Summer Jobs for Teens: All the Legal Details You Need to Know

You’ve read our article about the pros and cons of teenage jobs and made your decision: you’re getting a job this summer. You cleared it with your parents and you’re good to go. You’re stepping up your game, getting out into the world, and learning what it’s like to work to make money.

Or at least that’s the plan.

Now you just need to figure out what kind of job you’re going to get.

But before you do that, you have to jump through bureaucratic hoops.

There are two levels of employment rules you need to understand: Federal and State. We’ll summarize the important points of both.

Federal Teen Labor Laws

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) limits the amount and type of work minors can do. The FLSA sets the standard for work across the country, and most state laws follow federal guidelines. We’ll link to state rules and regulations as needed. Nationwide, the FLSA places the minimum age for most non-agricultural work at 14 years old.

However, it bans any minor from performing the following 17 jobs:

  1. Manufacturing or storing of explosives
  2. Driving a motor vehicle or working as an outside helper on motor vehicles
  3. Coal mining
  4. Forest fire fighting, forest fire prevention, timber tract work, forestry service work, logging, and sawmill work
  5. Using power-driven woodworking machines
  6. Exposure to radiation
  7. Using power driven hoisting apparatus
  8. Using power driven metal-working machines
  9. Mining
  10. Operating power-driven meat processing machines
  11. Using power-driven bakery machines
  12. Using power-driven bailers, compactors, and paper-product machines
  13. Manufacturing brick and tile products
  14. Using power-driven circular saws and other bladed power tools
  15. Working in wrecking and demolition occupations
  16. Roofing work
  17. Trenching or excavating

What Work Can You Do?

The FLSA also sets standards for the type of work young people can do, based on age.

If you’re under 14, you can:

  • Deliver newspapers
  • Babysit
  • Act in movies, TV, radio, or theater
  • Work for a family business, except for mining, manufacturing, or any of the 17 hazardous occupations listed above
  • Agricultural jobs have a completely different set of rules. Click here for details on those federally-mandated guidelines.

If you’re 14 or 15, you can:

  • Work in retail. Click here for details on approved retail occupations.
  • Do intellectual or creative work like computer programming, teaching, tutoring, singing, or acting
  • Run errands and non-vehicle delivery work
  • Do yard work and landscaping that does not involve power driven mowers, trimmers, etc.
  • Dispense gas, wash, and polish cars
  • Work in non-hazardous produce jobs
  • Some food service and restaurant work. Click here for details.
  • Load and unload worksite materials
  • Perform limited sawmill and woodworking jobs. Click here for details.
  • Be a lifeguard at a swimming pool or water park

There are also restrictions on the amount/timing of hours 14-15 year olds can work:

  • Not more than 3 hours a day on a school day, including Friday
  • Not more than 18 hours a week, during school
  • No more than 40 hours a week when school is out
  • Not before 7am or after 7pm. Between June 1st and Labor Day, evening work hours are extended to 9pm

If you’re 16 or 17, federal laws do not restrict the amount or type of work you can do:

  • You may work unlimited hours
  • You may work any job that’s not on the hazardous job list

Minimum Wage and Youth Minimum Wage

The FLSA sets nationwide payment standards for minors:

  • In most jobs, employers are required to pay you the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour
  • If you’re younger than 20, employers may pay you the youth minimum wage of $4.25 an hour for the first 90 days of your employment.

There are exceptions for 14-15 year olds for agricultural work, and states are allowed to set their own rules with regards to minor pay. Click here for agricultural exceptions, here for state-by-state rules, and here for general exemptions from child labor and pay guidelines. When state and federal payment laws differ, employers are required to pay the higher wage.

Work Permits

There are no federal laws requiring minors to obtain special permits to start working. Some states do require them, though. Depending on your location, you may be required to obtain:

  • Employment certification
  • Age Certification

You may need one or both types of certification. Click here to learn the rules in your state. If your state requires certifications, there are generally two places to get applications for them:

  1. Your state department of labor. Click here to contact yours.
  2. Your school guidance counselor.

Once you obtain your applications, you need to complete and submit them to your state department of labor or your school guidance counselor. To complete the applications, you will probably be required to provide:

  • A certificate from your doctor. Many states require documentation of a physical exam within the past year.
  • Proof of age such as:
    • Birth certificate
    • School records
    • School ID
    • Driver’s license
    • Passport
    • Other official government or state ID
  • Most states require parents to accompany you to acquire the work permit applications.
  • Most states also require parents to sign the applications and accompany you when you submit them.

A quick note on all these rules and regulations: although they may appear excessive, it’s important to remember that before the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 1938, there were virtually no restrictions on employers with regards to working hours, working conditions, workplace safety, minimum wage, or minimum working age. The FLSA gave us minimum wage, child labor laws, workplace safety rules, established the 40-hour work-week, set rules for overtime, hazard pay, and much more. The details of how and when we work today are a direct result of the requirements set forth in the FLSA and the subsequent amendments to the act implemented over the past 80 years.

You’re Ready to Go

You now have all the facts you need to start your job search. Which is good, since this is the time employers are eager to fill their remaining summer positions. It’s also time for you to lock down your summer plans. Start now, because if you wait too long, all the good jobs will be taken.

Good luck out there!