When summertime hits, many restaurants find themselves with stacks of applications from local teenagers. In fact, the National Restaurant Association projects 450,000 new jobs this summer alone. As young people look for ways to pad their wallets during the long summer break, it’s important to brush up on the correct legal standards for this age group of employees.
When you think of child labor laws, you may picture a young spindly thing in rags peeling potatoes in a rat-infested galley. Or, unfortunately, a child in a developing country hauling impossibly heavy pails of water or thrashing sugar cane in the hot sun. The U.S. Federal laws that are in place today keep these very scenarios out of our legal working environments. These laws protect and support young workers by restricting their hours and limiting dangerous working situations.
Generally, young people can work when they turn 16 years of age. However, hiring 14- and 15-year-olds is not actually illegal, and children even younger than that can work in their families’ restaurants so long as they are not performing dangerous tasks. Federal law generally limits youth employees to the number of hours they can work, both during the school year and during breaks, and the work must not interfere with their health, well-being, or school schedule.
The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act on child employment outlines that young teenagers are permitted to work:
- Up to three hours a week during school weeks
- Up to 18 hours a week during school weeks
- Between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7p.m. (and until 9p.m. between June 1st and Labor Day)
- Up to eight hours a day on non-school days
- Up to 40 hours a week on non-school weeks
Equipment and Work Restrictions
Under Federal law, there are restrictions regarding certain tasks young people can perform in a restaurant or in a commercial kitchen. The Department of Labor (DOL) restricts teenagers from handling certain pieces of equipment, and this affects the jobs they can take on.
According to the DOL, employees under 16 years of age are not permitted to perform the following tasks:
- Cook on an open flame
- Perform baking duties, such as dough-mixing or removing items from the oven
- Lift or lower a deep fryer basket
- Use rotisserie equipment or automatic broilers
- Work with cooking grease or filters
- Work in freezers or meat coolers
- Use food cutters, slicers, grinders or choppers (this includes cleaning, repairing, adjusting or operating)
16- and 17-year-old workers are also protected by restrictions on “hazardous” equipment as outlined by the DOL. This equipment generally includes:
- Stand up mixers
- Bread dividers
- Powered pizza dough rollers
- Powered cake cutters
When hiring young employees in your restaurants, stay aware of both local and federal laws surrounding child labor and employee safety. The following resources can help keep you informed:
- OSHA. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains a website with information regarding child labor laws and resources for employers as well as young employees. Learn by checking out the OSHA Youth Worker Safety in Restaurants website.
- Department of Labor. The United States Department of Labor (DOL) offers complete and updated information on improving working conditions and assuring worker rights and benefits.
- Youth Rules from the Department of Labor. The DOL Youth Rules! Website is a portion of the DOL website that is designated for youth worker rules, rights and restrictions, broken down by age.
- DOL Wage and Hour Division State Labor Laws. The DOL makes it easier to find the information for your state with a list of state labor office websites and contact information.