Kids on the job: What you need to know

A job can be a great way for a young person to make a little money, learn responsibility and gain lasting skills.

But it's important for both the employers giving teens their first jobs, and the kids working those jobs, to know what's allowed and what's not when it comes to child labor laws.

At their simplest, state and federal child labor laws are meant to keep young people safe and free from exploitation. There are different rules for different ages, and in some industries and situations, like farming and agriculture, there are exemptions.

Many of the rules do not apply to kid entrepreneurs, or children working for their parents at a family business.

For the federal government to have jurisdiction, a business must gross more than $500,000 per year and must employ at least two employees involved in interstate commerce, which could include things as simple as making phone calls or processing credit card payments.

State and federal labor departments will enforce the law if they discover a problem, as happened recently with the Anchorage comic book and game store Bosco's.

A federal audit revealed Bosco's had run afoul of the law by allowing 15-year-old employees to run a restricted trash compactor and to work more hours than they should have.


Owner John Weddleton, an Anchorage Assemblyman, paid a fine, corrected the problems, and has since said he won't be hiring employees that young again.

"We're in the business of education. Our main goal is compliance. It's not about penalties," said Jeanette Aranda, a Seattle-based district director for the U.S. Department of Labor's Division of Wage and Hour, which enforces the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act.

Employer obligations range from fair pay and reasonable hours to ensuring the work is safe.

"It is our job to protect minors and it is the most important thing. There are several minors that are injured or killed every year," Aranda said.

Nearly a dozen teenagers are killed at work in the United States every year while even more are injured on the job — one every nine minutes, on average — according to the Nation Consumers League's Child Labor Coalition.

Most deaths involve motor vehicle or heavy machinery accidents.

Every year the League develops a list of the worst jobs for teens. For 2016, the list includes tobacco harvester, harvesting crops and using heaving machinery, traveling sales crew, working in construction and from heights, and being an outside helper (landscaping, groundskeeping, and lawn service).

Youth workers are injured nearly twice as often as adults, and 16- and 17-year-old males are most at risk, according to a Child Labor and Health brochure published by the University of Iowa.

It is not all gloom and doom, however. The University of Iowa's review uncovered an upside to youth employment. It found youth who work are less likely to drop out of high school and pursue higher education at a higher rate than those who don't.

A healthy balance matters.

The university found to achieve the biggest benefit, youth should work fewer than 20 hours per week, and the jobs youth perform should be more rewarding than stressful. Pocket money to see a movie with friends is a good thing; anxiety over schedules, work pace and workplace relationships isn't.

Thinking about employing a young person? Or are you a young person looking for an after-school job? Here's what you need to know.

— Both the state and federal government have jurisdiction over youth employment. The laws vary, and whichever law is more strict takes precedence. For example, the federal government's rules for youth labor in net fishing are stricter than Alaska's, and an employer in compliance with state law would still be in violation under federal law.

— Money matters: Alaska youth should be paid $9.75 per hour, Alaska's minimum wage. But, if they work fewer than 30 hours per week, an employer can lower the pay by $2.50 to $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum wage. However, if they work more than 30 hours in a single week, they must get paid $9.75 per hour for all of the hours worked that week. Some jobs, like babysitting, are exempt from minimum wage requirements.

What follows is a general guideline, by age, of what young employees are allowed to do (keep in mind there are some exceptions):

— Age 13 and under: babysitting, newspaper route, actor or performer, working for your parents — as long as it's not a hazardous occupation. Things like hoisting crab pots on a vessel, coal mining, meat processing and firefighting are considered hazardous. Alaska law requires youth working in the radio, television and film industries to obtain a work permit.

— Ages 14-15: These young people are only allowed to work outside of school hours, no more than three hours on school days, no more than 18 hours in a week, and only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (These are the federal rules, which are stricter than Alaska's.) More hours are allowed in the summer. Those teens can work a retail job, work in an office, teach music or math lessons, do errands, yardwork, pump gasoline, wash cars, perform limited food service, and work as an actor or performer. (This is not a complete list.)


— Ages 16-17: Once a young person hits 16, they can work as much as they want and perform any job as long as the job does not involve driving or being a driver's helper, and has not been declared hazardous by the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

— Age 18: Considered adults, these youths can work as much as they want and at any job, with the exception of the alcohol sales and service, and tobacco sales or pull-tabs.

"We truly enforce child labor laws all the time. Our job as we see it is to make sure people are safe, inform the employer and the employees, and fix the problem," said Deborah Kelly, director of the Division of Labor Standards & Safety for the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Unsure whether somethings is safe or lawful? Kelly encourages youth workers, their parents and employers to call Alaska's labor office and ask questions. Aranda said the same thing for the federal labor department.

"Every case is different," Aranda said.

[Find information about federal child labor laws here.]

[Find guides to Alaska's child labor laws here and here.]

Correction: This story originally identified Deborah Kelly as Debora Kelly.

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Jill Burke

Jill Burke is a former writer and columnist for Alaska Dispatch News.