School holidays are just around the corner, and many
Massachusetts businesses (particularly in the food service and
retail industries) are preparing to hire teenagers for the summer.
Historically regarded as vulnerable members of the labor market,
they are protected by comprehensive federal and state child labor
laws that regulate the terms and conditions of their work.
Similar to violations under the Wage Act, employers who violate
Massachusetts' child labor laws (codified under M.G.L. c. 149,
Sections 56 through 105) are held to a strict liability standard.
That means that even if the employer acted in good faith or the
minor employee suffered no economic loss or any other discernible
injury, an employer that violates a child labor law will incur a
civil fine (or even a criminal penalty). The best way to prevent
such penalties is to fully understand and comply with child labor
laws. Below are 10 topics that employers should be familiar with
throughout the hiring and employment process of minors.
When is a minor considered an employee?
In Massachusetts, there is a well-established presumption that
anyone who performs services for another, regardless of
compensation, is an employee (as opposed to an independent
contractor). This presumption extends to minors, who are afforded
even greater rights and protections than adult employees with
respect to health and safety standards and hourly restrictions.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which is the federal
law establishing child labor standards, children under the age of
14 may not work. There are, however, a few exceptions to
this rule that are applicable to Massachusetts employers,
- Babysitting or performing minor chores around a private home
- Delivering newspapers (must be at least 9 years old);
- Engaging in certain street trades, such as selling magazines,
shining shoes, or selling certain merchandise in public spaces
(must be at least 12 years old); and
- Working in the entertainment industry. Employers must apply for
a special waiver from the Massachusetts Attorney General, along
with a $100 fee, to employ minors who are younger than 16.
How are child labor laws enforced?
Broadly speaking, both federal (FLSA) and state child labor laws
apply to employers. However, when these laws conflict, the law that
is more protective of minors' rights will be enforced. In most
cases, Massachusetts labor laws are stricter than their federal
counterparts (the overtime rule for restaurant workers is a notable
exception, discussed in question 5).
The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
enforces federal child labor laws. Employees may file a complaint
by calling the WHD's hotline, sending an email or visiting a local
In Massachusetts, the Attorney General's Division of Fair Labor
and Business Practices (aka, the Fair Labor Division) enforces
state child labor laws. The Fair Labor Division has simplified the
complaint process for child labor law violations, allowing anyone
to report potential violations of child labor laws using an online
form. Even an anonymous complaint may launch an investigation by
the Fair Labor Division into a business's employment conditions and
payment practices. Inspectors are authorized to visit and inspect
businesses that employ minors to determine whether violations
Are certain types of work prohibited for
Yes. For a comprehensive summary of prohibited work activities,
please consult the following guide from the Massachusetts
Department of Public Health.
As a rule of thumb, minors may never use or be near hazardous
machinery, nor may they perform work that is potentially dangerous,
such as demolition, construction and some manufacturing activities.
In the restaurant and hospitality industry, it is important to
remember that minors may not:
- Serve, handle or sell alcoholic beverages;
- Operate motor vehicles (with the exception of golf carts in
certain circumstances); and
- If under 16, cook or work near open flames, work with
power-driven food slicing equipment, bake, or work in freezers or
What are the restrictions to minors' working
The working hour restrictions vary depending on the employee's
16- and 17-year-olds may:
- Not work before 6 a.m. or after 10 p.m. on school nights (10:15
p.m. if establishment stops serving customers at 10 p.m.).
- Work until midnight on non-school nights.
- Not work more than nine hours per day, six days per week or 48
hours per week.
14- and 15-year-olds may:
- Not work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. during the school
- Work until 9 p.m. from July 1 through Labor Day.
- Not work more than three hours per day or more than 18 hours
per week during school weeks.
- Not work more than eight hours per day, six days per week, or
40 hours per week, when school is not in session.
Regardless of whether it is a school night, an adult must
supervise all minors after 8 p.m. There is a narrow exception for
minors who work at a kiosk, cart or a stand in the common area of
an enclosed shopping mall that has security after 8 p.m.
Certain exceptions apply in different industries. For example,
minors employed on farms, hospital volunteers, and seasonal
employees in manufacturing, hotels, and mercantile establishments
may be exempt from the hourly restrictions listed above.
Do minimum wage, overtime and unemployment benefits
requirements apply to minors?
Although most businesses must compensate minor workers as
employees in accordance with federal and state wage laws, there are
three narrow exceptions that allow employers to classify a minor
worker as an "intern." Workers may be considered interns if they
are providing services to fulfill an educational or training
program requirement; for a charity; or for a public-sector
Regular employers that do not fall within one of the three
exceptions must comply with all federal and state laws pertaining
to minimum wage and unemployment insurance benefits. (In
Massachusetts, the minimum wage is $11/hour as of Jan. 1, 2017.
However, wait staff and service employees may be paid the service
rate of $3.75/hour if their average hourly tips, when combined with
the service rate, are at least equal to the minimum wage.
Both state and federal laws require employees to be paid the
overtime rate of 1.5 times their hourly pay for hours worked beyond
40 hours in a week, unless an exemption applies. Please note that
while restaurant workers are exempt from overtime pay under
Massachusetts law, they are not exempt under the FLSA. Accordingly,
restaurants must pay minors overtime wages if they work more than
40 hours per week. (Keep in mind that only 16- and 17-year-olds are
permitted to work more than 40 hours per week, and only up to 48
Do minor employees require work permits?
Yes. All minors under the age of 18 must complete an employment
permit application and obtain a permit before starting a new
Are there any posting requirements?
Employees should ensure compliance with the following posting
requirements: employers must post each minor's weekly schedule in a
conspicuous location within the minor's work area; the schedule
must show the start and stop times for each day of work, total
hours worked per day, exact times of meal breaks, and total number
of assigned work hours for the week; the schedule may not be
changed once the workweek has begun; and employers cannot require
minors to work during their scheduled time off.
Are minors eligible for worker's
The Workers' Compensation Act applies to minors who are injured
on the job as it does to adults. However, minors are entitled to
double compensation if the employer has violated the child labor
What penalties might employers face for unlawfully
The Fair Labor Division may issue a written warning or a civil
citation to enforce child labor laws as an alternative to
initiating criminal proceedings. Technically, under M.G.L. c. 149,
§ 78A, the Massachusetts Attorney General also has the authority to
initiate criminal proceedings against an employer that induces or
permits a minor to work in violation of child labor laws. However,
nothing in the attorney general's publications suggests that it has
pursued criminal sanctions against such employers in the past. The
U.S. Department of Labor can also issue monetary penalties under
The Fair Labor Division recently launched an online database
that tracks violations of wage and hour laws, as well as any
corresponding fines issued to employers. Between January 2015 and
March 2017, of the 596 businesses found in violation of wage and
hour laws, 67 received civil citations for violating child labor
laws. That's approximately 11 percent of all businesses that were
fined in Massachusetts. The fines varied greatly, from $50 to
$30,000, and included both restitution payments and civil
Many businesses were fined for multiple instances of violations
of various wage and hour laws. That's an important reason for
employers to stay informed of all changes in the labor law
landscape - because once the Fair Labor Division launches an
investigation into one complaint, it may result in a hefty
enforcement action for entirely unrelated violations of wage and
hour laws. Interestingly, the Fair Labor Division distinguishes
between violations committed with and without specific intent,
which presumably affects the ultimate penalty amount.
Below is a list of the highest fines issued for violations of
child labor laws from Jan. 1, 2015, through March 28, 2017. Please
note that these numbers do not reflect any legal fees that the
businesses may have expended during the Fair Labor Division's
investigation and settlement process. All five businesses listed
below were fined for violating Chapter 149, § 66 (employing a minor
outside of permissible work hours), § 67 (allowing a minor to work
more than the maximum daily or weekly hours), and/or § 86
(employing a minor without a valid work permit):
- Donovan Services Inc: In August 2016, this restaurant paid a
penalty of $27,500 for violating §§ 66, 67 and 86.
- Montilio's Bakery: In October 2016, this establishment paid a
fine of $14,340 for violating § 86. This business simultaneously
paid a fine of $2,760 for non-payment of wages, which is a
violation of the Weekly Wage Law.
- Mass Burgers Sutton, LLC d/b/a/ Five Guys Burgers and Fries: In
November 2016, this establishment incurred a $25,000 civil penalty
for violating §§ 66, 67 and 86.
- Charter Food North, LLC d/b/a Taco Bell: In November 2016, this
restaurant franchisee paid a $30,000 civil penalty for violating §§
66, 67 and 86.
- Boston Total Sugar: In February 2017, this Dedham-based retail
business paid $20,000 after it was found in violation of §§ 66, 67
and 86. Likewise, in the same enforcement action, this business
incurred a $32,000 fine for failure to furnish records for
inspection, violation of earned sick time law, failure to pay
overtime wages, and non-payment of wages.
What are some best practices for complying with child
It is always prudent to speak with an experienced employment
attorney about specific compliance ideas. As to general
recommendations, the U.S. Department of Labor has published the
following compliance ideas for avoiding workplace injuries and
complying with time and hour restrictions:
- Different colored vests issued to employees under the age of 18
so that supervisors know who is not allowed to operate certain
- Placing special "warning stickers" on equipment that young
workers may not legally operate or clean.
- Implement a computerized tracking system to ensure that workers
under 16 are not scheduled for too many hours during school
- Issue teens a laminated, pocket-sized "Minor Policy Card" on
the first day of work. The card explains the firm's policy and
requirements for complying with the youth employment rules,
including work hour restrictions.