California Companies Employing Teens Must Ensure Compliance with Laws Designed to Protect Minors

As has been widely reported, companies throughout the country are facing pandemic-related labor shortages, including because of workers’ childcare obligations, concerns about returning to in-person work, and the continuation of unemployment benefits.  Employers attempting to address this labor shortage are offering hiring bonuses, increasing wages, and improving benefits and flexibility.  It also appears they are hiring teenagers to fill these vacancies, which coincides with the general uptick in youth employment between April and July each year.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”), the unemployment rate among teenagers this month stands at 12.3% and is anticipated to fall further, providing a stark contrast to teen unemployment last summer.  (In July 2020, the unemployment rate for 16 to 24 year olds was 18.5%, about twice as high as the year before, according to the BLS.)

In addition to complying with the myriad employment laws which apply to all employees, California employers looking to hire teen employees also must ensure compliance with the laws specifically designed to protect minors:  

New Mandated Reporter Training  

The California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Law, adopted in 1980, requires that certain “mandated reporters” make formal reports of suspected child abuse and neglect to law enforcement authorities.  Effective January 1, 2021, AB 1963 established that employers with five or more employees and which employ minors have reporting requirements for two categories of employees.  Specifically, “mandated reporters” are:  (1) “human resource employees” (defined as any employee designated by the employer to accept any complaints of misconduct made under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act); and (2) any adult person whose duties require direct contact with and supervision of minors’ duties in the workplace.  Covered supervisors’ reporting obligations are limited to instances of sexual abuse, while HR employees are not subject to this limitation and must report all types of child abuse and neglect.   

Importantly, covered employers must provide their employees who are mandated reporters with training in identifying and reporting child abuse and neglect.  Mandated reporter training can be completed free of charge by way of the general online training for mandated reporters offered by the Office of Child Abuse Prevention in the California Department of Social Services.   

Work Permits  

Any employer wishing to hire a minor who is not exempt from California's child labor laws, must obtain and keep on file a work permit, which is usually issued by an authorized person at the minor’s school.  During summer months or when school is not in session, the work permit is obtained from the superintendent of the school district in which the minor resides.  (California Education Code §§ 49160, 49151.)  

More information is available by reviewing the Labor Commissioner’s child labor pamphlet.

Occupational Restrictions  

Young minors, i.e., 12 and 13 years’ old, may generally only work in very limited jobs, as personal attendants, in household occupations, or as newscarriers.  

Minors who are at least 14 years old are allowed to work in a wide range of occupations, including retail, food service, and office and clerical work.  However, minors who are 14 or 15 years’ old may not be employed in any position involving construction, machine-related work, or manufacturing, among other restricted occupations.  

Once a minor is 16 years’ old, he or she may work in any occupation except those deemed hazardous under federal law, which includes operating motor vehicles, roofing, demolition, working with explosives or radioactive substances, and working with certain power-driven machines.  

Hours of Work  

The California Labor Code regulates working hours for minors, with differences based on age and whether school is in session.  

Specifically, minors who are 16 or 17 years’ old may work only 4 hours on a school day, 8 hours on a non-school day, and up to 48 hours per week; and they may not work before 5 a.m. or after 10 p.m. on any day preceding a school day, or after 12:30 a.m. on any day preceding a non-school day.  However, between June 1 and Labor Day, minors who are 16 and 17 years’ old may work 8 hours per day and 48 hours per week, and may work until 12:30 a.m.  (Labor Code § 1391.)  

Minors who are 14 and 15 years’ old may work only 3 hours on a school day, 8 hours on a non-school day, and up to 18 hours per week; and they may not work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m.  However, between June 1 and Labor Day, minors who are 14 and 15 year’ olds may work 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week, and may work until 9 p.m.  (Labor Code § 1391.)  

Minors who are 12 or 13 years’ old may be employed only during school holidays and vacations, for a maximum of 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week, and between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (except from June 1 through Labor Day, when they may work until 9 p.m.)  (Education Code § 49111; Labor Code § 1391.)  

Employers with questions regarding the employment of minors may contact the author or their usual employment law attorney at AALRR.

This AALRR post is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in reaching a conclusion in a particular area of law. Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. Receipt of this or any other AALRR publication does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Firm is not responsible for inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process. 

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