The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," ran in the Champaign News Gazette.
For more detailed information on labor restrictions for different age groups, visit the Illinois Department of Labor's website.
How old must kids be to work legally? I want to know what’s legal before my kids get summer jobs.
Child labor is regulated two different ways: the jobs kids can do and the hours they can work. Jobs are regulated according to three different age groups:
Hours are regulated if you’re under 16.
Kids 12 and 13 can only work on farms, and with their parents’ consent.
Kids 14 and 15 can have jobs that are officially not hazardous, not manufacturing, and not mining.
For kids 16 and 17, those last two restrictions are dropped. But, they still can’t do hazardous work.
At age 18, kids become adults, so the child labor laws no longer apply.
During the summer (June 1 through Labor Day), kids under 16 can work:
- Between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.;
- No more than 8 hours a day;
- No more than 6 consecutive days in a week; and
- No more than 40 hours a week
During the school year, hours are more restrictive.
The federal regulations now give better—but still pretty general—guidance about the jobs that are OK for 14 and 15 year olds. Among other things, kids can be:
- Clerical workers
- Cooks but not over an open flame;
- Clean up work
- Kitchen work
- "Work of an intellectual or artistically creative nature”
The hazardous work that kids under 18 cannot do is spelled out quite specifically in both federal and Illinois regulations. It prevents kids under 18 from operating or being around all but the safest machinery and tools. For example, vacuums and floor waxers are OK, but not power mowers or edgers.
An official “employment certificate” is required to legally employ anyone under 16. It’s issued by the local school superintendent, and requires an application signed by parent or guardian. Employer and parent each get a copy of the issued certificate.
Note that the job restrictions for kids under 16 can vary according to specific occupations. Some examples: lifeguards (age 15 & pools OK, but not lakes or rivers), various park district jobs, caddies, and “homeworkers engaged in the making of wreaths composed principally of natural holly, pine, cedar, or other evergreens.” Child labor laws generally don’t apply at all to the following:
- Yard work
- Newspaper delivery
- Child actors
Kids under 18 can be paid a subminimum wage of $7.75 an hour, until they turn 18. Tipped minors can be paid a super-subminimum wage of $4.65 an hour, but their tips must average at least another $3.10 an hour, so that they make at least $7.75 an hour. They must make at least $20 a month in tips to qualify as a tipped employee.
Child labor laws really began with the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. In 1918, the Supreme Court held the first federal child labor law to be an unconstitutional restriction on a child’s right to sell their labor.