April 15, 2019 | Uncategorized
Summer is fast approaching, which means many small businesses here in Maine are gearing up for their busiest time of year. Of course, an increase in workload requires an increase in labor to handle it — and that often means hiring teenagers who are out of school for the summer.
Hiring young people can be beneficial for all parties. They get to earn money and gain work experience. You get affordable labor to augment your staff during the busy season. But before you do hire any minors, make sure you’re up to date on how youth employment is regulated under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). If you don’t, you run the risk of being prosecuted by the Department of Labor, fined and serving as an example to remind other employers to follow FLSA requirements.
Food service and kitchen work are popular summer jobs for young Mainers, but this type of work comes with an extensive set of rules in terms of what minors can and can’t do. Just recently, a fast food chain in the Midwest was fined nearly $50,000 for breaking numerous labor laws. In addition to failing to keep proper employee work records, this business had minors operating dangerous equipment and working shifts longer than permitted by law.
Landscaping is another popular summer job and another line of work that provides a cautionary tale. A small town was recently caught having minors perform hazardous jobs such as riding in the back of trucks and operating chainsaws. According to the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, the case was meant to remind employers of “the importance of preventing employees under the age of 18 from participating in prohibited work.”
Generally, minors under the age of 14 are prohibited from working. There are some exceptions — like working in a family business or doing limited agricultural tasks (assuming the work is not considered hazardous). Otherwise, both the Federal Government and the State of Maine divide minor workers into two age brackets:
- 14- and 15-year-olds
- 16- and 17-year-olds
Different rules apply to each bracket. For example, in Maine, workers under the age of 16 are required to get a workers permit while those in the 16- and 17-year-old bracket are not. The number of hours these age groups can work — and when they can work them — also vary.
In Maine, the maximum hours of work for 14- and 15-year-old employees in various non-manufacturing, non-mining, nonhazardous jobs are as follows:
- 40 hours per week when school isn’t in session
- 8 hours per day when school isn’t in session
- 3 hours per day when school is in session
- 18 hours per week when school is in session
It’s also extremely important to note that while the Federal Government has no limits on work hours for 16- and 17-year-olds, the State of Maine does. If enrolled in school (including home school) 16- and 17-year-old can work no more than these limits:
- 6 hours on a school day
- 8 hours on the last school day of the week
- 10 hours on a non-school day
- 24 hours a week with 3 or more school days
- 50 hours a week with fewer than 3 school days
- More than 6 days in a row
There is a long list of hazardous jobs and specific tasks that minors can’t perform. Similar to the maximum number of hours that can be worked, these lists can differ depending what age bracket the minor might be in. But generally, minors — regardless of their age — aren’t permitted to work in hazardous jobs such as these:
- Assisting with or operating power-driven machinery
- Lifeguarding in a lake, river, ocean beach or other natural environment
- Work involving the use of ladders and scaffolding
- Cooking and baking
- Loading goods off or onto trucks
- Building maintenance
- Warehouse work (unless clerical)
Both the Federal DOL and Maine DOL websites provide a full list of jobs minors are not permitted to do. It’s imperative to reference both of these lists before hiring a teenager, because hiring minor workers to perform any of those hazardous jobs is illegal and can result in serious penalties.
Just like most labor laws, the ones protecting minors are extremely nuanced and can come with several exceptions.
For instance, if young employees are participating in a special work experience program, they may not be subject to all FLSA restrictions, such as the number of hours they can work during a school week.
An example is the “work experience and career exploration” program for 14- and 15-year-olds. State education departments can apply to the DOL’s Wage and Hour Administrator to set up such programs to “provide a carefully planned work experience and career exploration program for students who can benefit from a career-oriented experience.”
Employers also have more leeway with 14- and 15-year-olds who are in a DOL-approved work study program, which is geared to academically oriented students. Individual schools can apply to the DOL for approval of those programs.
Again, be sure to visit the Maine DOL website to learn more about these types of programs and how they may affect the rules dictating the employment of minors.
6 Practical Tips
Compiled by the DOL’s “Youth Rules” website resource center, here are six practical tips from various employers that help them ensure they’re following youth labor laws.
- Color coding — Different colored vests are issued to employees under the age of 18 by one chain of convenience stores. That way, supervisors know, for example, who isn’t allowed to operate or clean the electric meat slicer.
- Tracking — An employer in the quick service industry, with over 8,000 young workers, developed a computerized tracking system to ensure that workers under 16 years of age aren’t scheduled for too many hours during school weeks.
- Policy cards — One supermarket issues teens a pocket-sized “Minor Policy Card” on the first day of work. The card explains the store’s policy and requirements for complying with the youth employment rules.
- Training — Many employers have taken the simple, but critical, step of training all their supervisors in the requirements of the FLSA. Refresher training at periodic intervals is equally important.
- Warning stickers — Some employers place special warning stickers on equipment that young workers may not legally operate or clean.
- Self-check for compliance — Some companies conduct their own compliance checks of their businesses to ensure they adhere to all federal, state and local youth employment rules.
If you’re educated on the labor laws and prepared to handle the rules that go with hiring minors, it can be beneficial and rewarding for your business. Their youth and vigor can provide hard work, new ideas, technical savvy and possibly a valuable employee who stays with you into adulthood.
Of course — as mentioned before — be sure to check out the Maine DOL website and investigate any local laws pertaining to hiring minors before taking the plunge.