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May 14, 2012

Letter to the editor:
What are teen workers' rights and responsibilities in the workplace?

By Commissioner Ken Peterson

As the school halls empty for summer break, now is a good time to review teen workers' rights and responsibilities regarding hours of work, minimum wage and safety in the workplace.

This summer, thousands of Minnesota teens will be employed in part-time or summer jobs, some of them for the first time. So before teens jump into the employment pool, they should know some basics about state and federal regulations concerning hours, wages, age limitations and prohibited types of work, as well as employee safety and health.

The Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) has developed an informational handout, "Youth rules for kids at work" and created Web pages with specific links for teen workers (www.dli.mn.gov/LS/TeenWorkers.asp). These resources are designed to provide quick access to key information about child labor related laws at both the state and federal levels.

A majority of the calls DLI's Labor Standards investigators receive each year about teens in the workplace are questions related to minimum wage, hours of work and hazardous occupations. Many of the things parents hear -- and sometimes business owners hear -- about child labor laws are from relatives, friends or other workers' experiences, not the actual statutes and rules.

One of the most common complaints DLI receives is that teens work too late at night. In situations where both federal and state laws apply to an employer, the more protective standard must be followed. Most Minnesota employers are required to comply with the following provisions.

  • The minimum age for employment is 14, unless a federal or state law exemption allows for a younger minimum age.

  • Hours worked by 14- and 15-year-olds are limited to: ¬†nonschool hours; eight hours on a nonschool day; 40 hours in a nonschool week; three hours in a school day; 18 hours in a school week; and, from June 1 through Labor Day, hours between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. (after Labor Day, 7 p.m. becomes the latest this group may work).

  • Sixteen- and 17-year-olds may not work: ¬†after 11 p.m. on any evening before a school day; or before 5 a.m. on any school day. With written permission from a parent or guardian, a 16- or 17-year-old may begin work at 4:30 a.m. on a school day or work until 11:30 p.m. on an evening before a school day.

Another area of misconception is that employers can pay teens less than the minimum wage. However, employees must be paid at least the current minimum wage rate, regardless of the method of compensation, for all hours worked, including training time.

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