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Child Labor Laws

Overview

Both federal and California laws govern the employment of minors. Child labor laws cover a wide range of industries and, a broad range of age groups. If an employer is considering hiring an individual under the age of 18, it is essential they confirm they are in compliance with both state and federal youth labor laws to ensure that they or the minor they seek to employ have the proper authorization to do so and are working only those hours permitted by the child labor laws. When federal and state child labor laws conflict, an employer must apply the law stricter law.

In the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the federal government has set minimum age requirements for youth seeking to perform work and the employment limitations on individuals under the age of 18. Children or youth under the age of 14 are generally prohibited from working unless one of a handful of exceptions apply, including:

  • being employed by parents in non-hazardous occupations,

  • working as actors or performers,

  • delivering newspapers, or

  • working as homeworkers in the making of wreaths made from natural elements

  • performing certain agricultural work.


Children ages 14 and 15 may work, but are limited in the hours and occupations that they work. Children ages 16 and 17 may work, but cannot be employed in industries the Department of Labor determines to be too hazardous.

California child labor laws regulate the ages, the times, and the types of work minors 17 years and younger may perform in California. Generally, youth who are 16 and 17 years old may work in a broad range of jobs, but cannot work in jobs that California has deemed are too hazardous. Youth who are 14 and 15 years old may work in a broad range of jobs but are significantly limited in the number of hours per day and per week they may work, especially when school is in session. Children 13 years old or younger may not work in California, except in some limited situations.

                                                                                                          Common FAQ:

Q:  What is the definition of a child or minor under California child labor laws?

A:  California child labor laws define a minor as any person under 18 years old who is required to attend school pursuant to the California Education Code and any child under six years of age. It also includes any individual who is not required to attend school pursuant to California’s compulsory education laws only because they are a nonresident. 

Q:  Must a minor have a permit before they may work in California?

A:  To work in California, employees and employers must fill out and submit a permit form issued by the California Department of Education entitled “Statement of Intent to Employ Minor and Request for Work Permit.” These forms that are based on the work permit requirements may be obtained from and submitted to designated individuals who are authorized to issue permits to employ and work (listed below). Before the notification of the intent to employ and work may be submitted, it must be signed by the parent or legal guardian of the youth the employer intends to employ. 

The following individuals may issue permits to employ and work:

  • the superintendent of a local school district in which the minor resides

  • the chief executive officer, or the equivalent position, of a charter school that the minor attends

  • a person holding a services credential with a specialization in pupil personnel services authorized by the superintendent of the school district or chief executive officer in writing, or a certificated work experience education teacher or coordinator authorized by the superintendent of the school district or chief executive officer in writing

  • if the minor resides in a portion of a county not under the jurisdiction of the superintendent of a school district and does not attend a charter school, the county superintendent of schools, a person holding a services credential with a specialization in pupil personnel services authorized by the county superintendent of schools in writing, or a certificated work experience education teacher or coordinator authorized by the county superintendent of schools in
    writing may issue a work permit.

  • the principal of a public or private school, or another designated administrator in the school, to pupils who attend the school

Q:  Are there any exclusions regarding the permit requirement?

A:  California child labor laws exclude the following from the requirement to obtain a permit to employ and work:

  • high school graduates or minors who have been awarded a certificate of proficiency 

  • parents or guardians who employ their children when public schools are not in session or not during school hours in agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, or domestic labor on or in connection with property the parent or guardian owns, operates, or controls

  • minors who are irregularly employed in odd jobs in private homes, such as baby-sitting, lawn mowing, yard work, and leaf raking 

  • minors who are at least 14 years of age and employed to deliver newspapers to consumers 

  • minors of any age who participate in any horseback riding exhibition, contest, or event, whether or not they receive payment for services or prize money

Q:  Do the minor work permits ever expire?

A:  Permits to employ and work expire five (5) days after the opening of the school year following the school year in which the permit was issued.

Q:  What are the California child labor laws for 16 and 17-year-olds?

A:  California child labor laws have provisions specifically directed to 16 and 17-year-olds, including restrictions on what times during a day 16 and 17-year-olds may work, how many hours in a week they may work, and what jobs or occupations they may perform. The restrictions on the employment of minors who are 16 and 17-year-olds are discussed below.


Q:  What days, times, and hours can 16 and 17-year-olds work?

A:  California child labor laws permit employers to employ 16 and 17-year-old youth for the following hours in a workweek and in a workday:

  • when school is in session

    • up to four (4) hours on school days outside of school hours

    • up to eight (8) hours on non-school days or days preceding non-school days

    • up to 48 hours per week

    • between 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., except on evenings preceding non-school days 16 and 17 year old youths may work until 12:30 a.m.

    • 14 and 15 year old youths may not work while school is in session if they have not completed 7th grade

  • when school is not in session

    • up to eight (8) hours per day

    • up to 48 hours per week

    • between 7:00 a.m. and 12:30 a.m., so long as the day does not precede a school day

Youth who are 16 and 17 years old and enrolled in a work experience or cooperative vocational program approved by the California Department of Education may work until 12:30 a.m. on any day and may work more than up to eight (8) hours on a school day.

Additionally, 16 and 17-year-olds who work in agricultural packing plants during peak harvest season may work up to 10 hours on days when school is not in session if they have received a special permit from the Labor Commissioner to do so. 

High school graduates or youth awarded certificates of proficiency may be employed for the same hours as adults. 

Q:  In what occupations are 16 and 17-year-olds prohibited from working?

A:  California child labor laws prohibit employers from employing 16 and 17-year-olds in any occupation declared particularly hazardous for the employment of 16 and 17-year-olds by the federal government in the Code of Federal Regulations which include:

  • manufacturing or storing explosives or articles containing explosive components

  • motor-vehicle driver and outside helper 

  • coal mine occupations

  • forest fire fighting and prevention, timber tract occupations, and forestry service occupations 

  • logging occupations 

  • operating sawmills, lath mills, shingle mills, or cooperage stock mills 

  • work involving exposure to radioactive substances and to ionizing radiations 

  • operating power-driven hoisting apparatus 

  • operating power-driven metal forming, punching, and shearing machines 

  • mining 

  • operating power-driven meat-processing machines and occupations involving slaughtering, meat and poultry packing, processing, or rendering 

  • operating of bakery machines 

  • operating balers, compactors, and paper-products machines 

  • manufacturing brick, tile, and kindred products 

  • operating circular saws, band saws, guillotine shears, chain saws, reciprocating saws, wood chippers, and abrasive cutting discs 

  • operating power-driven wood working machines 

  • wrecking, demolition, and shipbreaking operations 

  • roofing operations and on or about a roof 

  • excavation operations 

Youth who are 16 and 17 years old are also prohibited from working for any obscene, indecent, or immoral purposes, exhibition, or practice whatsoever. 


Q:  Are there any rules for 16 and 17-year-olds regarding gas service stations?

A:  Under California child labor laws, youth who are 16 and 17 years old may perform the following activities at gas service stations:

  • dispensing gas or oil

  • courtesy service

  • car cleaning, washing, and polishing

  • any duties 14 and 15 year-olds are specifically permitted to perform

Youth who are 16 and 17 years old may not perform activities at gas service stations that involve the use of pits, racks, or lifting apparatus, or that involve inflating tires mounted on a rim equipped with a removable retaining ring. 

Q:  What are the California child labor laws for 14 and 15-year-olds?

A:  California child labor laws have provisions specifically directed to 14 and 15-year-olds, including restrictions on what times during a day 14 and 15-year-olds may work, how many hours in a week they may work, and what jobs or occupations they may perform. The restrictions on the employment of 14 and 15-year-olds under California’s child labor laws are discussed below.


Q:  What days, times, and hours can 14 and 15-year-olds work?

A:  California child labor laws permit employers to employ 14 and 15-year-old youth for the following hours in a workweek and in a workday:

  • when school is in session

    • up to three (3) hours on school days outside of school hours

    • up to eight (8) hours on non-school days

    • up to 18 hours per week

    • between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. (Labor Day to May 31)

    • 14 and 15 year old youth may not work while school is in session if they have not completed 7th grade

  • when school is not in session

    • up to eight (8) hours per day

    • up to 40 hours per week

    • between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. (June 1 to Labor Day)

Youth who are 14 and 15 years old may enroll in a work experience education program and be issued permits to work in full-time employment if:

  • the youth’s family needs the full-time earnings because of the death or desertion of the youth’s father and/or mother, and sufficient aid cannot be secured in any other manner;

  • the youth needs the full-time earnings for support because he or she minor is unable to reside with his or her family; or

  • the youth resides in foster care and, with the written authorization of their social worker, probation officer, or child protective services worker, wish to further the goal of obtaining a court ordered Declaration of Emancipation or gain knowledge of work skills and habits

Q:  In what hazardous occupations are 14 and 15 year-olds prohibited from working?

A:  California’s child labor protections prohibit 14 and 15-year-old youth from working in several hazardous occupations or similar types of work. The prohibitions include:

  • manufacturing, which includes work performed at any place on the work of a manufacturing establishment or on any of the materials entering into the products of a manufacturing establishment whether under contract or arrangement with the person directly in charge or connected to the work or contractors or other third parties

  • adjusting any belt to any machinery

  • sewing or lacing machine belts in any workshop or factory

  • oiling, wiping, or cleaning machinery or assisting in any of those tasks

  • operating or assisting in operating:

    • woodworking machines including:

      • circular or band saws

      • wood shapers

      • wood-joiners

      • planers

      • sandpaper or wood-polishing machinery

      • wood turning or boring machinery

    • picker machines or machines used in picking wool, cotton,
      hair, or other material

    • carding machines

    • leather-burnishing machines

    • laundry machinery

    • printing-presses of all kinds

    • boring or drill presses

    • stamping machines used in sheet-metal and tinware, in paper and
      leather manufacturing, or in washer and nut factories

    • metal or paper-cutting machines

    • paper-lace machines

    • corner-staying machines in paper-box factories

    • corrugating rolls, such as are used in corrugated paper, roofing or washboard
      factories

    • dough brakes or cracker machinery of any description

    • wire or iron straightening or drawing machinery

    • rolling-mill machinery

    • power punches or shears

    • washing, grinding, or mixing machinery

    • calendar rolls in paper and rubber manufacturing

    • steam-boilers

    • in proximity to any hazardous or unguarded belts, machinery, or gearing

  • on a railroad, whether steam, electric, or hydraulic

  • on a vessel or boat engaged in navigation or commerce within the jurisdiction of California

  • in, about, or in connection with any processes in which
    dangerous or poisonous acids are used

  • in the manufacture or packing of paints, colors, and white or red lead

  • in soldering

  • occupations that cause dust in injurious quantities

  • in the manufacture or use of dangerous or poisonous dyes

  • in the manufacture or preparation of compositions with dangerous or poisonous gases

  • in the manufacture or use of compositions of lye where the quantity is injurious to health

  • on scaffolding

  • in heavy work in the building trades

  • in any tunnel or excavation

  • in, about or in connection with any mine, coal breaker, coke oven or quarry

  • in assorting, manufacturing or packing tobacco

  • operating any automobile, motorcar, or truck

  • in the vocation, occupation, service, or purpose of singing, playing on musical instruments, rope or wire walking, dancing, begging, or peddling

  • as a gymnast, acrobat, contortionist, or rider

  • in any obscene, indecent, or immoral purposes, exhibition, or practice whatsoever

  • in any mendicant or wandering business

  • any occupation declared particularly hazardous for the employment of 14 and 15 year old minors by the federal government in the Code of Federal Regulations

  • any occupation not declared permissible for 14 and 15 year-olds by the federal government in the Code of Federal Regulations

  • any occupation declared particularly hazardous for the employment of 16 and 17 years olds by the federal government in the Code of Federal Regulations

Q:  In what occupations are 14 and 15-year-olds permitted to work?

California child labor laws allow 14 and 15-year-olds to work in any occupation or job not otherwise prohibited by the law which includes but is not limited to:

  • office and clerical work, including the operation of office machines

  • cashiering

  • selling

    • youth under 16 years of age may only engage in door-to-door sales of newspaper or magazine subscriptions, or of candy, cookies, flowers, or other merchandise or commodities within 50 miles of their place of residence CA Labor Code 1308.1

  • modeling

  • art work

  • work in advertising departments

  • window trimming

  • comparative shopping

  • price marking and tagging by hand or by machine

  • assembling orders

  • packing and shelving

  • bagging and carrying out customers’ orders

  • errand and delivery work by foot, bicycle, and public transportation

  • cleanup work, including the use of vacuum cleaners and floor waxers

  • maintenance of grounds, but not including the use of power-driven mowers or cutters

  • kitchen work and other work involved in preparing and serving food and beverages, including the operation of machines and devices used in the performance of this work, including, but not limited to, dishwashers, toasters, dumbwaiters, popcorn poppers, milkshake blenders, and coffee grinders

  • cleaning vegetables and fruits

  • wrapping, sealing, labeling, weighing, pricing, and stocking goods when performed in areas physically separate from areas where meat is prepared for sale and outside freezers or meat coolers

  • singer or musician in any church, school, or academy, or the teaching or learning of the science or practice of music

  • horseback riding exhibition, contest, or event other than a rough stock rodeo event, circus, or race

    • a “rough stock rodeo event” is any rodeo event operated for profit or operated by other than a nonprofit organization in which unbroken, little-trained, or imperfectly trained animals are ridden or handled by the participant, and shall include, but not be limited to, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, and bull riding

    • a “race” is any speed contest between two or more animals that are on a course at the same time and that is operated for profit or operated other than by a nonprofit organization

  • leading of livestock by a minor in nonprofit fairs, stock parades, livestock shows and exhibitions

Q:  What are the California child labor laws for 12 and 13-year-olds?

A:  Child labor laws generally only permit 12 and 13-year-olds to work on regular school holidays, during the regular vacation of public schools, and during specified occasional public school vacations. They may not work on any regular school day, either before or after school. A permit to employ and work may be issued to a 13-year-old to work up to two (2) hours on a school day and up to four (4) hours in a workweek if the youth has completed sixth grade, been identified as a potential dropout, and participates in an employment program conducted on school premises and sponsored by one or more school districts. 

Q:  Are there any exceptions to California’s child labor laws?

A: California child labor laws exempt youth from occupational restrictions, except for manufacturing, if they are enrolled in one of the following programs:

  • courses of training in vocational or manual training schools or in state institutions

  • apprenticeship training provided in an approved apprenticeship training program

  • work experience education programs provided that the work experience coordinator determines that the students have been sufficiently trained in the employment or work otherwise prohibited by these sections, if parental approval is obtained, and the principal or the counselor of the student has determined that the progress of the student toward graduation will not be impaired

Q: Are minors allowed to work in agricultural occupations?

A:  Under California state child labor laws, youth 14 years of age and older may work in agricultural occupations otherwise prohibited pursuant to federal regulation if the following conditions are met:

  • the youth is enrolled as a student-learner in a bona fide vocational agriculture program under a written agreement that provides that the student-learner’s work is incidental to training, intermittent, for short periods of time, and under close supervision of a qualified person, and includes all of the following:

    • safety instructions given by the school and correlated with the student-learner’s on-the-job training

    • a schedule of organized and progressive work processes for the student-learner

    • the name of the student-learner

    • the signature of the employer and school authorities, each of whom must keep copies of the agreement

  • youth who are 14 or 15 years of age hold certificates of completion of either a tractor operation or a machine operation program and who are working in the occupations for which they have been trained. The employers employing minors who have completed such a program must keep a copy of the certificates of completion on file with the youth’s records

  • youth who are 14 and 15 years old who hold certificates of completion of either a tractor operation or a machine operation program of the United States Office of Education Vocational Agriculture Training Program and are working in the occupations for which they have been trained. Employers employing minors who have completed this program must keep a copy of the certificate of completion on file with the minor’s records.

Q:  Can minors work delivering newspapers?

A:  Yes. California child labor laws permit youths of 12 years of age and older to deliver newspapers to consumers by foot, bicycle, or public transportation. Additionally, 16 and 17-year-old youth may deliver newspapers to consumers by driving an automobile. Additionally, minors engaged in the processing and delivery of newspapers may enter areas of a newspaper plant, other than areas where printing presses are located, for purposes related to the processing or delivery of newspapers. 

Q:  Are employers required to provide minors with meal and/or rest breaks?

A:  Yes. California’s minimum wage and overtime rules require employers to provide all employees, including all minors, with meal and rest breaks during their work time. 

Q:  Are there rules about minors working at sports-attending services?

A:  Yes. California child labor laws permit youth who are 14 and 15 years old to perform sports-attending services in professional baseball, as defined by federal regulation, but only with the prior written approval of either the school district in which the minor is enrolled or the county board of education of the county in which that school district is located.


Youth who are 14 and 15 years old who perform sports-attending services in professional baseball may work outside school hours until 12:30 a.m. on any evening preceding a non-school day and until 10:00 p.m. on an evening preceding a school day. Additionally, such youth may only be employed for no more than five (5) hours on a school day and for no more than 18 hours in any week in which school is in session.


Such youth may be employed for no more than eight (8) hours on any non-school day and for no more than 40 hours in a week in which school is not in session. The school authority that issues the written approval for the 14 or 15-year-old to perform sports-attending services must submit a copy of the written approval to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement within five (5) days after it is issued to the youth. California child labor laws permit youth who are 16 and 17 years old to perform sports-attending services in professional baseball outside of school hours for up to five (5) hours on a school day. 

Q: Are there rules about minors working as messengers?

A:  Yes. California child labor laws prohibit youth 15 years old and younger from working as messengers for the telegraph, telephone, or messenger companies. It also prohibits youth 15 years old and younger from working for the US government while operating a telegraph, telephone, or messenger service in the distribution, transmission, or delivery of goods or messages in cities of more than 15,000 inhabitants. Any 16 or 17-year old who performs the messenger work described above may only work after 6:00 a.m. and before 9:00 p.m. on any given day. 


Q:  Are there rules about minors working for door-to-door sales?

A:  Yes. California child labor laws require employers who employ, either directly or through a third party, youth under the age of 16 in any location more than 10 miles from the youth’s residence to register with the Labor Commissioner in California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.


Additionally, any individual who is 18 years of age who transports, or directs or supervises during transportation, a minor under 16 years of age to any location more than 10 miles from the minor’s residence, or directs or supervises a minor, for the purpose of facilitating the minor’s participation in door-to-door sales of any merchandise or commodity must register with the Labor Commissioner in California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. The registration must be renewed on an annual basis. An application for registration may be obtained from California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. 

Q:  Are there rules about minors working in the entertainment industry?

A:  Yes. California child labor laws allow youth of almost any age to work in the entertainment industry subject to several restrictions and limitations.

Q:  Do employers have any record keeping requirements for hours worked by minors?

A:  Yes. California child labor laws require employers who employ youth, either directly or indirectly through a third party, to keep on file all permits and certificates to work related to the youth. The employers must allow attendance and probation officers, the State Board of Education, and the officers of the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement to inspect the files at any time.

Q:  Are employers required to allow right of access to the State?

A:  Yes. Attendance supervisors or probation offices of any county, city, or school district in which any place of employment is situated as well as designees of the Labor Commissioner and officers of the Superintendent of Public Instruction may at any time, enter the place of employment for the purpose of examining youth permits to work or for the purpose of investigating any California child labor law violations. Failure to permit access for the inspection as required constitutes a violation of the child labor laws.

Q:  Are there any citations or penalties for violating California child labor laws?

A: Yes. When the California Department of Industrial Relations conducts an investigation and determines an employer has violated California child labor laws, it will issue a citation to the employer explaining the nature of the violation and whether the violation is a Class A or Class B violation. An employer may contest a citation within 15 business days after receiving the citation by requesting a formal hearing from the office of the Labor Commissioner that appears on the citation. Citations may also be issued to anyone who owns or controls the real property on which the youth works if the youth works for the person who owns or controls the property and the person has knowingly permitted the violation. 


Class A violations:

The California Department of Industrial Relations issues Class A citations for all violations of California child labor laws except those subject to Class B citations. Employers who commit Class A violations of California child labor laws are subject to a civil penalty not less than $5,000 and not more than $10,000 for each and every violation. Employers who are found to have willfully or repeatedly violated California child labor laws will be subject to greater penalties than those issued to non-willful or first-time violators.

Class B violations:

The California Department of Industrial Relations issues Class B citations for the following:

  • violations of California Labor Codes 1299 or 1308.5

  • violations for California Labor Code 1391 for the first and second time

  • any other violations that present an imminent danger to minors or a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm would result therefrom


Employers who commit Class B violations of California child labor laws are subject to a civil penalty not less than $500 and not more than $1,000 for each and every violation. Employers who are found to have willfully or repeatedly violated California child labor laws will be subject to greater penalties than those issued to non-willful or first-time violators. 

Employers who violate California child labor laws may be found guilty of criminal penalties including a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $1,000 and no more than $5,000 and/or six months of imprisonment in the county jail. Employers who willfully violate the child labor laws may be subject to a fine of no more than $10,000 and/or six (6) months in the county jail. An individual may only be sentenced to time in jail if they have previously violated California child labor laws. 

If you have any further questions or need any additional information about child working laws, please contact me for a FREE confidential consultation at (916) 333-4653 or Stephen_Fiegel_Esq@comcast.net.

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