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Ask the Helpline: Know the Rules When Employing Minors

Posted on April 1, 2024


We are a plant nursery and would like to hire high school students to work in our shop during the upcoming summer months.  Which laws apply to minors in the workplace?


Numerous state and federal laws govern employment of minors, and both the federal and state agencies are currently focused on strong enforcement of these laws.

For example, a number of Massachusetts businesses, often based in the food industry, have been cited and fined for child labor violations during the past several years. Those fines may reach hundreds of thousands of dollars or even surpass $1 million. The Massachusetts Attorney General reached a settlement in November 2023 of more than $1 million with a number of donut shop franchisees for child-labor violations.  The Attorney General has indicated that enforcement of child-labor laws is a priority for her office.

Seasonal employers and those who hire students as summer help are advised to familiarize themselves with the many legal restrictions on youth labor. Federal laws offer protection to minors in dangerous occupations, but Massachusetts law goes beyond federal law and includes restrictions on when and for how many hours minors may be employed, and requires a work permit for employees under the age of 18.

Federal child-labor laws are enforced by the U. S. Department of Labor. Massachusetts child- labor laws are enforced by the Fair Labor Division in the Attorney General’s office.  Federal law is found under the Fair Labor Standards Act (child-labor information here) and Massachusetts laws are found here. These websites include helpful information on managing workers subject to the child-labor laws.

There is also a useful chart available that merges both state and federal laws into one document, available here.

Defining a child

Confirming that a person is over or under 18 years is the one age-related question an employer may ask on an employment application. For any employer considering hiring children between the ages of 14 and 17, there are many restrictions. State and federal law set out explicit provisions regarding the hours children may work and the positions and duties they may hold. Massachusetts law categorizes children by ages, 14-15 and 16-17, and recognizes that children in the older group are capable of more complex/responsible workplace duties.

Age Requirements

With a few exceptions, minors must be at least 14 years of age to work. The exceptions include babysitting, news carriers, agriculture, and entertainment (with a special state issued permit).

Hour/Occupation Restrictions

The list below highlights the time and occupation restrictions for children by age grouping.


14-15-year-old minors may NOT be employed:

  • during school hours EXCEPT as provided in approved work experience and career exploration programs
  • between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. EXCEPT from July 1 through Labor Day, when they may work until 9 p.m.
  • more than three hours per day during school weeks and not more than eight hours per day during weeks when school is not in session
  • more than 18 hours per school week
  • more than 40 hours per week when school is not in session
  • more than six days per week

16-17-year-old minors may NOT be employed:

  • between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. with exceptions:
    • when an establishment stops serving customers at 10 p.m., the minor may work until 10:15 p.m.
    • on nights not preceding a regularly scheduled school day they may work until 11:30 p.m.
    • in restaurants and racetracks, they may work until 12 a.m. on nights not preceding a regularly scheduled school day.
  • more than nine hours per day
  • more than 48 hours in a week
  • more than six days per week


After 8 p.m., all minors must be:

  • directly supervised by an adult who is in the workplace and who is reasonably accessible, unless the minor works at a kiosk, cart, or stand in the common area of an enclosed shopping mall that has security from 8 p.m. until the mall is closed to the public.

Occupation restrictions

This link contains a list of the restrictions for minors between 14 and 17 years of age.

Applying for an Employment Permit

All minors under the age of 18 seeking work must complete an employment permit application and obtain the permit before starting a new job. Applications for permits are available at Department of Labor Standards website.

For minors who are residents of Massachusetts, work permits are issued by the superintendent of schools for the municipality in which the minor lives or attends school – either is acceptable.

For minors who reside outside the commonwealth, the permit is issued by the superintendent for the municipality where the minor’s job will be located.

No permit can be granted unless there is a specific employer, work address, and job description included in the permit application.

Employer’s Responsibility

The employer must keep the original permit on file at the place of employment for as long as the minor is employed at that location, or until the minor reaches 18 years of age.

If the minor’s employment is terminated, voluntarily or otherwise, the employer must return the permit to the superintendent’s office within two days of the termination.

Permits are valid for as long as the minor holds the job or until he/she reaches the age of 18. After that, the minor no longer needs documentation, and the permit and copies may be destroyed.

Although you may choose to hire only high-school graduates, remember that some of them may still be under 18 and therefore subject to the child-labor laws. The law states clearly that minors who are no longer students are covered by the child labor laws in the same way that students are covered until the age of 18.

Transferring Permits

Employers should be aware that a minors work permit may not be transferred from one job to another job.  The process must begin again, even if it is the same employer but the work location has changed. An employer who wishes to employ a minor at more than one location must keep a permit on file at each business location. However, a minor does not have to apply for a new employment permit at the beginning of the school year if they continue working at the same job.

Final thoughts

An employer looking to hire a teenager subject to the child-labor laws should become familiar with the restrictions on working hours and types of jobs. You should also allow enough time to obtain the proper documentation and be sure that you require and retain the proper documents. Familiarize supervisors and managers with the unique responsibilities associated with managing employees covered by the child-labor laws.

The child-labor laws are enforced by the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division and there are significant fines for violations.  The fines generally run from $250 for a first violation up to $2,500 for a third and subsequent violation with each violation being treated as a separate infraction and subject to a separate fine. Details on the penalties provided by statute are available here.

AIM members with questions about this or other human resources topics may contact the AIM Hotline at 1-800-470-6277.