Rules & Regulations
Although federal law does not mandate work permits for youth, child labor rules limit how many hours a youth can work, when a youth can work, and in which jobs a youth can work. The rules vary depending on the youth’s age.1 States also have different rules and regulations.2 Click here to learn about rules that are specific to your state.
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), youth must be 14 years old or older to hold a nonagricultural position.
- Youth 18 years or older may perform any job, whether hazardous or not, for unlimited hours.
- Youth 16 or 17 years old may perform any nonhazardous job for unlimited hours.
- Youth 14 or 15 years old may work outside school hours in various nonmanufacturing, nonmining, nonhazardous jobs. They can work only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., except from June 1 through Labor Day, when they are able to work between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. They may not work
- more than 3 hours per day on school days, including Fridays;
- more than 18 hours per week in school weeks;
- more than 8 hours per day on nonschool days; or
- more than 40 hours per week when school is not in session.
Under a special provision, youth 14 or 15 years old who are enrolled in an approved Work Experience and Career Exploration Program may be employed for up to 23 hours during school weeks and 3 hours on school days (including during school hours).
Child Labor Rules restrict the jobs that youth may perform on the basis of the age of the youth and the type of employment.
- A youth 18 years or older may perform any job, whether hazardous or not.
- A youth 16 or 17 years old may perform any job not identified as hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.
- A youth 14 or 15 years old may not work in
- hazardous jobs identified by the Secretary of Labor;
- manufacturing, processing, and mining occupations;
- communications or public utilities jobs;
- construction or repair jobs;
- operating or assisting in operating power-driven machinery or hoisting apparatus other than typical office machines;
- as a ride attendant or ride operator at an amusement park or a “dispatcher” at the top of elevated water slides;
- driving motor vehicles or helping a driver;
- peddling, sign waving, or door-to-door sales;
- poultry catching or cooping;
- lifeguarding at a natural environment such as a lake, river, ocean beach, quarry, or pond (youth must be at least 15 years of age and properly certified to be a lifeguard at a traditional swimming pool or water amusement park);
- public messenger jobs;
- transporting persons or property;
- workrooms where products are manufactured, mined, or processed;
- warehousing and storage;
- boiler or engine room work, whether in or about;
- 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 cooler 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; meat processing and work in areas where meat is processed;
- 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; or
- warehouse work, except office and clerical work.
- The jobs that 14- or 15-year-old workers may legally perform are limited to
- office and clerical work;
- work of an intellectual or artistically creative nature;
- bagging and carrying out customer’s orders;
- cashiering, selling, modeling, art work, advertising, window trimming, or comparative shopping;
- pricing and tagging goods, assembling orders, packing, or shelving;
- clean-up work and grounds maintenance—the young worker may use vacuums and floor waxers, but he or she may not use power-driven mowers, cutters, and trimmers;
- as a lifeguard at a traditional swimming pool or water amusement park if at least 15 years of age and properly certified;
- kitchen and other work in preparing and serving food and drinks, but only limited cooking duties and no baking;
- cleaning fruits and vegetables;
- cooking 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;
- clean cooking equipment, including the filtering, transporting, and dispensing of oil and grease, but only when the surfaces of the equipment and liquids do not exceed 100°F;
- pumping gas, cleaning, and hand washing and polishing of cars and trucks (but the young worker may not repair cars, use garage lifting rack, or work in pits);
- wrapping, weighing, pricing, and stocking any goods as long as he or she doesn't work where meat is being prepared and doesn't work in freezers or meat coolers;
- delivery work by foot, bicycle, or public transportation;
- riding in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle except when a significant reason for the minor being a passenger in the vehicle is for the purpose of performing work in connection with the transporting—or assisting in the transporting of—other persons or property; or
- loading and unloading onto and from motor vehicles, the hand tools and personal equipment the youth will use on the job site.
The restrictions for agricultural jobs are different from those for nonagricultural jobs. The hour restrictions are the same for all youth, including migrant youth.
- At 16, there are no restrictions for the number of hours, the days, or the jobs that youth can work in agriculture.
- At 14 or 15 years old, a young person can work in agriculture, on any farm, but only during hours when school is not in session and only in nonhazardous jobs.
- A youth 12 or 13 years of age can only work in agriculture on a farm if a parent has given written permission or a parent is working on the same farm. The work can be performed only during hours when school is not in session and in nonhazardous jobs.
- Youth under 12 can work in agriculture on a farm only if the farm is not required to pay the federal minimum wage.3
Although unpaid internships can provide opportunities for youth to explore new careers and gain on-the-job experience, the Supreme Court has ruled on the understanding of circumstances under which individuals who participate in for-profit private sector internships or training programs may do so without compensation. The determination of whether an internship or a training program meets this exclusion depends on all the facts and circumstances of each such program.
The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:
- The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment.
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
- The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
If all the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern. This exclusion from the definition of employment is necessarily quite narrow because the FLSA’s definition of “employ” is very broad.
Youth Rules! is a youth-friendly resource that helps clarify rules and regulations for youth workers. Information is targeted at teens, parents, teachers, and employers. The site provides information on the hours and jobs that youth at different ages can work.
Compliance Assistance―Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor provides information to help clarify the rules and restrictions for youth employment under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
elaws―FLSA―Child Labor Rules Advisor
elaws―FLSA―Child Labor Rules Advisor provides a comprehensive site to learn more about the minimum wage, overtime pay, child labor, and recordkeeping laws enforced by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. Users can select information targeted at youth, parents, employers, and teachers on a variety of topics, including the hour restrictions, prohibited occupations, enforcement, wages of youth, and exemptions that are laid out in the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Work Experience and Career Exploration Programs (WECEP)
WECEP offers exceptions to the child labor regulations that permit 14 and 15 year olds to be employed in otherwise prohibited circumstances. WECEP is designed to provide a carefully planned work experience and career exploration program for students who can benefit from a career-oriented education. WECEP is aimed at helping youths who are at risk for leaving school to become motivated to continue their education and to prepare them for the world of work, among other things.
Regulations for Unpaid Internships
This fact sheet, developed by the U.S. Department of Labor, provides general information to help determine whether interns must be paid the minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act for the services that they provide to for-profit private sector employers.
This Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website has information for youth about their rights and responsibilities as workers. The site focuses on providing information on different types of employment discrimination and how they can be prevented in the workplace.
1 U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.a; U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.b.
2 U.S. Department of Labor, Youth Rules! Preparing a 21st Century Workforce, n.d.
3 Under the FLSA, “small” farms are exempt from the minimum wage requirements. “Small” farm means any farm that did not use more than 500 “man-days” of agricultural labor in any calendar quarter (3-month period) during the preceding calendar year. “Man-day” means any day during which an employee works at least one hour. If the farm is “small,” workers under 12 years of age can be employed in nonhazardous jobs, but only during hours when school is not in session, and only with a parent’s permission.