage of or exposure to explosives or radioactive substances
  • operating power-driven bakery machines, including vertical dough or batter mixers

Minors under the age of 16

In addition to those activities prohibited from all minors, employees under the age of 16 are prohibited from working in additional occupations, including:

  • manufacturing
  • construction or repair
  • ride attendant or ride operator at an amusement park or a dispatcher at the top of elevated water slides
  • youth peddling or door-to-door sales
  • poultry catching or cooping
  • lifeguarding at a natural environment (such as a lake, ocean, etc.)
  • workrooms where products are manufactured, mined or processed
  • boiler or engine room work
  • baking
  • cooking, except with gas or electric grills that do not involve cooking over an open flame and with deep fat fryers that are equipped with and utilize devices that automatically lower and raise the baskets in and out of the hot grease or oil
  • operating, setting up, adjusting, cleaning, oiling or repairing power-driven food slicers, grinders, choppers or cutters and bakery mixers
  • freezers or meat coolers work, except minors may occasionally enter a freezer for a short period of time to retrieve items
  • loading or unloading goods on or off trucks, railcars or conveyors except in very limited circumstances
  • maintenance or repair of a building or its equipment
  • outside window washing that involves working from window sills
  • all work involving the use of ladders, scaffolds or similar equipment
  • warehousing
  • transportation
  • food processing
  • communications and public utility work
  • public messenger service
  • farm employment involving large machinery or toxic chemicals
  • occupations in which they are required to drive motor vehicles or serve as a helper on the vehicle

Minors under 16 are permitted to perform non-hazardous work such as office work in these industries.

Driving by minors

Minor employees who are under 17 years of age may not drive automobiles or trucks on public roadways. However, employees who are 17 years of age or older may drive automobiles or trucks on public roadways if:

  • The driving is only occasional and incidental to the employee’s employment.
  • Such driving is restricted to daylight hours.
  • The employee holds a valid driver's license and has no record of moving violations at the time of hire.
  • The employee has successfully completed a state‑approved driver education course.
  • The automobile or truck is equipped with a seat belt for the driver and any passengers, and the employer has instructed the employee that the seat belts must be used when driving.
  • The automobile or truck does not exceed 6,000 pounds of gross vehicle weight.
  • The driving does not involve the towing of vehicles; route deliveries; route sales; transportation for hire of property, goods or passengers; or urgent time‑sensitive deliveries.
  • The driving does not involve transporting more than three passengers, including employees of the employer.
  • The driving does not involve more than two trips away from the primary place of employment in a single day to deliver goods or transport passengers other than employees.
  • The employee does not drive outside of a 30-mile radius from the place of employment.

Driving is considered “occasional” and “incidental” when it involves no more than one‑third of an employee’s workday or no more than 20% of any workweek.

Enforcement and penalties

Employers who violate the child labor laws may be fined by the DOL up to $13,072 per worker for each violation of the child labor provisions. Further, employers may be fined $59,413 for each violation that causes the death or serious injury of a minor employee; such penalty may be doubled, up to $118,826, if the violation is determined to be willful or repeated. The FLSA also provides for criminal fines of up to $10,000 upon conviction for a willful violation, with additionally penalties imposed for repeat violations.  For a second conviction for a willful violation, the FLSA provides for a fine of not more than $10,000 and imprisonment for up to six months or both. 

Size of employer, the seriousness of the violation and the likelihood that the employer will comply with the law in the future are taken into account in determining the amount of a fine.

Additional requirements for employing minors

The federal government does not require work permits or proof-of-age certificates for a minor to be employed. Many states, however, do require them for workers of certain ages. The DOL will issue age certificates if the minor employee's state does not issue them or if the minor is requested by his or her employer to provide one. However, the vast majority of age certificates are issued by states.

The purpose of these certificates is to protect the employer from prosecution for employing an under-aged worker. The possession of an age certificate constitutes a good faith effort to comply with minimum age requirements.

Because penalties are severe for child labor violations, employers should familiarize themselves with all relevant federal laws prior to employing a minor.