For young people, working can be the first step toward greater responsibility and financial freedom. However, the workplace also presents potential hazards and dangers. Massachusetts protects minors on the job with laws and regulations, requiring a work permit, and setting safety standards.
Child Labor Laws
With the exception of temporary waivers for children working in entertainment, most young people under 17 in Massachusetts must abide by strict child labor laws governing age requirements, restricted or prohibited job duties, and how many hours they may work. Children must be at least 14 to work in most industries, with some exceptions. (For example, children of any age may work on their parents’ farm.)
Restrictions on the number of hours minors may work primarily ensure that the school day is not interrupted; that children 14 to 15 years old do not work more than six days or 40 hours a week when school isn’t in session; and that 16 to 17 year olds do not work more than 48 hours when school isn’t in session.
Certain jobs are classified as hazardous, and are either illegal for minors to perform or require adult supervision or other regulation. Children younger than 16 years old cannot work in freezers or meat coolers, or on ladders or scaffolds, for example. Minors under age 18 may not use a band saw, sell alcoholic beverages, or operate a meat slicer.
Youth Work Permits
Massachusetts residents under age 18 must apply for and obtain a youth work permit before starting a new job. Permits are issued either by the superintendent of schools for the municipality in which the minor lives or attends school.
For minors that live outside the Commonwealth, the permit must be issued for the municipality where the minor’s job is located. The minor must provide the school with the name of their employer, work address, and job description in order to receive a permit.
Work permits cannot be transferred from job to job. Even if the employer doesn’t change but the work site does, a new permit is needed. However, a minor doesn’t have to apply for a new permit at the beginning of each school year if they maintain the same job.
Employers must keep a minor’s work permit on file until the child turns 18. All minors are covered equally by child labor laws, whether or not they are enrolled in school. An employer that wants to have a minor work at multiple locations must keep a permit on file for each worksite.
When a minor’s employment is terminated, the employer is responsible for returning his or her permit to the superintendent’s office within two days of termination.
Child Labor Complaints
Child labor laws are taken seriously in Massachusetts, and the Commonwealth works diligently to ensure minors work in safe and law-abiding environments. To file a child labor complaint or report a violation, fill out a and return it to the Massachusetts Attorney General. Complaints can be filed anonymously.
Once a complaint has been filed, the Fair Labor Division will contact the employer before any action is taken. The Attorney General decides what, if any, action to take, including issuing a citation, seeking criminal charges, or issuing a written warning to the employer regarding child labor laws.
Protecting Minors on the Job
More than 200,000 teenagers are injured every year on the job in the United States, and nearly 70 die from work-related injuries. Nine hundred teenagers visit Massachusetts emergency rooms annually for work-related problems, and one young worker is killed each year.
In order to protect themselves, young people must familiarize themselves with workplace laws, rights, and responsibilities. The Attorney General’s Guide for Working Teens covers these topics in details, in addition to information on work permits, workers’ compensation, and more.