In the United States, there are very strict rules governing age restriction, the legal working age and the prospect of hiring a minor for most types of jobs. The general consensus, of course, is that the age of majority will usually allow a person to work as a full-time employee, regardless of any factors that would normally affect minors. Typically, the age restriction or legal working age can often be lower than the average age. However, in some states the age restrictions can even be as low as 14 years old, which is a low age restriction. Nevertheless, specific conditions apply in each state, sometimes depending on the child's school schedule.
Young workers can be a big advantage for any company: they have energy and are motivated. And this is why employers are eager to hire teenage workers for weekend and summer jobs. But they need to take the age restriction of their state into account before taking on young employees.
Working age vs. age of majority
In most states, people over the age of 18 (or 21 in some places, depending on what the age of majority for selling and using tobacco and alcohol may be) are unrestricted when it comes to working on virtually any type of job.
In contrast, minors who have not yet reached the majority working age may be allowed to work if they have reached the minimum working age – 14 in most states; 12 or 16 in some – while having to submit to certain time-related restrictions.
Age restriction for hiring minors
If an employee is younger than 18, you have to check with your state's specific requirements and regulations on the age restriction or legal working age to find out whether or not the child or teenager in question is within the age restriction and may be legally allowed to perform the work you want to hire him or her for.
Legal age restriction
In some states, like Georgia or Colorado, hiring children as young as 12 is allowed in stores and for retail purposes, while most states, including Maine, Indiana, Arkansas, Idaho, Arizona and Minnesota, the legal working age is 14, and an age restriction applies, such as minors not being allowed to work before 7 AM and after 9 PM, or having to avoid working during school days.
A few states are somewhat more strict when it comes to their age restriction, such as New York, Ohio, North Dakota and Oregon. In these states, minors under the age of 16 are prohibited from working at all. States like Florida, on the other hand, have far fewer age restrictions, allowing children of any age to work for their parents, or California which has an age restriction of 12 years old.
Some states require "working papers" for minor employees below the typical age restriction, which outline the conditions under which a minor can work and show that the minor is attending school. These are typically available from the minor's school.
Exceptions to age restriction
There is no age restriction applicable to children working as babysitters or actors. However, children working as actors may be subject to additional strict union rules and state laws on age restriction. In New York, child actors need to obtain a work permit, be accompanied by a parent or guardian at all times, have access to on-location teachers, and place a certain portion of their earnings into a trust that cannot be accessed until the person turns 18.
There is no age restriction on children of any age working for their parent's business or on their farm in non-dangerous positions; but children cannot not work in manufacturing or mining.
Human rights organizations on age restriction
Human rights organizations have documented child labor in the USA. A petition by Human Rights Watch found: "Hundreds of thousands of children are employed as farm workers in the United States, often working 10 or more hours a day. They are often exposed to dangerous pesticides, experience high rates of injury, and suffer fatalities at five times the rate of other working youth. Their long hours contribute to alarming drop-out rates."
Government statistics show that barely half ever finish high school. According to the National Safety Council, agriculture is the second most dangerous occupation in the USA. But current US child labor laws permit children working on farms to work longer hours, at a younger age, and under more hazardous conditions than other working young people. While children in other sectors must be 12 to be employed and cannot work more than 3 hours on a school day, in agriculture, children can work at age 12 for unlimited hours before and after school.