Because many employers don't have employees under 18 years of age, they don't concern themselves with the various federal and state child labor laws. Some of these same employers, however, will hire a few minors during the summer to do odd jobs, or through an internship program, or as part of a program of providing job opportunities for children of regular employees. If you have even one employee under the age of 18 on your payroll, you must know and abide by the rules governing youth employment or risk significant penalties.
Both Michigan's Youth Employment Standards Act ("YESA") and the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") govern the employment of minors. Unfortunately, the two laws are not always consistent in how they deal with certain issues and that can make compliance difficult. For example, although both laws generally govern employment of persons under 18 years of age, the YESA excepts from its requirements 16-year-olds who have completed their high school graduation requirements and 17-year-olds who have completed the requirements for a GED. The FLSA contains no such exception, so if you employ a 16- or 17-year-old who has fulfilled the graduation or GED requirements, you must comply with the federal law.
The YESA requires employers who employ a minor to obtain a work permit from the local school district. The permit can be obtained from the school district the minor attends, or (if the minor does not attend school or is homeschooled) from the school district in which the minor's place of employment is located or the public school academy or nonpublic school nearest the place of employment. Upon termination of employment, the employer must immediately return the permit to the school. There is no work-permit requirement under the FLSA.
The most complicated issues that arise when employing minors involve the type of work they can do and the hours that they can work. Under both the YESA and the FLSA, minors may not be employed in occupations that are classified as "hazardous." Hazardous occupations generally include mining, demolition, roofing, excavating, and meatpacking. They also include jobs that require the use of power-driven machines for woodworking, hoisting, metal forming or metal punching, bakery and paper products. New federal rules also placed significant limits on driving by 16- and 17-year-olds. There are additional restrictions on work that can be done by 14- and 15-year-olds. However, minors (even those who are 14 or 15) generally may work in an office, grocery or retail store, amusement park or movie theater.
Federal law generally places more significant restrictions on the hours that can be worked by 14 and 15-year-olds, than does the YESA. Federal law limits 14- and 15-year-olds to working between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. between Labor Day and June 1st and until 9 p.m. between June 1 and Labor Day. Those employees may not work more than 3 hours on a school day or more than 8 hours on nonschool days. They are also limited to 18 hours of work per week while school is in session and 40 hours on nonschool weeks. The YESA limits 14- and 15-year-olds to working no more than 6 days and no more than 48 hours (work plus school combined) in any workweek.
There are no limits on work hours for 16- and 17-year-olds under federal law, but the YESA imposes limits on starting and stopping times, total weekly hours, and the number of days that can be worked. Minors who are 16 and 17 may work between 6 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. while school is in session and until 11:30 p.m. during school vacation periods. They may not have more than 48 hours of work and school combined and are limited to a weekly average of 8 hours of work per day. They may not work more than 10 hours in any given day or more than 6 days in any week. Finally, all minors must receive an uninterrupted 30-minute meal/rest break after 5 hours of work under the YESA. These work hours and rest break requirements are very strictly enforced and a misstep of only a minute or two can result in a significant fine.
The discussion above is only a brief summary of the various requirements when employing minors. A more detailed chart comparing the federal and Michigan requirements is provided at the PDF link above. The penalties for violating these laws can be very significant--amounting to hundreds or even thousands of dollars per violation. There is also the negative publicity that can come from violating child labor laws. If you have questions about the state or federal child labor laws or any other labor or employment matter, please contact any member of our Labor and Employment Law Practice Group.