Return to School Requires Review of Child Wage, Hour Laws

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By Christine Pulfrey

Compliance with the requirements that accompany hiring young workers is something employers should be mindful of, not only during the summertime, but all year long.

Employing young workers during the school year and through educational internships may be educational for the workers as well as for the employers that must adhere to specific related requirements governing what work youth may perform, how many hours youth may work during the school year, and how much they may be paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act and other federal laws, child labor laws, and state laws.

Rules Affecting Young Workers

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers must ensure that workers are paid at least the minimum wage and one and one-half times workers’ regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a week. Those younger than 18 are covered by the FLSA and other federal laws. The FLSA also allows states to enact more restrictive child-labor laws. Employers should follow the law that provides minor employees with the most protection.

Employers may pay workers who are younger than 20 a minimum hourly wage of $4.25 for the first 90 consecutive days of employment under the federal Youth Opportunity Wage; however, state or local laws may supersede the youth opportunity minimum wage if the laws are to the workers’ advantage.

For example, effective Jan. 1, 2018, Minnesota's hourly minimum wage is to rise to $9.65 from $9.50 for large employers and to $7.87 from $7.75 for other state minimum wages, including those for small employers, the youth wage that must be paid to workers younger than 18 who are not covered under federal law, the training wage paid to employees younger than 20 for the first 90 consecutive days of employment, and the summer-work travel exchange visitor program.

Generally, the same minimum-age work restrictions apply when school is in session as apply during summer months and school holiday periods: Retail and quick-service establishments generally may hire minors at least 14 years old, but restrictions exist on the work they may perform and the hours they may work.

Children younger than 14 may be employed in work that is exempt from the FLSA, such as delivering newspapers to consumers, and in work not covered by the FLSA, such as minor chores around private homes or casual baby-sitting. Otherwise, such children may not be employed in nonagricultural work covered by the FLSA.

The hours that 14- and 15-year-olds may work generally are more liberal in the summer. During weeks when school is not in session, 14- and 15-year-olds may work up to eight hours a day and 40 hours in a week.

Once school is in session, stricter requirements exist. Workers who are 14 and 15 may be employed only outside of school hours, unless enrolled in an approved training program; they may not work more than three hours on a school day, and not more than 18 hours in a school week.

While 14- and 15-year olds may work from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. from June 1 to Labor Day, their work hours during the school year must only be scheduled during the period from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Minors younger than 16 may only be employed outside of school hours in agricultural work, except by their parents. No federal limits affect the number of hours they may work

Minors who are at least 16 are not limited in the hours or times that they may work, and they may be employed in any occupation except those declared to be hazardous by the Labor Department, but state laws often impose restrictions that employers must follow. Federal child labor provisions no longer apply once a youth turns 18.

State Protections

Employers with multistate operations should be mindful of state requirements. For example, some states, such as Alabama, Delaware, and Massachusetts, limit how many days 14- and 15-year olds may work. Michigan, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania have time and hour limits for employees ages 16 and 17.

Roughly half the states have provisions regarding meal and rest periods that apply for all minors or for minors of a specific age, such as Alabama and Hawaii that have requirements specific to 14- and 15-year-olds.

Workers who are 14 and 15 may be employed in work and career exploration programs during school hours for up to three hours on a school day and 23 hours in a school week, including during school hours, if certain conditions are met.

Among the conditions, the Work Experience and Career Exploration Program must be approved by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, the program must be school supervised and administered, students must receive school credit for on-the-job experience, and the work must not be in manufacturing, mining, or other hazardous occupations.

Additionally, internships allow young workers to gain work experience, but require employers to be careful to ensure when classifying a worker as an intern versus an employee that the internship satisfies the Labor Department’s six-factor test.

Employers may be subject to fines and other penalties for violating child-labor laws.

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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