How Many Hours Can A Teen Work?

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 2, 2020

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There are a number of reasons for teenagers to get jobs. They can:

  1. Make money for college

  2. Learn how to be responsible

  3. And, get some good experience for the future.

High schoolers are busy, though, so it can be difficult to balance schoolwork, friends, extracurricular activities, and work. The government also still considers them children (even though they might not) and has a number of labor laws in place to protect them.

In this article, you’ll learn more about these laws as well as other considerations you should have when deciding how much your teenagers should or shouldn’t work.

What Does the Law Say?

Each state will have its own set of labor laws, so it’s important that you look up the ones in your area, but there are a number of federal laws in place as well. If these two conflict, the one that is “more protective of the minor” takes precedence.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that protects workers under the age of 18. The act regulates:

  1. The age teenagers are allowed to begin working. The FLSA allows teenagers to begin working at age 14, although some states allow them to start at age 13. This usually comes with a very restricted list of jobs they can have, though.

    Many states also require that minors provide a certificate of age in order to begin working. This is to make sure that companies are fully abiding by the law.

  2. How many hours they can work. 14-15-year-olds have very limited hours they’re allowed to work and often need a parent’s permission to do so. The restrictions lift once they hit 16, though.

    Job type you want
    Full Time
    Part Time
    Internship
    Temporary

    If minors are working for their parents, there are typically much fewer restrictions on how many hours they can work and when.

  3. What types of jobs they can have. Just because they’re allowed to work doesn’t mean that minors can hold just any job. The FLSA bans them from working in hazardous trades such as mining, meat processing, logging, and many manufacturing roles.

    These restrictions are even more rigid for minors under the age of 16 and ban additional roles such as construction jobs, any work on ladders or scaffolds, and most baking and cooking activities.

  4. How much they’re paid. The FLSA requires companies to pay minors minimum wage. However, while the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, the minimum wage for workers under age 20 can legally be as little as $4.25 during their first 90 days on any given job.

    Some states have higher minimum wages than $7.25, but these rates don’t always apply to minors.

    Because of all these caveats, it’s important to make sure you know the laws and rates in your state so that you know how much your teenagers should be paid.

Balancing a Job with High School

High school comes with plenty of homework, extracurriculars, and social activities that all vy for teenagers’ time. Laws and regulations aside, the number of hours teenagers work each week during the school year should depend on these activities as well.

After all, high schoolers making enough money to pay for college does no good if they can’t get into college because their grades are bad.

Studies have shown that students who work under 15-20 hours a week perform as well or better in school than their peers who don’t have a job, but that students who work over 20 hours a week perform badly and are even more likely to drop out altogether.

When deciding how much your teens should work, look at their current schedules and see what hours they could reasonably manage on top of that. Or, look at which activities would be worth dropping in order for them to have a job.

Remember that balance is key. You want them to have fun and enjoy high school while still being responsible.

Consider both your family’s and your teenagers’ goals and needs, and work to find a solution that balances all of them. You know your children better than anyone, and your decision about what’s best for them may not be the same as everyone else’s for their families.

The Pros and Cons of a Minor Working

While the costs and benefits of your teenager working will vary based on your family, your child’s personality, and the job itself, here are some general factors to consider as you start thinking through what’s best for your situation.

Pros of Teenagers Working

  1. It teaches responsibility and good work ethic. Teenagers are often given a bad rap, but they can be just as responsible and work just as hard as many adults. Sometimes all it takes for them to do so is being expected to rise up and handle those responsibilities. A high school job can help them learn how to do this early on.

    Learning how to manage both a job and schoolwork is also good practice for college and the rest of their adult lives.

  2. It allows them to save for college. Earning money in high school to put toward college not only lightens the load of loans, but it can also free up more of their time once they’re in college to allow them to fully focus on their studies.

  3. It can look good on a college application. Balancing a job and schoolwork can make teenagers’ applications more attractive to colleges. Admissions teams are always looking for students who demonstrate that they have the ability to successfully handle the hefty college workload.

  4. It can help them figure out what career path they want to pursue. Whether they’re planning to attend college or not, finding a part-time job in a field they’re interested in can help give teenagers direction for the rest of their careers.

    Seeing what it’s like to work in a particular industry could help them determine if that’s what they want to pursue or not, both of which are equally valuable.

  5. It can give them the training they need to start working full-time after graduation. For those who aren’t planning to go to college, working during high school can be the ticket to finding a good-paying, full-time job right after graduation.

    Apprenticeships in the trades are especially great ways for teens to get an early start on their careers.

  6. It gives them practice managing money. Everyone could use a little help learning how to budget and manage their expenses. Having a job gives teenagers the opportunity to practice these principles before their livelihood depends on them having these skills.

    Make sure you give them the opportunities and resources they need to help them manage their money, though. Otherwise, they may just pick up bad habits at a young age.

  7. It gives them a sense of independence. Teenagers crave independence, and having a job could be a healthy way to give that to them.

    From having responsibilities that others are counting on them to fulfill, to having adult interactions outside of school and home, to having their own money, working can help teenagers feel and become more independent.

Cons of Teenagers Working

  1. It can take away from their schoolwork. Students who are already struggling in school will likely have an even more difficult time if they also have to work throughout the week, and students who aren’t struggling might start to if they don’t have enough time to focus on their studies.

    This is especially true for teenagers who are already heavily involved in extracurricular activities or who rely on free afternoons and weekends to get their homework done. Adding a job into the mix may not be advantageous for students in these situations.

  2. It can cause them to miss out on beneficial social and extracurricular activities. While filling up high schoolers’ time with responsibilities might keep them from negative interactions with their peers, it can also keep them from positive ones.

    Some activities and extracurriculars are only possible to experience during the teenage years, and a job may take away from those.

  3. It can expose them to adult situations that they aren’t ready for. Even the safest jobs will expose teenagers to real-world work environments.

    Customers and co-workers alike may not keep in mind that these are minors they’re talking to and interacting with, which can result in some uncomfortable and inappropriate situations for your teenagers.

  4. It can give them too much independence. Having their own schedule and money can be too freeing for some teenagers.

    A job gives them the means necessary to purchase items like cigarettes (or e-cigarettes), alcohol, and drugs if they have the desire to use those items.

The bottom line on whether teenagers should work or not is that it depends on your family and your child. Sometimes the cons far outweigh the pros for certain teenagers and situations and vice versa.

It’s up to you as the parent to consider what would be the most beneficial for your child.

Hours That Teens Can Work by Age

The FLSA has outlined out acceptable working hours for teenagers of different age ranges. However, individual states also have their own laws about this, so make sure you check those as well.

Generally, these restrictions don’t apply to minors working for their families, as long as they aren’t working in hazardous industries.

Work Hours for Ages 14-15

One of the main purposes of the FLSA is to ensure working minors are still able to get the education they need. Because of this, the laws regulating working hours for younger teens are much stricter, especially during the school year.

There are exceptions to these rules, but here are the general restrictions in place for this age range while school is in session:

  • Maximum of three hours of work each school day (and not during the times school is in session)

  • Maximum of 18 hours of work each school week

  • Can only work between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. from Labor Day through May 31

Here are the restrictions for when school is out:

  • Maximum of eight hours or work each non-school day

  • Maximum of eight hours or work each non-school day

  • Can only work between 7:00 a.m. and 9 p.m. from June 1 through Labor Day

Work Hours for Ages 16 and Up

Minors age 16 and up don’t have any federal limits on when they can work, as long as they aren’t working in jobs that the Department of Labor considers hazardous. Many states do have their own sets of restrictions for 16-17-year-olds, though.

Anyone over the age of 18 has no restrictions at all on where or when they can work, even if they’re still in school.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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