What is child labor? The child labor provisions
of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prohibit employers from hiring minors
(individuals under the age of 18) to work at dangerous occupations, for an
excessive number of hours, and at unsuitable times of the day or night. States
also have child labor laws and when state and federal laws differ, the stricter
law applies. There are separate rules for minors under 18, under 16, and under
14 years of age, both on the number of hours and times of the day and year
they may work, as well as the types of work that they are allowed to perform.
In addition, there are rules on proof of age, minors driving motor vehicles,
minimum wage rates, children working in agriculture, and work under federal
contracts. Severe penalties may be imposed on employers that violate child
labor laws. Employers are prohibited from retaliating or otherwise discriminating
against an employee who files a complaint or participates in a legal proceeding
under the Act.
YouthRules! is an initiative
by the federal government to promote positive and safe work experiences for
teens by distributing information about young workers to youth, parents, employers,
and educators. Components of the initiative include a website, printed materials,
outreach events, training seminars, and partnering activities. Early work
experiences can provide great opportunities for teens to learn important work
skills. Federal and state rules regarding young workers attempt to strike
a balance between ensuring sufficient time for educational opportunities and
allowing appropriate work experiences.
is a gateway providing quick access to information about federal and state
labor laws that apply to young workers. The Web page includes information
designed to educate teens on what the rules are, as well as to provide information
for parents, educators, and employers (http://www.youthrules.dol.gov/index.htm
Also, as part of the YouthRules!
initiative, the Department of Labor (DOL) and its partners develop and distribute
informational materials, develop curricula for educators, provide training
on the federal and state rules governing young workers, increase awareness
through public service announcements, and develop other tools designed to
increase compliance with federal and state laws.
Only the following occupations are open to children under 14
years of age:
agricultural jobs are open to children over 12 if they have written parental
consent and do not work during school hours. If no 12-year-old workers are
available, an employer can apply for a waiver from the DOL to
allow children over 10 to work in hand-harvesting jobs. However, they can
work for no more than 8 weeks per year and only if there is no risk of adverse
health effects resulting from the use of pesticides.
Newspaper delivery. There
is no federal age restriction applicable to newspaper carriers who deliver
to subscribers and who sell newspapers on the street. However, the deliveries
must be to individual subscribers or consumers and not to drop stations, newsstands,
or distribution centers.
Acting and performing. Actors
and performers are exempt from federal child labor laws, but most states regulate
Employment by parent. Parents
may employ their own children in any occupation except manufacturing, mining,
and other occupations where the minimum age requirement is 18 years.
Children who are under the age of 16 are generally excluded from
all manufacturing, mining, processing, public messenger, or machine-tending
work. They are also excluded from transportation, warehouse work, construction,
communications, and public utility occupations, except for office or sales
work in connection with these. They are also prohibited from operating a motor
vehicle or providing service as a helper on a motor vehicle. They may not
perform any job on the “hazardous” list applying to minors under the age of
There is a minimum age of 16 for employment in agriculture during
school hours except where the worker is employed by his or her parent.
Children who are 14 and 15 years old may do the following types
• Office and clerical work, including the operation of office machines.
• Work of an intellectual or artistically creative nature such
as, but not limited to, computer programming, the writing of software, teaching
or performing as a tutor, serving as a peer counselor or teacher’s assistant,
singing, playing a musical instrument, and drawing. Artistically creative
work is limited to work in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor.
• Cooking with electric or gas grills (but not over an open flame)
or with deep fryers that automatically lower and raise the baskets to and
from the hot oil.
• Cashiering, selling, modeling, art work, work in advertising
departments, window trimming, and comparative shopping.
• Price-marking and tagging by hand or machine, assembling orders,
packing, and shelving.
• Bagging and carrying out customers’ orders.
• Errand and delivery work by foot, bicycle, and public transportation.
• Cleanup work, including the use of vacuum cleaners and floor
waxers, and the maintenance of grounds, but not including the use of power-driven
mowers, cutters, trimmers, edgers, or similar equipment.
• Kitchen work, preparing and serving food. Permitted machines
include, but are not limited to, dishwashers, toasters, dumbwaiters, popcorn
poppers, milk shake blenders, coffee grinders, automatic coffee machines,
devices used to maintain the temperature of prepared foods (such as warmers,
steam tables, and heat lamps), and microwave ovens that do not warm above
140°F. Minors are permitted to clean kitchen equipment (not otherwise prohibited),
remove oil or grease filters, pour oil or grease through filters, and move
receptacles containing hot grease or hot oil, but only when the equipment,
surfaces, containers, and liquids do not exceed a temperature of 100°F. Minors
are also permitted to occasionally enter freezers momentarily to retrieve
items in conjunction with restocking or food preparation.
• Cleaning vegetables and fruits, and the wrapping, sealing, labeling,
weighing, pricing, and stocking of items, including vegetables, fruits, and
meats, when performed in areas physically separate from a freezer or meat
• The loading onto and unloading from motor vehicles light, non-power-driven,
hand tools, and personal protective equipment that the minor will use as part
of his or her employment at the worksite and personal items such as a backpack,
a lunch box, or a coat that the minor is permitted to take to the worksite.
Such light tools would include, but are not limited to, rakes, handheld clippers,
shovels, and brooms. Light tools would not include items like trash, sales
kits, promotion items or items for sale, lawn mowers, or other power-driven
lawn maintenance equipment. The minors would not be permitted to load or unload
safety equipment such as barriers, cones, or signage.
• Inside or outside places of business where machinery is used
to process wood products (for 14- or 15-year-olds who by statute or judicial
order are exempt from compulsory school attendance beyond the eighth grade)
if the youth is supervised by an adult relative or an adult member of the
same religious sect or division, does not operate or assist in the operation
of power-driven woodworking machines, is protected from wood particles or
other flying debris within the workplace by a barrier, and is required to
use, and uses, personal protective equipment to prevent exposure to excessive
levels of noise and sawdust.
• Work in connection with cars and trucks if limited to dispensing
gasoline and oil, courtesy service, car cleaning, washing and polishing by
hand; but not including work involving the use of pits, racks, or lifting
apparatus, or involving the inflation of any tire mounted on a rim equipped
with a removable retaining ring.
• Certain work in connection with riding inside passenger compartments
of motor vehicles. Each minor riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle must
have his or her own seat in the passenger compartment and wear a seatbelt.
Lifeguard work allowed for minors age
15. The employment of 15-year-olds (but not 14-year-olds) as lifeguards
and swimming instructors is permitted at traditional swimming pools and water
amusement parks (but not including the elevated areas of power-driven water
slides), when the minors have been trained and certified by the American Red
Cross, or a similar certifying organization, in aquatics and water safety.
This rule does not permit working as a lifeguard or swimming instructor at
natural environment swimming facilities, such as rivers, streams, lakes, ponds,
quarries, reservoirs, wharfs, piers, canals, or oceanside beaches.
Minors 14 and 15 years old may not work in the following occupations,
which is not an exhaustive list:
• Most work in manufacturing, mining, or processing occupations.
• Work deemed hazardous for the employment of minors between the
ages of 16 and 18 or detrimental to their health or well-being.
• Occupations that involve operating, tending, setting up, adjusting,
cleaning, oiling, or repairing hoisting apparatus.
• Work performed in or about boiler or engine rooms or in connection
with the maintenance or repair of the establishment, machines, or equipment.
• Occupations that involve operating, tending, setting up, adjusting,
cleaning, oiling, or repairing any power-driven machinery including, but not
limited to, lawn mowers, golf carts, all-terrain vehicles, trimmers, cutters,
weed-eaters, edgers, food slicers, food grinders, food choppers, food processors,
food cutters, and food mixers. Youth 14 and 15 years of age may operate certain
office equipment, vacuum cleaners, and floor waxers.
• The operation of motor vehicles.
• Outside window washing that involves working from window sills,
and all work requiring the use of ladders, scaffolds, or their substitutes.
• Most baking and cooking activities.
• Work in freezers and meat coolers and work in the preparation
of meats for sale. Minors may enter freezers only momentarily to retrieve
• Youth peddling, which entails the selling of goods or services
to customers at locations other than the youth employer’s establishment, such
as the customers’ residences or places of business, or public places such
as street corners and public transportation stations. Prohibited activities
associated with youth peddling not only include the attempt to make a sale
or the actual consummation of a sale, but also the preparatory and concluding
tasks normally performed by a youth peddler in conjunction with his or her
sales, such as the loading and unloading of vans or other motor vehicles,
the stocking and restocking of sales kits and trays, the exchanging of cash
and checks with the employer, and the transportation of minors to and from
the various sales areas by the employer. Prohibited youth peddling also includes
such promotion activities as the holding, wearing, or waving of signs, merchandise,
costumes, sandwich boards, or placards in order to attract potential customers,
except when performed inside of, or directly in front of, the employer’s business
providing the product, service, or event being advertised. (Exceptions: Minors
may conduct sales for their employers on property controlled by the employer
that is outside, but may properly be considered part of the employer’s establishment,
such as garden centers, sidewalk sales, and parking lot sales. Minors may
also sell goods or services as volunteers and without compensation on behalf
of certain organizations, such as the Girl Scouts.)
• Loading and unloading of goods or property onto or from motor
vehicles, railroad cars, or conveyors.
• Catching and cooping of poultry in preparation for transport
or for market.
• Public messenger service
• Occupations in connection with the transportation of persons
or property by rail, highway, air, water, pipeline, or other means; warehousing
and storage; communications and public utilities; and construction. (Office
or sales work in these industries is allowed if it does not involve the performance
of any duties on trains, motor vehicles, aircraft, vessels, or other media
of transportation or at the actual site of construction operations.)
No employee under 17 years of age may drive a motor vehicle on
public roads as part of his or her job if that employment is subject to the
FLSA. Minors 17 years of age may drive on public roadways as part of their
employment, but only if all of the following requirements are met:
• The driving is limited to daylight hours.
• The 17-year-old holds a state license valid for the type of driving
involved in the job performed.
• The 17-year-old has successfully completed a state-approved driver
education course and has no record of any moving violations at the time of
• The automobile or truck does not exceed 6,000 pounds gross vehicle
• The automobile or truck is equipped with a seat belt for the
driver and any passengers, and the employer has instructed the youth that
the seat belts must be used when driving the vehicle.
• The driving is only occasional and incidental to the 17-year-old's
employment. This means that the youth may spend no more than one-third of
his or her workday and no more than 20 percent of his or her work time in
any workweek driving.
In addition, the driving may not involve:
• Towing vehicles
• Any other vehicle than an automobile or truck (e.g., bus, motorcycle,
ATVs, golf cart)
• Route deliveries or route sales
• Transportation for hire of property, goods, or passengers
• Urgent, time-sensitive deliveries (Urgent, time-sensitive deliveries
are trips that, because of such factors as customers' satisfaction, the rapid
deterioration of the quality or change in temperature of the product, and/or
economic incentives, are subject to timelines, schedules, and/or turnaround
times that might impel the driver to hurry in the completion of the delivery.
Prohibited trips would include, but are not limited to, the delivery of pizzas
and prepared foods to the customer; the delivery of materials under a deadline
(such as deposits to a bank at closing); and the shuttling of passengers to
and from transportation depots to meet transport schedules. Urgent, time-sensitive
deliveries would not depend on the delivery's points of origin and termination
and would include the delivery of people and things to the employer's place
of business as well as from that business to some other location.)
• Transporting more than three passengers, including employees
of the employer
• Driving beyond a 30-mile radius from the youth’s place of employment
• More than two trips away from the primary place of employment
in any single day to deliver the employer’s goods to a customer (other than
urgent, time-sensitive deliveries that are prohibited)
• More than two trips away from the primary place of employment
in any single day to transport passengers, other than employees of the employer
Even though DOL does not require recordkeeping, employers have
the burden of proving that they have met the requirements for on-the-job driving
by 17- year-old employees. DOL suggests that employers keep a copy of documents
related to the employee’s age and licensing and driving history; and maintain
logs of on-the-job driving by 17-year-old minors.
Children under the age of 18 may not do particularly hazardous
jobs or jobs that are detrimental to their health or well-being. These include:
• Occupations in or about plants manufacturing explosives (DOL
regulations explain the definition of explosives and explosive materials for
purposes of this section).
• Forest fire fighting and forest fire prevention, working in timber
tracts, in forestry services, logging, and the operation of any sawmill, lath
mill, shingle mill, or cooperage stock mill.
• Operating power-driven woodworking machines.
• Occupations involving radioactive substance exposure.
• Operating power-driven metal forming, punching, and shearing
Work of operating, tending, riding on, working from, repairing,
servicing, or disassembling an elevator, crane, derrick, hoist, or high-lift
truck, except operating or riding inside an unattended automatic operation
passenger elevator. Tending such equipment includes assisting in the hoisting
tasks being performed by the equipment.
• Slaughtering, meatpacking, and rendering. This includes setting
up, adjusting, repairing, or oiling the machines or cleaning the machines
or their individual parts or attachments.
• Operating bakery machines. This does not apply to portable, counter-top
food mixers that are comparable to those used in private homes and certain
pizza-dough rollers used under specific conditions.
• Operating and unloading paper products machines.
• Making brick, tile, and the like.
• Operating circular saws, band saws, guillotine shears, chain
saws, reciprocating saws, wood chippers, and abrasive cutting discs.
• Wrecking, demolition, shipbreaking, roofing, and excavation operations.
• Any occupation in roofing operations or that requires working
on or about a roof.
Note: 16- or 17-year-old
workers may work in some of these hazardous occupation jobs if they are enrolled
in a cooperative vocational education program that is certified by the DOL.