Summer is almost here and many teenagers will be hitting the workforce to earn a few extra dollars. Companies that hire teenagers should be aware that state and federal law restricts the employment of minors or “child labor.”

Who is a “Minor”?

These laws apply only to “minors” as defined by the respective laws. The California Labor Code defines “minors” as people under the age of 18 who are required to attend school. The definition also includes people under age 18 who are not required to attend school because they are not California residents. The definition also covers any child under the age of six.

Under this definition, a person under the age of 18 who has graduated from high school, or the equivalent, is not a minor, because he or she is not required to attend school. Therefore child labor laws would not apply.

Work Permits

Employers that would like to employ “minors” under the age of 18 are required to obtain work permits. Generally, employers can obtain permits from students’ schools. Schools are not permitted to issue permits for children under age 12, but under federal law it is generally impermissible to employ an individual under age 14. The documents are usually issued from the superintendent’s office or by the superintendent’s designated representative.

Work permits have a short duration, and therefore employers must track their effective dates carefully. Permits issued during the school year expire at the start of the next school year. Therefore, if you hire a teenager for the summer, be sure to obtain a new permit if you intend to continue the employment into the fall session of school.

Work permits must be obtained before work begins, and employers must keep their permits on file at all times during the minor’s employment.

The school district’s permit form, if completed in its entirety, ought to comply with Labor Code requirements. Employers must be sure to include the minor’s name, age, birth date, address, telephone number, and Social Security number. (For employment during the school year, the hours of school attendance must be included, along with the maximum number of hours per day and week that the student may work.) The permit must be signed by the issuing school representative and the student. The issuing representative will include an expiration date on the permit form.

Hour Restrictions

Labor Code §1391 prohibits minors from working in excess of a certain number of hours during the summer months, depending on the child’s age. Minors under age 16 may not work overtime—i.e., they may not work more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week. Also, during the late spring and summer months—June 1 through Labor Day—minors under 16 (with an exception for those working newspaper delivery jobs) may not work before 7:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.

Minors age 16 or 17 may not work more than 8 hours per day or 48 hours per week. They may work as early as 5:00 a.m. or as late as 12:30 a.m. on days that are not followed by school days.

The California Education Code limits the number of hours a minor may work while school is in session. This article covers summertime employment, so it skips those details.

Wage Orders

Certain Industrial Welfare Commission wage orders also contain provisions regarding child labor. Therefore, employers should review the orders applicable to their industries before hiring minors.

Restricted Occupations

Under both California and federal law may work in a limited number of occupations. Children of certain ages are prohibited from working in a number of hazardous jobs, including in a number of manufacturing, industrial, and construction occupations, as well as positions that require driving a motor vehicle. Before hiring a minor, be sure to confirm that state and federal law permit minors to work in the occupation in question. Further, if employment is permitted, check for any occupation-specific restrictions or limitations on working conditions.

State and federal law contain a number of exceptions and limitations in additional to those mentioned here. Therefore, employers should review all relevant statutes and regulations, or seek legal advice, before hiring minors.

Christopher W. Olmsted is a shareholder in the San Diego office of Ogletree Deakins.


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