The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has strict rules and regulations governing child labor nationally. It was passed back in 1938 and while it covered a number of labor laws, it specifically addressed the exploitation of child labor. The child labor laws put into place were meant to help protect their educational opportunities and prohibit jobs that could be a danger to their health and safety. Specifically, the FLSA restricts the hours that a child under the age of 18 can work as well as the types of jobs that they can perform. California’s child labor laws are mostly the same, although there are some differences.
What Ages of Teens are Allowed to Work?
Teens can begin working at the age of 14; however, the younger the teen is, the more restrictions there are in terms of the hours they can work and the jobs they can perform. Children can legally work at the age of 13 in California, but the jobs that they can perform are extremely limited. For 14 and 15-year olds, the list of permitted occupations in California are expanded a bit to include the following:
- Advertising department work
- Art work
- Assembling orders
- Bagging customer orders (and bringing them out for customers)
- Cleaning fruits and vegetables
- Cleaning work (such as the use of vacuum cleaners)
- Comparative shopping
- Grounds maintenance (excluding the use of power-driven lawn mowers or cutters)
- Horseback riding (such as in exhibitions or contests excluding rodeo events, circuses, or races)
- Leading livestock in livestock shows and exhibitions, stock parades, or nonprofit fairs
- Music (including singing or playing in churches, schools, or academies)
- Office and clerical work
- Packing and shelving
- Preparing and serving food and beverages
- Price marking (by hand or by machine)
- Sales (limited to door-to-door sales of specific items, such as newspaper subscriptions and cookies, within 50 miles of their home)
- Window trimming
- Wrapping, sealing, weighing, pricing, and stocking goods (limited to areas that are separate from where meat is prepared and outside of freezers or meat coolers).
Teens who are 16 or 17-years old have fewer job restrictions. In addition to the jobs available to 14 and 15-year olds, 16 and 17-year olds can do these jobs in California:
- Cleaning, washing, and polishing cars
- Gas station courtesy services
- Dispensing gas or oil at a gas station
- Sports-attending services
Limitations as to Industry
California state law specifically prohibits teens from working certain jobs based on their age. For example, the types of jobs that 14 and 15-year olds are not legally allowed to perform include:
- Adjusting or lacing machine belts in workshops or factories
- Cleaning, wiping, or oiling any types of machinery or assisting with any of those tasks
- Heavy building trade-related work
- Manufacturing work
- Merchant (or any other wandering business position)
- Operation of automobiles or trucks
- Occupation of (or in service of or purpose of) singing, dancing, begging, peddling, rope or wire walking, or playing musical instruments)
- Occupations involving injurious quantities of dust
- Performing as an acrobat, contortionist, gymnast, or rider
- Work considered obscene, indecent, or immoral
- Work involving or nearby mines, quarries, coal breakers, or coke ovens.
- Work involving or nearby the use of dangerous or poisonous acids
- Working on a boat
- Working on a railroad
- Working on a scaffolding
- Working in tunnels or excavations
There is also a large list of specific types of machinery that 14 and 15-year olds are not allowed to operate or assist in operating.
Jobs that 16 and 17-year olds are prohibited from performing in California, are the same as those prohibited by the FLSA. These include:
- Coal mine work
- Excavation work
- Demolition, wrecking, or shipbreaking work
- Fighting or preventing forest fires
- Forestry service occupations
- Logging occupations
- Manufacturing or storing explosives or explosive components
- Manufacturing brick, tile, or kindred products
- Operating bakery machines
- Operating balers, paper-product machines, or compactors
- Operating a motor vehicle
- Operating power-driven hoisting apparatus
- Operating power-driven meat processing machines
- Operating power-driven metal forming, shearing, or punching machines
- Operating power-driven woodworking machines
- Operating sawmills, shingle mills, cooperage stock mills, or lath mills
- Operating saws (including abrasive cutting discs, guillotine shears, and wood chippers)
- Roofing work
- Timber tract occupations
- Work considered obscene, indecent, or immoral
- Work involving radioactive substances
- Work involving the slaughter, packaging, processing, or rendering of meat and poultry
What Hours are Teens Allowed to Work?
In addition to being prohibited to work certain jobs, teens have restrictions on how much they can work and when they can work based on their age.
Age Under 14
Children who are 12 or 13 years old can only work on regular school holidays and during regular vacation periods (such as summer vacation). There is one exception: 13-year olds can obtain a permit to work up to two hours a day on school days and up to four hours within a workweek as long as they completed sixth grade, are participating in an employment program on school premises, or have been identified as a dropout.
Teens who are 12 or 13 years of age are extremely limited in the type of work they can do in California. These are the state’s allowable jobs for 12 and 13-year olds:
- Employment by their parents in non-hazardous positions
- The performance arts (such as acting)
- Delivering newspapers
- Performing certain agricultural work
Ages 14 – 15
California labor laws do not allow 14 and 15-year olds to work during school hours. Outside of school hours, they are limited to:
- Up to three hours a day on school days
- Up to eight hours a day on non-school days
- Up to 18 hours a week
- Up to 40 hours a week when school isn’t in session (such as during summer vacation)
- They cannot work on days when school is in session if they haven’t completed 7th grade
There are a few exceptions to these rules. Teens who are 14 or 15 can enroll in a work experience education program, which means that they will be provided with permits allowing them to work full time. This is only if they meet one of the following requirements:
- One of the teen’s parents has passed and their family is in need of full-time earnings, which can’t be obtained any other way.
- The teen needs full-time earnings to support themselves because they cannot live with their family.
- The teen lives in foster care and wishes to obtain a court ordered Declaration of Emancipation or to learn work skills and habits (in this case, they will need the written authorization of their social worker, child protective services worker, or probation officer).
There are a few limitations worth noting in addition to the number of hours 14 and 15-year olds can work per day and per week (based on whether school is in session). These hours are when they can work:
- They can only work between the hours of 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM from Labor Day to May 31
- They can only work between the hours of 7:00 AM and 9:00 PM from June 1 to Labor Day
Ages 16 – 17
There are fewer restrictions on the hours that a 16 or 17-year old teen can work. Here are the limitations that are in place (they cannot work during school hours):
- Up to four hours on school days
- Up to eight hours on non-school days (as well as on days preceding non-school days)
- Up to 48 hours a week, whether school is in session or not
Some night work is allowed for 16 and 17-year olds. The times during which they can work include:
- They can work between 5:00 AM and 10:00 PM
- They can work between 5:00 AM and 12:30 PM on evenings preceding non-school days
- They can work between 7:00 AM and 12:30 AM when school is not in session as long as it doesn’t precede a school day
Ages 18 and over
Once a teen has reached the age of 18, child labor laws no longer apply to them. They are considered adults and can work at any time and for however long they want even if they are still in school (as long as regular California and federal labor laws are observed, of course).
You Contribute When you Hire the Youth
California child labor laws may seem very limiting and specific, but that shouldn’t scare you away from hiring teens. These laws are only meant to help prevent the exploitation of minors. Hiring teens while still abiding by these child labor laws can be very beneficial. Not only will you be helping the minors you hire to become responsible adults and to develop work habits that will benefit their future careers but they could potentially become long term members of your staff.