Schools have adjourned for summer break, businesses are welcoming students into the ranks for temporary jobs, and employers again are faced with relatively unfamiliar rules and regulations governing youth employment. Given the hazards of the modern workplace, special care is required not only to protect minor workers but also to comply with state and federal laws that regulate child labor.

It is especially important for employers to pay attention to federal laws given that the United States Department of Labor, which enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA), takes a dim view of employers that violate FLSA child labor provisions. Employers should be aware that DOL investigates alleged child labor violations aggressively and is authorized to fine employers up to $11,000 per violation.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), more than three million people under 18 in the United States work during an average summer and nearly 200,000 suffer job-related injuries annually - with more than 50,000 requiring emergency room treatment.

Approximately 50 percent of working teens are employed in the retail industry, which includes fast food restaurants and clothing and grocery stores. An additional 30 percent work in the service industry, which includes entertainment, recreation, health, and education. About half of teen occupational injuries occur in the retail environment. Twenty percent of the injuries occur in the service industry. Teens routinely are injured while driving vehicles, operating heavy equipment, and using power tools, including food slicers.

The FLSA, which regulates hours and working conditions for teens, contains provisions designed to protect youth from the hazards of the workplace. Numerous restrictions and conditions in the FLSA apply to employers hiring teens for summer work. Arizona’s youth employment laws generally are consistent with FLSA provisions governing child labor.

Fourteen generally is the minimum age for employment under the FLSA. However, there are some jobs that are exempted from the youth employment rules and may be performed by persons younger than 14, such as newspaper delivery, casual babysitting, acting or performing, and working in certain parent-owned businesses.

Employees who are 14 or 15 are permitted to work outside of school hours in certain jobs, provided their hours are limited to three hours on school days, 18 hours in a school week, eight hours on a non-school day, and 40 hours in a non-school week. Employees in this age group may only work between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. From June 1 through Labor Day, employers may extend teen working hours until 9 p.m.

Although 14 and 15-year olds may hold a variety of jobs, including positions in offices, grocery stores, retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, baseball parks, amusement parks, gas stations, and so on, they are prohibited from working in other capacities. Prohibited positions for this age group include: communications or public utilities jobs; construction or repair jobs; driving a motor vehicle or helping a driver; manufacturing; mining and processing; operating power-driven hoisting apparatuses or machinery, other than typical office machines; public messenger jobs; transporting persons or property; and warehousing and storage.

Employees who are 16 or 17 years old are less regulated. Under the FLSA, workers in this group may be employed for unlimited hours in any occupation other than those declared hazardous by the secretary of labor (which include manufacturing or storing explosives; most driving; mining; logging and sawmilling; operating most power-driven slicing machines in retail stores and restaurants; wrecking, demolition, and ship-breaking operations; roofing; excavation; and jobs that expose workers to radioactive substances). Limited exemptions are provided for apprentices and student-learners under specified standards.

According to the DOL, employers can keep their minor employees safe and comply with the law by following a few simple steps.

Conduct FSLA compliance audits. Employers should run compliance checks to ensure child labor laws are being followed. Self-assessment tools for grocers and restaurants are available from the DOL. Employers should check the DOL website for details.

Train managers, particularly first-line supervisors. Make sure to include youth employment laws and company policies regarding the employment of teens in training and orientation seminars for managers.

Require safety training for teen employees. DOL suggests providing a worksheet for youths to complete as part of initial training to assess and verify their awareness of what equipment is off limits to them and what hours they can work. Other tools to consider include attaching a monthly youth safety reminder to paychecks or time cards and incorporating reminders into regular employee meetings. Some employers provide teens a laminated, pocket-sized “Minor Policy Card” on the first day of work. The card typically covers company policy and requirements for complying with youth employment rules.

By taking these steps, businesses can be better prepared to manage young workers and avoid possible problems in the future.

Finally, individuals and businesses offering summer work opportunities on an unpaid basis should be sensitive to rules governing volunteer interns. Uncompensated workers are exempt from FLSA wage and hour regulations only if certain criteria are met, which include the following:

  • The internship, even though it includes work for an individual or a business, is similar to training which 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 business or individual providing the opportunity derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern;
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  • The business or individual and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.