In Episode 120 of The Workplace podcast, CalChamber Executive Vice President and General Counsel Erika Frank and employment law expert Jennifer Shaw discuss best practices for employing minors in California.
Summer is right around the corner and while it’s traditionally the time that minors look for summer jobs, things have been a bit different this year, Frank tells podcast listeners. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to hybrid learning models and minors have used the flexibility offered by virtual classes to take on jobs during the regular school season.
So, what should employers know about hiring minors?
Clarifying what a “minor” is, Shaw explains that a “minor” is someone who has not yet graduated from high school. Emancipated minors and those who have obtained a General Educational Development (GED) diploma are not considered minors.
The California Labor Commissioner has a publication that goes through all the different parameters and contains other key information.
Right now, not only are there more minors wanting to work, there also are more employers willing to hire them, Shaw says. But there are many requirements about when a minor can be doing something and when they can’t, and it can be overwhelming for employers. Not only must employers navigate work permits and school requirements, but there also are safety requirements that must be followed. For example, minors cannot operate a toaster oven, baler, compactor or hot grill.
Moreover, even if a company owner hires a minor they know and don’t think the minor will sue, the Labor Commissioner can still drop in on the business and do an audit, Shaw cautions. So, if an employer wishes to bring a minor into the workplace, they need to plan and strategize over these issues.
Shaw points out that if one visits establishments like Starbucks, one will see that the younger workers don’t operate the ovens.
The number of hours a minor can work will be determined by the work permit and the available hours will vary depending on whether the workday falls on a school day or non-school day, Shaw explains. A student’s grades will also be a factor, as the permit is granted at the school’s discretion.
As with other employees, minors must be paid at least the minimum wage, and given rest breaks and meal periods. Although federal labor law allows states to pay a lower hourly wage for “learners,” in California, minors cannot be paid less than the minimum wage, Shaw explains.
To recap, when hiring minors, employers must adhere by an additional set of requirements.
“You’ve got to follow all the regular rules, and then you’ve got to take on these additional responsibilities,” Shaw tells podcast listeners.
Minors Are Great Workers
But the added requirements should not discourage employers from hiring minors, Shaw stresses. Minors are a great group of workers who can be responsible, committed and “with it,” she comments.
Frank agrees, saying that oftentimes minors will take on jobs that many adults are unwilling to do. Maybe these adults did these jobs as minors themselves and are now ready to move on.
When it comes to hiring a minor for miscellaneous household jobs like walking the dog, babysitting, or hiring a neighbor’s kid to mow the lawn, a work permit is not required, Frank says.
Although there are some wage exceptions for babysitters, these minors should technically still be paid the minimum wage rate. Because these transactions often are “under the table,” enforcing the minimum wage law can be tricky. Nevertheless, the minimum wage law still applies, Shaw says.