Hiring Teen Workers

Summer is coming and you may be thinking about hiring some teen workers under the age of 18. Here’s some lawyerly advice: Proceed with Caution.


There are lots of legal restrictions on hiring teens, which are still considered “child labor” by the Department of Labor. You need to review the basic rules on the Department of Labor website, www.dol.gov, such the limitations on the hours that 14- and 15-year-olds can work:

  • Non-school hours;
  • 3 hours in a school day;
  • 18 hours in a school week;
  • 8 hours on a non-school day;
  • 40 hours on a non-school week; and
  • hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (except from June 1 through Labor Day, when the evening hours are extended to 9 p.m.)

If you are hiring a 16- or 17- year old, there are no limits on the hours that he can work. However, there are limits on the duties anyone under 18 can perform. He generally cannot work in any occupation considered hazardous, including construction jobs, warehousing jobs, public messenger jobs or jobs that require the use of power-driven machines, such as meat slicers, bakery equipment, power saws, etc.

A common mistake that employers make with workers under 18 is to allow them to drive on the job. No employee under 17 may drive a motor vehicle on public roads as part of his job. That means that you can’t use a 16 year old to even run to the fast food place to pick up your lunch or to the office supply store for a printer cartridge.

If your employee is 17, she can drive on the job only during daylight hours, only if she has completed a state approved driver’s education course and has no moving violations on her record at the time of hire, and only if she spends no more than 20 percent of her time during any one workweek driving on company business. There are many other restrictions on teen driving that you can review at www.dol.gov/esa/regs/compliance/whd/whdfs34.htm

Once you figure out what job opening you can legally fill with a teenager and what hours he can work, that is only the beginning for you as the employer of youth workers. You also have a lot of responsibilities once you hire these inexperienced employees.

You have a legal duty to provide your teen workers with a safe and healthy workplace. OSHA reports that each year, 60-70 teens die from work-related injuries and about 200,000 seek emergency medical treatment.

To avoid adding to these numbers, provide extensive safety training for new teen employees. Cover the most common workplace hazards and injuries such as slips, trips and falls, chemical exposure, burns and cuts, eye injuries, machinery malfunctions, and strains and sprains, as well as any known hazards specific to your workplace.

Remember that teens are often uncomfortable acknowledging their ignorance or inexperience, so they may not ask questions that would indicate that they don’t clearly comprehend your training or instructions.

Many recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforcement actions have shown that teens are very vulnerable when it comes to sexual harassment. They need as much if not more training than your more mature employees in how to recognize, prevent and report harassment.

If you have at least 15 employees on the payroll (including part-time and temporary), each one should receive a copy of your written sexual harassment policy. Sexual harassment training should be mandatory for all new employees and repeated annually for your entire workforce.

Failure to train young workers in reporting of a harassment incident led to a $400,000 settlement in 2004 by a Burger King franchisee for the repeated groping, vulgar sexual comments and sexual demands of seven female employee (six of whom were in high school) by a restaurant manager.

In 2005, Carmike Cinemas, Inc. agreed to pay $765,000 to settle a case of male-on-male teen harassment. Several young men complained that they were subjected to sexual touching, comments and requests for sexual favors from their male supervisor, who happened to be a convicted sex offender.

And just last month, the EEOC announced that a McDonald’s franchisee would pay $550,000 to a group of teenage workers who were sexually harassed by a middle-aged manager. The EEOC trial attorney handling the case, Michelle Marshall, said, “This was the first job experience for many of these young women, some of whom were only 14 years old at the time. No one should have to endure sexual harassment to earn a paycheck. Employers must be extra vigilant in protecting teen workers, who are one of the most vulnerable segments of the labor force.”

An easy way to fulfill your orientation and training responsibilities to teen workers is to video one session when you are explaining the procedures to a new teen worker. Then you can show that DVD to each new employee and you don’t have to repeat yourself numerous times. It can also protect you if you are sued because it can establish the fact that you made a reasonable effort to train and protect your teen employees.

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