Employers: What to know when hiring minors

There are limits on how long employees under the age of 18 can work & what work they can perform

Clarence Belnavis

While some high school students have dreams of a lazy summer with the pending arrival of the summer break, others are thinking ahead and applying for jobs now – in hopes of getting a much coveted paid position for the summer. The reality is that summer jobs are hard to come by. Labor force participation for youth between the ages of 16 and 24 has declined since 1989, from 77.5 percent to about 60 percent in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of 16- to 24-year-olds looking for work spikes between April and July of each year.

For employers, this means that you will likely have way more applicants than open positions. However, Washington state has special rules for hiring someone under the age of 18. The Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) does a very good job of laying out all of the specifics on its website (www.lni.wa.gov/workplacerights/teenworkers). That said, there are several key points that employers need to keep in mind.

You must obtain and post a work permit allowing for the employment of minors, and you need to get that permit before hiring anyone. Employers must also get an authorization from the minor’s parent or guardian, as well as the school, if during the school year. L&I has sample forms that you can download off of its website.

The number of hours a minor can work is expanded over the summer. Generally, the school year is Labor Day through June 1. When out of school, 16- and 17-year-olds in non-agricultural jobs can work up to eight hours per day and 48 hours per week, but not more than six days per week. The start time can be as early as 5 a.m., and the stop time as late as midnight.

The hours are different for 14- and 15-year-olds. On summer break, they can work up to eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, with a cap of six days per week. They can start as early as 7 a.m. and work as late as 9 p.m.

It is also important to keep in mind that like any employee, minors have a right to a safe working environment. In fact, employers are prohibited from having them perform unsafe tasks. Depending on the circumstances, these include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Operating meat slicers or powered baking equipment
  • Driving a forklift
  • Working at heights greater than 10 feet off of the ground
  • Roofing work
  • Positions where exposures require the use of respiratory or hearing protection, etc.

The list of prohibited work activities can differ depending upon the industry at issue and the age of the minor. Thus, it is important for employers to confirm with L&I what is appropriate.

A summer job is important in the life of a young adult. It is an opportunity for them to build their work history and understand the importance of earning a living. Businesses need to keep in mind that there are extra considerations when hiring someone under 18. There are limits on how long they work and what work they can perform. Knowing and applying these guidelines will help to make their employment a positive experience for both the employer and the minor.

Clarence Belnavis is a Partner in the Seattle and Portland offices of Fisher & Phillips LLP.