Young (Hired) Guns

Teen workers: They're fast, strong and practically begging to get out of the house for a few hours.
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4 min read

This story appears in the July 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

With today's tight labor market, you're not alone in considering hiring teens as employees. But before you post a "help wanted" sign at the local high school, make sure you understand everything you need to know about tapping into the rich resource of kids ages 14 to 17.

In other words, read up on the Fair Labor Standards Act. This policy establishes provisions specifically designed to protect the educational opportunities of kids, as well as prohibit their employment in jobs with conditions detrimental to their health and well-being. The minimum age for most work is 16; however, 14- and 15-year-olds may be employed outside of school hours in certain occupations under specific conditions.

Here are the basic age-related guidelines covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act:

  • Eighteen-year-olds may perform any job for unlimited hours.
  • Teens ages 16 and 17 may perform any job not declared hazardous by the Department of Labor (DOL) for unlimited hours. Hazardous jobs include such tasks as operating a meat slicer, driving, and working on roofs or machine-shop floors.
  • Kids 14 and 15 years of age may work outside school hours in various nonmanufacturing, nonmining and nonhazardous jobs under the following conditions: no more than three hours on a school day, 18 hours in a school week, 8 hours on a nonschool day or 40 hours in a nonschool week. In addition, they may not begin work before 7:00 a.m. nor work later than 7:00 p.m., except from June 1 through Labor Day, when evening work hours are extended to 9:00 p.m.

The DOL requires employers to keep the records on the dates of birth of employees under age 19, their daily starting and quitting times, their daily and weekly hours worked and their occupations. Keep in mind that, in addition to the federal statutes, most states also have child-labor laws. Check with your state's labor department to see which state regulations apply to your business. When both federal and state laws apply, the higher standard must be observed.

Beyond the legal requirements, it's best to take a slightly different approach to managing teens. Thomas Kennedy, president of Human Resource Consultants Inc. in Chicago, says that the first experience with serious discipline and responsibility for many young people comes with their first job. "You're developing their character and work ethics," Kennedy says. "Be a mentor, not just an employer. You have the opportunity to help them get off to a great start and be prepared for their next job." He offers these tips:

  • Make the orientation process more detailed than you typically would with an adult. Go over rules, policies and procedures in great detail; don't assume a teenager knows things that may be second nature to you. In particular, explain the dress code and stress the need for promptness and reliable attendance.
  • Help teenagers develop a strong work ethic and personal integrity. Even in the best companies, young workers will be exposed to employees who aren't as productive as you'd like. Kennedy's advice: Set a positive example and use coaching techniques to counteract any negative influences.
  • Review performance on a quarterly basis. Your company policy probably calls for annual reviews, but a year is an eternity to a teenager. Performance reviews don't have to be tied to wage increases, but they give you the opportunity to encourage positive performance and correct problems before they become serious.
  • Remember that they're teenagers. Says Kennedy, "Understand that [these] kids are going to school, and they need to study and participate in school activities. Encourage their education, and schedule their work around school functions and study time."
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Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 13 years ago and has been writing about business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since..

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