What's the Minimum Age to Work?

Child sitting on floor

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) establishes federal rules regarding minors’ ability to work. The FLSA sets a general minimum working age of 16 for most jobs, with a minimum age of 18 for “hazardous occupations.” For younger children, they may work as early as 14 years old if the employer observes certain FLSA restrictions on hours and work conditions. Children younger than 14 may only be employed subject to certain exclusions in the FLSA (e.g., a parent or guardian is the child’s sole employer in a non-hazardous job). The FLSA prohibits any “oppressive child labor.”

The FLSA does not cover all jobs performed by minors. There is no FLSA protection for entrepreneurs under 18 or minors who volunteer their time for charitable organizations. Some jobs traditionally done by minors, such as newspaper delivery, are not covered by the FLSA. Other exceptions include some situations in which a child works for a parent or guardian, children who are actors or other types of paid performers, and certain minors employed in home-based work.

The Department of Labor (“DOL”) has created a list of certain jobs and activities that are not considered oppressive child labor for children 14 and 15 years old. These jobs include, but are not limited to:

  • Office and clerical work;
  • Sales, retail, and advertising work;
  • Errand and delivery work;
  • Cleaning buildings;
  • Dispensing gasoline and oil;
  • Cleaning cars by hand;
  • Limited kitchen work, including prep work or cooking (subject to limitations such as no cooking over an open flame);
  • Serving food;
  • Maintenance of grounds (without using power-driven equipment).
  • Lifeguarding (if the child is at least 15 and has received proper training and certification from an accredited organization, such as the Red Cross)
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