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Child Labor Laws - Facts and Misconceptions

Written by Staff Writer

There are both state and federal laws that protect workers under the age of 18 from being exposed to hazards and working unreasonable shifts. According to OSHA statistics, 335 young workers were killed in 2013. With proper preparation and training many of these deaths could have been prevented.

While employers are responsible for providing safe and healthy conditions for young employees, young workers have a responsibility to follow the safe work practices at their jobs. These are some of the key facts about child labor laws in the U.S.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Formed to protect minors in both agricultural and non-agricultural sectors, this act includes specific child labor provisions, including laws restricting the number of hours that children under 18 can work per day and what types of jobs they can do. FLSA also establishes a minimum wage, overtime pay, and recordkeeping for part- and full-time child laborers on wages, hours, and other regular businesses practices. Once a child turns 18 these rules no longer apply. For child laborers, work permits are not required, but employers who desire it can receive a state issued age certificate.

There are several exemptions to these rules, each of which should be researched per individual case. A more detailed explanation of exemptions can be found here.

More information on FLSA can be found here.


Several misconceptions exist about what this law requires, and the following is a list of what the Fair Labor Standards Act does not regulate:

  • Holiday, sick, vacation, or severance pay
  • Vacations, holidays off, meal or rest periods
  • "W-2"s or pay stubs
  • Pay raises for fringe benefits or premium pay for holiday or weekend work
  • Reasons for discharge, a discharge notice, or immediate payment of final wages

The United States Department of Labor's official list can be found here.

State versus Federal Law

State and federal law have child labor standards, and, when the two differentiate, the law providing greater protection to the child is adhered too.

Age Certification

Age Certifications are state mandated or employer requested certificates that legally state the employee's age. A state can take several stances on this certificate: not issued, which means it does not require a minor to have age certification to work; no provisions, which means a minor is required to have a certificate to work; and specific circumstances where the age and occupation changes whether or not the state requires a certificate.

Age certifications for a minor are not issued in the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Kanas, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wyoming.

There is no provision for an age certification of a minor in the following states: Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Main, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

The following states issue an age certification of a minor for certain ages and circumstances: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Employment Certificate

Some states require an Employment Certificate, which is also called a Work Permit, in order for a minor to legally work. Some states have no provisions regarding this certificate, which means a work permit is required by the state.

The following states do not issue an employment certificate for minors: Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, South Dakota, and Tennessee.

The following states offer no provision on employment certificate of a minor: Florida, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

The remaining states issue an employment certificate to minors depending on age and specific circumstances. For a full list of ages and requirements, click here.

Legal Hours and Jobs for Minors

Federal law states that 14-15 year olds cannot work over 8 hours a day, with no more than 3 hours on a school day, and over 40 hours a week, with no more than 18 hours per week while in school. Minors are also not allowed to work before 7am or after 7pm respectively.

No federal laws restrict how many hours a 16-18 year old can work. However, most states have their own laws regarding the number of hours a child can work. As stated before, the stricter law always protects the child. If you are interested in the minor hour laws of your state, a list can be found here.

For more information about State specific labor laws for minors, you can visit Youth Rules Department of Labor's (DOL) website.

Jobs Too Hazardous for Minors

Federal law prohibits tasks and jobs deemed too dangerous for children. Though some exemptions apply, the following is a list of jobs workers under the age of 18 are generally not allowed to perform:

  • Storing or manufacturing explosives
  • Driving or working as an outside helper on a motor vehicles
  • Coal mining
  • Mining
  • Logging and sawmilling occupations
  • Fighting or prevention of forest fires
  • Timber tract
  • Forestry service
  • Operating a power-driven woodworking machine
  • Operating a forklift
  • Operating metal-forming, shearing, or punching machines
  • Operating power-driven bakery machines
  • Operating power-driven paper-product machines
  • Operating balers or compactors
  • Operating power-driven saws, shears, chippers, and abrasive cutting discs
  • Operating jobs in the wrecking, demolitions, and ship-breaking fields
  • Operating power-driven slicing machines in meat packing or processing
  • Operating a power-driven hoisting apparatus
  • Slaughtering or rending of poultry
  • Jobs with exposure to radioactive substances of ionizing radiation
  • Tile, brick, and related products manufacturing Work on or near a roof
  • Trenching and excavating

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act)

The OSH Act includes sections that apply to young workers which demand employers provide a safe and healthy workplace up to OSHA standards for young employees. These provisions include the following components:

  • Employers must provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves, goggles etc., to guard young workers from identified hazards.
  • Employers must make any young workers who may be exposed to hazardous materials aware of these hazards and train them to protect themselves.
  • Employers must display a poster created by the Department of Labor or a State labor department that informs young workers about the protections the Occupational Safety and Health Act offers.

Complaint Procedures

Click here for the complaint filing procedures listed by state.

State labor office information can be found on DOL Wage and Hour Division's website.