The United States Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) child labor provisions are designed to protect the educational opportunities of minors and prevent them from working in jobs that are hazardous to their health and safety. The FLSA establishes wages, hours worked, and safety requirements for minors (individuals under 18 years old) working in jobs covered by the statute. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 14 years old for non-agricultural jobs, restricts the hours that individuals under 16 may work, and prohibits any minor from being employed in hazardous occupations.
All employees of an enterprise are covered by the statute regardless of the duties they perform. As defined by the FLSA, enterprises include any type of government agency (federal, state, or local), a hospital, a school or institute of higher learning, and a company or organization with an annual dollar volume of sales or receipts of $500,000 or more.
All federal employment laws on discrimination, safety and health, benefits, etc. apply to both minors and adult workers.
Investigators from the Wage and Hour Division carry out FLSA enforcement across the United States by gathering data on wages, hours, and other employment practices or conditions to ensure that employers are complying with the guidelines. When violations are found, investigators may recommend changes to bring an employer into compliance. It is a violation to fire or discriminate against an employee who files a complaint or participates in a legal proceeding involving FLSA violations. Employers who willfully violate FLSA guidelines regarding child labor provisions may be prosecuted criminally and pay fines up to $10,000 for each employee who was the subject of the violation. Repeat violators may face imprisonment.
All U.S. states have standards concerning youth employment. If federal and state standards are different, the rules that provide the most protection to young workers will apply. States may also have separate legal penalties for violating child labor laws.
The states have different age requirements for youth working during school hours and youth working outside of school hours, as well as different ages for agricultural jobs. 28 states have their own minimum working age for minors working during school hours, which ranges from 12 to 18 years old. Minimum ages for working outside of school hours and for agricultural jobs range from 9 to 14 years old depending on the state and the crop. A few states do not have a minimum age for agricultural jobs as long as the youth has parental consent. Utah is one of these states.
Illinois has the youngest minimum age of 12 years for youth working during school hours. If working outside of school hours, the minimum age decreases to 10 years old.
In Oregon, the minimum wage for working during school hours is 16; however, if working outside of school hours, the minimum age is 12. Furthermore, the minimum age for working outside of school hours is further reduced to 9 years old if picking berries or beans for intrastate use with parental permission.
Below is a table of each state’s minimum working age for working during school hours.