The legal working age in the United States is specified in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which is enforced by the Department of Labor.
Understanding the Legal Working Age
The FLSA child labor laws apply to workers under 18 years of age. The legal working age varies based on the type of occupation. For the majority of non-agricultural jobs, the minimum age is 14. However, there is no minimum age for some jobs, and positions deemed as hazardous cannot be held by anyone under the age of 18.
Jobs with No Age Minimum
- Delivering newspapers
- Household chores
- Performing in movies, theatrical productions, television shows, on the radio
- Gathering evergreens for the purposes of making wreaths
- Making evergreen wreaths
- Any non-hazardous jobs in a business owned by one's parents (as long as the business does not involve mining or manufacturing)
Employment Guidelines for 14 and 15 Year Olds
Individuals who are 14 and 15 years old may legally work in many jobs, for limited hours. Many people in this age group work in retail and fast food positions. Youngsters in this age group may not be employed in any job classified as hazardous, and they may also not work in any type of mining or manufacturing position.
Duties that 14 and 15 year old workers may not perform include:
- Building maintenance or repair
- Construction work
- Cooking over open flames
- Loading and unloading trucks, rail cars, etc.
- Meat processing or grinding
- Warehouse work
- Operating power driven equipment
- Transporting people or property
- Many additional potentially hazardous jobs
When school is not in session, youngsters of this age may work up to 40 hours per week. Employers may not allow 14 and 15 year olds to work more than 40 hours in any given work week. Working hours must be limited to the times between 7 am and 9 pm during the summer months.
Work schedule restrictions are greater during the school year, when young teens are only allowed to work part time. There is an hourly restriction of no more than 18 hours per week when school is in session. Further, workers in this age group cannot work more than eight hours daily on weekends and school holidays, and cannot work over three hours on school days. Further, during the school year they may not work before 7 am or after 7 pm.
Employment for 16 and 17 Year Olds
There are no restrictions on the working hours for 16 and 17 year old workers. However, they may not be employed in occupations classified as hazardous.
Jobs for Youth 18 and Older
There are no restrictions on employment for those 18 years of age and older.
Work Schedule Restrictions
There are specific guidelines on how many hours employed minors are allowed to work and when.
Agricultural Employment Guidelines
Farm Workers Under 14
Farms that qualify as "small" under FLSA are not required to pay laborers at a rate equal to or above the federal minimum wage, and they may employ workers below the age of 12 in jobs that are not hazardous. Farms of all sizes can employ 12 and 13 year olds. Written parental permission is required, and youngsters cannot work during the hours school is in session.
Farm Jobs for 14 and 15 Year Olds
The conditions under which 14 and 15 year olds can work on farms are the same as for younger workers, except that parental permission is no longer required.
Farm Employment for Workers 16 and Older
There are no restrictions on agricultural work for individuals age 16 or older.
State Specific Working Age Regulations
The legal working age standards set by FLSA establish the federal guideless for the age at which people can hold certain types of obligations. Some states establish more stringent standards for employment eligibility. It is perfectly acceptable for individual states to set higher age requirements than what is allowed by federal law. However, there are no circumstances under which a state can allow workers below the age minimum established by FLSA to legally work.