Teenagers may be ideal employees for startups, particularly startups who have young founders themselves. It may be easier for a college-aged entrepreneur to relate to and oversee a teenaged employee than an employee in his or her late 20s, 30s, or even older. Teenagers may have skills that are actually harder to find in older employees (particularly programming skills). And teenagers often have an energy and enthusiasm that a startup wants to tap, while their youth and inexperience means their pay is often less than a more experienced employee and can reduce labor costs for a company. However, if your startup or small business is looking to hire teenagers for these or other reasons, there are legal issues you should remember to avoid costly fines or even a potential lawsuit that can sink your company.
First, business owners must be cognizant of the fact that there are child labor laws at the federal and state level; generally, unless the federal explicitly preempts the state law, where the state law is more restrictive than the federal law the state law preempts it. Therefore, employers must always be mindful of both the federal and state laws.
The minimum age a minor is allowed to work is 14, although state laws can be higher; in some states, some or all minors may be required to have a work permit for some or all types of jobs. Minors can be restricted from working overtime; hours for 14-15 year olds during the summer are limited by federal law to 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week — less during the school year — while 16-17 year olds are not restricted. These restrictions may be lessened if the minor is working in his or her parents’ business. And again, state laws may be more restrictive.
Basic federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, although employees under 20 may be paid as low as $4.25 an hour for the first 90 calendar days (not just working days) of employment, though many states have much higher minimum wage laws.
Minors may be restricted from performing certain types of jobs, such as serving alcohol. In no circumstance may a minor be employed in a hazardous job. As a rule, employers should instruct minors in the tasks of the job, particularly manual tasks, and should communicate all risks and hazards of the job and what to do in the event they are injured on the job.