Teen’s guide to labor laws

What kind of work can a teenager do? The answer depends on the state, the age of the child and the time of year.

Employee Rights word cloud

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the youth labor force grows sharply each year between April and July. What kind of work can a teenager do? Parents, young people and employers often wonder about this question. The answer depends on the state, the age of the child and the time of year.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulates child labor standards, establishes minimum wage, overtime pay and record keeping affecting employees both in the private and public sectors. In Michigan, the Youth Employment Standards Act also protects employment of young people under age 18 by regulating hours and working conditions, requiring work permits, and making it illegal to employ minors in occupations which are potentially physically and emotionally unsafe.

In general, the following are the basic labor rules from the Michigan Department of Education for teens under 18 who seek employment in Michigan.

  • A work permit is required before starting work. Work permits are typically available in the schools. They also can be found on the Michigan Department of Labor and Opportunity website. The employer will complete the intent to hire section and the child’s school needs to approve it before starting work.
  • The minimum age of employment for most jobs is age 14, with a few exceptions.
  • A youth cannot work more than six days in a week or 10 hours in one day.
  • Start and end times of work varies depending on the age of the child and if school is in session or not.
  • Minors must always be supervised by an individual 18-years of age or older.
  • Youth cannot be employed in occupations deemed hazardous, such as vehicle drivers or jobs using power driven equipment, tools or machinery. 
  • The YouthRules! website from the United States Department of Labor provides many tools for youth, parents and educators interested in finding out more information about youth labor laws. With a click of a button, young people can find out how many hours they can work in a week, which jobs are considered hazardous and other employment restrictions.
  • Fair Labor Standards Guide is a free, comprehensive guide from the Chamber of Commerce that covers fair labor topics in an easy to understand format for small business owners.

Michigan State University Extension 4-H has additional resources to help youth explore careers of interest and the tools to help young people prepare for the workforce. For more information or resources on career exploration, workforce preparation, financial education or entrepreneurship, contact 4-HCareerPrep@anr.msu.edu.

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