Child Labor Laws


The term child labor law refers to the federal restrictions on hours and types of work children can do between the ages of fourteen and seventeen.  Child labor laws are authorized under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) to ensure young people are employed in occupations that do not jeopardize their health, well-being, or educational opportunities.


Also known as federal child labor provisions, child labor laws restrict the types of work done by children as well as their work hours.  Generally, these standards apply to nonagricultural employment (non-farm work), as authorized by the FLSA.

In addition to the federal standards discussed below, state laws may have higher standards.  If so, the more stringent standard applies.  In addition to work standards, child labor activities may be restricted by motor vehicle and school attendance laws.  For example, many state laws require minors to obtain working papers or permits, and may limit the work hours of 16 and 17 year olds.

In general, federal guidelines apply to children age 14 through 17.  Youths that are age 18 and older are no longer subject to child labor laws.  Children of any age may also work for a business owned entirely by their parents, except those identified as hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.  Children employed as actors or performers are also exempt from these laws.

14 and 15 Year Olds

Work hours are limited to three per day and eighteen hours each week during the school year.  When not in school, these teens can work up to eight hours a day and 40 hours each week.  Fourteen and fifteen year olds cannot work after 7:00 pm when school is in session, and may not work after 9:00 pm between June 1st and Labor Day.  There are certain exemptions for individuals employed in restaurants and quick-service establishments.

Note:  The above limitations do not apply if the youth has graduated from high school, is excused from compulsory school attendance, has to support a child, is expelled from a local public school, or is otherwise subject to an order prohibiting attendance at school.

16 and 17 Year Olds

Once a teenager reaches the age of 16, federal law allows them to be employed for an unlimited number of hours in any occupation except those identified as hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.  As mentioned earlier, state laws may be more restrictive.

The types of jobs identified as hazardous by the Secretary of Labor include (list not comprehensive):  manufacturing and mining occupations; processing occupations (fileting fish, dressing poultry); operating, repairing or maintaining power-driven machinery; work requiring the use of ladders, scaffolds or their substitutes; working in freezers or meat coolers; and most baking and cooking activities.


Unless an exemption applies, minor employees are entitled to receive the same minimum wage as adult workers.  Federal child labor laws do allow employers to pay employees under the age of 20 lower wages for up to 90 calendar days.  This wage rate must be above the $4.25 minimum hourly wage for children.  Exemptions include children delivering newspapers to customers as well as individuals employed in certain apprenticeship programs.

Related Terms

collective bargaining, bumping rights, employment background checkapprenticeship