Some employers need additional employees to work during the summer, and teenagers on break from school can be a good fit for those needs. For example, employers often hire teenagers for the summer as lifeguards and camp counselors. Employers should begin planning now for their summer employment needs. Allow enough time for collecting applications, conducting interviews, screening candidates, and onboarding and training new hires so they are prepared when the season begins.
Various issues arise when employers hire workers for a limited amount of time (“seasonal employees”) and workers under the age of 18 (“minors”).
In many ways, all at-will employees are employed for a potentially limited time. Seasonal employees, though, generally have a defined employment period when they are hired. Providing written job offers to seasonal employees explaining the expected duration of their employment can prevent any confusion about their work status. These offers should clearly state that employment is “at-will,” and may end earlier than the expected end date if the employer or employee so chooses.
Most employment laws apply equally to regular and seasonal employees. For example, California law presumes workers are “employees,” not “independent contractors,” unless certain criteria are met. California law also requires employers to cover employees under their workers’ compensation insurance. The limited expected duration of employment does not create exemptions to these rules.
Similarly, seasonal employees are entitled to the same wage-hour protections as regular employees. That includes the payment of at least the applicable minimum wage for all hours worked, and entitlement to overtime, rest breaks, and meal periods. Employers with operations in cities with predictive scheduling and opportunity-to-work ordinances (such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose) should also be aware that such ordinances likely apply to seasonal employees.
Seasonal employees also may be entitled to certain workplace benefits. Most seasonal employees are entitled to paid sick leave under California’s Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act. Although an employee is not eligible to use this time off until they have worked for the employer for 30 days, employers who provide paid sick leave on an accrual basis must begin the accruals on the employee’s first day of work. Also, seasonal employees working for employers who qualify as a “large employer” under the Affordable Care Act may be entitled to health care benefits.
Employers should provide proper onboarding and training for seasonal employees. Employers must obtain and/or provide all applicable new hire documents (e.g., Form I-9, W-4, Labor Code section 2810.5 notice) for new seasonal employees, and facilitate legally required training. For example, California law requires employers to provide harassment prevention training to all new employees within their first 30 days of work. Additionally, certain employees who will be working with minors (e.g., summer camp administrators) are “mandated reporters,” required by law to report suspected child abuse to the appropriate law enforcement agency. California law encourages, and in some cases requires, employers to provide training on the duties of mandated reporters, including identifying child abuse and neglect.
Employers also should be aware that adding seasonal workers to their rosters might trigger additional legal obligations that apply to businesses based on employee headcount.
California law requires employers to obtain a valid “Permit to Employ and Work” issued by the minor’s school before the minor can perform any work, unless they are a high school graduate or equivalent. Minors between the ages of 14 and 17 must have completed seventh grade to work while school is in session.
Federal and state laws provide additional protections for employees under the age of 18. These laws restrict the type of work minors may perform, the equipment they may use, and the number of hours and time of day they may work. These restrictions vary depending on the time of year and the age of the employee. Some exceptions to these rules apply for minors employed in the entertainment industry or by a parent or guardian.
Minors may not be employed in certain “hazardous” or “dangerous” occupations, including mining, forest fire fighting, roofing, and trenching. They also cannot operate many types of power-driven equipment, including woodworking machines (e.g., chainsaws, wood chippers), hoisting apparatus (e.g., forklifts, cranes), metalworking machines (e.g., punching and shearing machines), meat-processing machines, bakery machines, balers, and compactors.
When school is in session, 16- and 17-year-olds may work up to four hours per day on school days, and up to eight hours per day on non-school days, but no more than 48 hours per week. When school is not in session, 16- and 17-year-olds may work up to eight hours per day and 48 hours per week. They may work between 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., except they may work until 12:30 a.m. on any evening preceding a non-school-day.
When school is in session, 14- and 15-year-olds may work up to three hours per day on school days, and up to eight hours per day on non-school days, but no more than 18 hours per week. When school is not in session, 14- and 15-year-olds may work up to eight hours per day and 40 hours per week. They may work between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., except they may work until 9:00 p.m. between June 1 and Labor Day.
Minors aged 12 and 13 may not be permitted to work on school days. When school is not in session, they may work up to eight hours per day and 40 hours per week. They may work between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., except they may work until 9:00 p.m. between June 1 and Labor Day.
Minors are entitled to minimum wage, overtime, rest breaks, and meal periods in the same manner as older employees.
Teens benefit from work experiences, and employers should welcome them to the workplace. To avoid liability, though, employers must ensure they follow all applicable rules and regulations.