When the school year winds down, many under-18 youths want summer jobs.  What are the rules these teens and employers need to know?  Let’s focus on jobs that are not agricultural and not in a business owned by the child’s family, as those rules are different.  Summer jobs teach young employees valuable workplace skills and provide income.  At the same time, the law wants those experiences to be safe.  According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, over 210,000 American children suffer occupational injuries each year, with over 70,000 of them requiring emergency room care.  Both federal law (Fair Labor Standards Act) and state law (NC Wage & Hour Act) apply to youth employment.

            Youth under 18 must have a Youth Employment Certification (YEC), also known as a work permit.  It must be completed and signed by the teen, a parent, and the employer.  An easy place to apply for a YEC is at the N.C. Department of Labor’s website at 

            Jobs considered by law to be hazardous or detrimental are off-limits for youth under 18.  These include logging, power-driven woodworking or punching machines, meat slicing machines, roofing, trenching, electrician’s helper, and more.

            Teens who are 14 and 15 have other special limits that apply in the summer (stricter standards apply during school).  They cannot work more than 8 hours a day or more than 40 hours per week.  They cannot work past 9 p.m.  Employers must give 14 and 15 year old employees at least a 30-minute break after five consecutive work hours.  Teens who are 14 and 15 are restricted from some types of work, like using deep fat fryers, baking, or working in any place where goods are manufactured.  Fourteen and fifteen year olds may not operate machinery, including lawn mowers and trimmers (never mind that they probably mow the lawn at home).  They may operate most office machines and many types of equipment found in food service establishments (like cash registers, toasters, dishwashers, etc.).  These teens may not work inside an establishment that has an ABC on-premises permit. 

Although drug tests may be required of applicant who is under 18, many employers who require tests find the better practice is to obtain parental consent.  However, if a drug test comes back positive, the employer is not legally permitted to tell the parent, even if the parent consented to the drug test.

Private businesses are not legally permitted to do unpaid internships for minors or adults in most instances.  Unpaid internships are usually legal only when the intern’s sole mission is to observe and learn, not to do actual work that the employer’s employees would otherwise be doing.  Government agencies can do unpaid internships legally, and non-profits can always accept volunteers.  Some private businesses choose to have unpaid interns doing actual work, and some young people find the experience to be worth much more than a paycheck, so both parties benefit; however, employers should be cautious, as it does expose them to the risk of a Fair Labor Standards Act complaint.

Excellent resources for more information on youth employment are the U.S. Department of Labor (1-866-4-USA-DOL ) and the N.C. Department of Labor (1-800-NC-LABOR).  Whether you hire teens or you are a teen employee, knowing the rules makes for a better summer employment experience.

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