1. Home
  2.  | 
  3. Articles
  4.  | Minor Details A Summary Of California Rules Governing Employment Of Children

Minor Details: A Summary Of California Rules Governing Employment Of Children

By Robert S. Nelson, Esq., Nelson Law Group

One of the most enduring sports moments of the last few years was when J.T. Snow, former first baseman for the San Francisco Giants, rescued the team’s 3-year-old bat-boy from almost certain harm during Game 5 of the 2002 World Series. The child, Darren Baker, had rushed to grab a discarded bat while play was still in session. Snow, who was hustling in to score, plucked Baker up by his jacket so that he would not be trampled by the other base runners who were barreling down toward home plate.

The scene became a poignant case study of the complex dynamics of employing children in adult-dominated workplaces. These dynamics include protecting minors from psychological and/or physical harm (e.g., trampling by professional baseball players); guarding against overwork that can interfere with schooling (Game 5 of the 2002 Series was played on a school night and lasted almost four hours); and accommodating the rights of parents to choose appropriate jobs for their own children (Darren Baker was in fact the son of the Giants’ former manager, Dusty Baker). These considerations are balanced by a complex series of federal and state laws that California employers must understand before they can safely employ minors in their respective workplaces.

1. Who are “minors”?

To comprehend California’s myriad protections for children in the workplace, employers must first understand specifically to whom the protections extend. California law defines “minors” as anyone who is under the age of 18 and required to attend school (in California or elsewhere), or anyone under the age of 6, regardless of school requirements. Employers wishing to hire anyone meeting any of these descriptions must abide by the specific restrictions explained in more detail below. Additional restrictions apply to children younger than 18, depending on specific age. For example, children under 16 generally can only work in specified jobs and industries. Children under 12 cannot work in any job or industry, other than entertainment; however, children under 12 can perform “odd jobs” such as yard work and babysitting, so long as they do so only on an intermittent basis.

2. Outright ban, or conditional restrictions?

Employers wishing to hire minor employees must first determine whether and to what extent children are categorically banned from their respective workplaces. State and federal law both impose outright bans on the employment of minors in certain types of workplaces. For example, minors cannot, under any circumstances, work in “immoral” places such as saloons and gambling houses. They also cannot work in any capacity selling lottery tickets (unless they are “constantly” supervised by someone who is at least 21), nor can they be employed in any establishment intended for the sale and consumption of alcohol, including restaurants. Minors furthermore cannot be employed to drive motor vehicles on highways. Numerous additional restrictions apply to minors under age 16: children that young cannot perform certain designated production and/or manufacturing work (e.g., adjusting and/or repairing machine belts, operating power saws, anything having to do with tobacco, etc.); they also cannot work on railroads or boats, in connection with poisonous substances, or in numerous other situations involving hazardous conditions or substances.

3. Work Permits

If employers have jobs that do not involve unconditionally restricted settings or activities, they can indeed hire minors to perform the jobs, so long as they comply with the complex federal and state rules that restrict the terms and conditions of child labor. Chief among those rules is that employers generally must have written work permits on file for all minors they employ. Work permits must be unique (i.e., each minor employee must have his or her own permit), and they must obtained before minors begin working. Work permits are essentially records showing whether and to what extent the permittee’s education is being compromised by employment. The permits specifically show: (a) the age of the permittee; (b) the permittee’s hours of required school attendance; and (c) the maximum number of hours that the permittee may work while school is in session.

Work permits usually can be obtained from minors’ respective schools. Once acquired, they must be kept for the duration of the permitted minor’s employment; regularly renewed (permits generally are only good for single school years); and made available, upon request, to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, and/or to school attendance and probation officers, including the State Board of Education. Failure to acquire and/or make available work permits can subject employers to civil penalties of between $500.00 and $1,000.00 per infraction. Violations involving child safety can subject employers to penalties ranging from $5,000.00 to $10,000.00.

Permits can be summarily revoked if permittees are allowed to work outside the parameters of the permits (e.g., if a permittee works more hours than what is allowed under his/her permit). There are only very limited exceptions to the work permit rule. Permits are not required for minors who are high school graduates, or who have acquired certificates of proficiency in lieu of degrees. Minors also do not need work permits if they perform agricultural work on or in connection with land owned and operated by their parents or guardians, or if they occasionally perform household chores.

4. Work Hours

Work permits only allow minors to work certain numbers of hours each day and week, depending on numerous factors. When and how long minors can work depends on how old the minors are; whether they are working on a school day; and whether they are working at a time of year when school is in session.

Ages 12 to 13 Ages 14 to 15 Ages 16 to 18
School In Session Can only work during vacations and school holidays

Cannot work on any school day

Maximum of 8 hours in a day, or 40 hours in a week

Maximum of 3 hours work per school day, outside of school hours

8 hours on any non-school day

No more than 18 hours per week

Maximum of 4 hours work per school day, outside of school hours

8 hours on any non-school day

No more than 48 hours per week

School Not In Session Maximum of 8 hours work per day

40 hours per week

Maximum of 8 hours work per day

40 hours per week

Maximum of 8 hours work per day

48 hours per week

In addition to setting maximum hours limits, California law also establishes strict rules regarding when during each day minors may work. For example, minors ages 12 to 15 can only work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day (except during summer months, when they can work until 9 p.m.). Minors ages 16 to 18 generally can only work from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m., except on days preceding non-school days, when they can work until 12:30 a.m.

5. Exceptions

As illustrated by Darren Baker, Macaulay Culkin and Dakota Fanning, there are special rules for minors employed in professional baseball and entertainment. These rules generally include the relaxation of mandatory age minimums and maximum hour and time of day restrictions, upon prior application by the minors’ parents.

Robert S. Nelson is the founder of the Nelson Law Group, a San Bruno, California based law firm specializing in labor and employment matters. He can be reached at 415-689-6590, or by email.

Free Consultation With a Bay Area Employment Lawyer

I offer a free case evaluation by telephone. Call 415-689-6590 (866-290-0424 toll free) or contact me, a San Francisco employment lawyer, online to talk about your case.