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Teen Safety on the Job: The Laws

by Jane Wangersky | April 22nd, 2016 | Safety, Teens

waitressLast summer, I got a call from the temp agency my son had signed up with — they had just then realized he was under 18. That was okay, as long as I sent in a note saying he had my permission to work. But it goes to show that employers don’t always start by finding out exactly how old a teen worker is. And a year or two can make a difference under the labor laws. A teen with a summer job may be reluctant to turn down any tasks they’re given, but they should know what they can’t legally be required to do.

Here are a few examples from OSHA:

  • Sixteen is the minimum age for working in construction.
  • Sixteen is also the earliest age anyone can work at loading or unloading trucks, railway cars, or even conveyor belts.
  • Eighteen is the minimum age for driving a forklift.
  • Eighteen is usually the minimum age for any driving on public roads as part of a job (driving on farms is different), but 17-year-olds can do it during the daytime under certain conditions.
  • Anyone under 16 can work only till 9:00 PM in the summer (June 1st to Labor Day) and 7:00 PM the rest of the year — but these are the Federal laws, and individual States may be stricter.
  • No one under 18 can use a meat slicer or industrial mixer on the job — or even set up or clean it. Better not to touch it at all . . .
  • Sixteen is the minimum age for cooking at work, “except at soda fountains, lunch counters, snack bars, and cafeteria serving counters” — in general, places without deep fat fryers.
  • In the fields (berry picking is big where I live), child labor laws apply only to workers under 16. So any job, including driving tractors and operating machinery, is open to those 16 and older.
  • In fact, even 12- and 13-year-olds can work on farms with their parents’ permission (or if the parents are also working there).
  • Fifteen is the minimum age for working as a lifeguard — with the necessary training and certification — but only at a pool or water park. To lifeguard at a beach, you have to be 16.
  • You also have to be 16 to get a job in “youth peddling, sign waving, or door-to-door sales.” Oh, and catching chickens.

If you have any doubts or questions about your teen’s summer job, visit the Department of Labor site or give them a call.

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