How to Hire Teens While Staying Sane and Legal
Soon, teenagers by the millions will be seeking summer jobs – the vast majority at small businesses coast to coast. An estimated 18 million U.S. teens will work this year, one of the highest totals in the developed world.
Speaking as a parent of teens, this is a good thing. But the U.S. Department of Labor’s take on teens seems closer to a line in the My Chemical Romance song “Teenagers” which says “Teenagers scare the living @#$% out of me.” DOL, you see, is rife with rules and regulations on teen labor, and prone to enforcing them with fines and sanctions.
For example – and not to pick on Portland – but one recent DOL “enforcement initiative” involving Portland restaurants found violations of minimum wage, overtime and child labor laws at a whopping 79% of the eateries checked. Even kid-focused Chuck E. Cheese locations in San Francisco were fined $28,000 for violating child labor rules. Whoops!
The point is this: If you plan to hire teens for summer (or other) jobs, be careful.
Most rules are common sense, and deal with safety issues. That’s because young workers suffer a disproportionate share of on-the-job injuries. About 160,000 teens suffer work-related injuries or illnesses yearly – about a third of them requiring emergency room treatment.
And more than 75% of incidents happen in the retail and service industries – not the sectors usually considered more injury-prone such as manufacturing and construction.
Young workers – especially those in their first summer jobs – are at greater risk of workplace injury because of their inexperience. And also because, well, they are teenagers who may hesitate to ask questions and may fail to recognize workplace dangers. (What did that song say?)
Familiarize yourself with federal and state laws on teen employment – especially the rules on what types of jobs teens are specifically not allowed to perform.
Dozens of private suppliers sell OSHA compliance materials, and there are many safety consultants to choose from, available easily online. But your best starting point is OSHA’s small business website at www.osha.gov/smallbusiness. Look for OSHA Compliance Assistance Quick Start, which helps small businesses understand the rules and find the right resources. It’s a step-by-step guide to major requirements that may apply.
DOL has a helpful website devoted to the rules of youth employment called “Youth Rules” at www.youthrules.dol.gov. Here you’ll find information and links to almost everything you need to know about federal and state rules, including limits on hours teens are allowed to work, and jobs they can perform. You’ll also find information on age requirements, work permits and wages.
Another helpful government site called “YoungWorkers” has a wide range of information on summer job safety for specific sectors such as construction, landscaping, parks and recreation, lifeguards and restaurants. Under landscaping, for example, you’ll find tips on preventing injury from pesticides, electrical hazards, noise and many others.
You’ll find the YoungWorkers site at OSHA.gov/youngworkers. The small business FAQ section includes a long list of the most common questions businesses have about hiring teens, along with links to detailed answers.
OSHA says that restaurants rank especially high among industries at risk for teen worker injuries, and even has a website devoted to restaurant safety for teen workers. To find it, check the A-Z Index at the top of the OSHA homepage under Restaurant Safety.
A Few Teen Hiring Basics
For teens employed in non-agricultural jobs, restrictions on hours and jobs include these:
- Minimum age is 14.
- Those 18 or older may perform any job (hazardous or not) for unlimited hours.
- Youth 16 or 17 may perform any non-hazardous job for unlimited hours.
- Youth 14 and 15 years old may work outside school hours in non-manufacturing, non-mining, non-hazardous jobs. They cannot work more than three hours a day on school days; or more than 40 hours per week when school is not in session.
- During the school year, 14- and 15-year-olds may not work before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. However, during the summer that’s extended to 9:00 p.m.
Before you assign a job to a minor, be sure it’s allowed by law. If you have a specific question regarding the job which you are hiring a minor to perform, contact the Department of Labor’s toll-free help line at 866-4US-WAGE (866-487-9243).