Know the child work laws before you employ teens, pre-teens

Within the family, the general rule is that you can put your children to work as soon as you believe they are able to do so.

By Lewis Hine - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID nclc.01581.

WASHINGTON, August 6, 2017 – Have you ever gone into a business and observed a child, perhaps under age ten, working behind the cash register or stocking the shelves, or cleaning tables? And if so, did you ask, “isn’t there a law about this?”

There is. In fact, there are many. Here they are.

Child Working in Family Business

The laws governing children working have two very distinct frameworks that depend upon the answer to this question: Is the child working for you in a family business?

Within the family, the general rule is that you can put your children to work as soon as you believe they are able to do so. There are various state legal requirements regulating this matter. However, most of these concern themselves with the nature of the work, and most restrict you from placing your child in a dangerous or hazardous job.

Children cannot be tasked to do manufacturing jobs, operate heavy equipment or machinery, sell age-restricted products or make deliveries. Children are also usually prohibited from selling alcohol, tobacco, and firearms.

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Forcing a child to work could have repercussions. However, if the situation does not involve criminality or abuse and it can be said to be discipline or rearing, it probably will be allowed. A child’s refusal to work might best be handled however by grounding him or her or some other form of discipline.

In a family business environment, parents do not need to pay their children-employees. Paying them, however, might be an intelligent financial thing to do. The tax benefits could reduce what is owed to Uncle Sam, while at the same time the money remains in the household and can be directed and controlled by parents.

Parents, in most cases, are allowed to control their children’s money. There are exceptions, of course, particularly if the money is earned outside of the family business (child actor) and the parents are exploiting the child.

Child Working For Others

Today’s child labor laws took firm footing in 1938 with the passage of federal legislation called the Fair Labor Standards Act. Child labor provisions of the Act were designed to protect the educational opportunities for children and to prohibit their employment from jobs that were detrimental to their health and safety.

Some states require children to obtain a work permit if they are enrolled in high school before they would be allowed to hold any job outside of a family-business.

Once a child reaches eighteen years of age, the Federal child labor provisions of the Act no longer apply.

The law concerns itself with three key factors.

  1. The age of the child;
  2. The type of work a child is allowed to do; and
  3. The amount of time a child is allowed to work.

Under Age 14

Children under age 14 can deliver newspapers, babysit (in some circumstances based on state laws), and work as actors in theater, radio, television or movies.

Ages 14-15

These youngsters cannot work during school hours, and then, no more than three hours on a school day. Under age sixteen, children cannot work more than a total of 18 hours per work during the school year, nor more than eight hours per day during times when school is not in session. They are not allowed to work more than forty hours per week in off-session school times.

Finally, children of this age cannot work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m., except from June 1 to Labor Day, when nighttime hours are extended until 9 p.m.

Among the allowed jobs these teens can legally perform are lifeguarding at swimming pools and amusement parks and kitchen help in restaurants, including limited cooking duties.

Ages 16-17

There are no rules for these teenage workers concerning the number of hours they may work.

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Compensation for Children

Children should be paid the federal minimum wage if they are eligible, which in part has to do with what they are doing and where they are working.

Children who are younger than 20 and who are eligible for minimum wages may still be paid less per hour for the first consecutive ninety days of employment, per job. This means the ninety days begins anew with each new employer.

Prohibited Jobs – The 17 “declared” Hazardous Occupations

The Department of Labor lists 17 “off limits” jobs for all children under age 18. They are:

  • Manufacturing or storing of explosives
  • Driving a motor vehicle or working as an outside helper on motor vehicles
  • Coal mining
  • Forest fire fighting and prevention and jobs in forestry, logging and sawmilling
  • User power-driven woodworking machines
  • Work that has any exposure to radioactive substances
  • Using power-driven hoisting apparatuses
  • Using power-driven metal-forming, punching or shearing machines
  • Mining, other than coal
  • Using power-driven meat-processing machines, slaughtering, meat or poultry packing, processing or rendering
  • Using power-driven bakery machines
  • Using balers, compactors and power-driven paper-products machines
  • Manufacturing brick, tile and related products
  • Using power-driven circular saws, band saws, chain saws, wood chippers
  • Working in wrecking, demolition and ship-breaking operations
  • Roofing and work performed on or about a roof
  • Trenching or excavating

Parenting Decision

Some parents believe that their children should work at some point, for many reasons. Work can instill pride, accomplishment, contribution to the family, and it can build maturity. Working as a child or teenager can teach many valuable lessons while the child is still protected as living in the parents’ home and being guided as issues, concerns and problems occur.

Other parents believe that their children should not work, because childhood is relatively fleeting, and the world will provide plenty of time to be in the workforce. Concentrating on education is also a reason to keep children from the workplace, as it can detract from giving focus and a child’s best efforts to their schoolwork.

If the decision is to allow children to work, it is important to keep the parameters of the law’s do’s and do not’s in mind, as the last thing that is needed is a complaint from someone that could land both parents and child in trouble.

Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website

His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website:

Samakow has now also started a small business consulting firm. The website for this business is brand new and Mr. Samakow will be most appreciative of any and all comments.

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Paul Samakow
Attorney Paul Samakow brings his legal expertise and analysis from the trenches of the courtroom to Communities Digital News. A native Washingtonian, Samakow has been a Plaintiff’s trial lawyer since 1980 practicing in the DC metro area. Paul can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email @ [email protected], or through his website @ He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics.