In the United States, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour — the same rate it has been since 2009.
In February, a post went viral on Twitter that showed a photo of what appeared to be a young teenager working at a fast-food restaurant somewhere in the U.S. It also showed another photo of a sign asking parents to see if their 14 or 15-year-old child wanted to apply for a job at a Burger King in Ohio.
The tweet, which has garnered over 6 million views since it was first posted on Feb. 5, ignited a discussion on whether 14-year-old workers can legally be paid less than the federal minimum wage.
Can 14-year-old workers be paid less than the federal minimum wage?
Yes, 14-year-old workers — and anyone under the age of 20 — can be paid less than the federal minimum wage during the first consecutive 90 calendar days of employment. After that, they have to be paid at least minimum wage.
WHAT WE FOUND
In the U.S., workers between the age of 14 and 19 can be paid less than the federal minimum wage for a limited time period. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are allowed to pay teen workers a minimum wage of $4.25 an hour during their first 90 days of employment unless prohibited by state or local law. After that, they must be paid at least the federal minimum wage.
The Fair Labor Standards Act is federal legislation that establishes the general minimum wage that must be paid to all covered workers. The law sets 14 years old as the minimum age for most non-agricultural employment in the U.S. It also limits the number of hours teens under the age of 16 can work. Different age requirements apply to the employment of youth in agriculture.
The law states that employers must pay a youth minimum wage of no less than $4.25 an hour to employees who are under 20 years of age during the first 90 consecutive calendar days after initial employment. The 90-day period starts on the first day of work for an employer and continues to run even if the employee comes off the payroll during that time.
“It does not matter when the job offer was made or accepted (or when the employee was considered ‘hired’). The 90-day period starts with (and includes) the first day of work for the employer,” the U.S. Department of Labor explains on its website. “The 90-day period is counted as consecutive days on the calendar, not days of work. It does not matter how many days during this period the youth actually performs any work.”
Once the 90-day period ends, employers are required to pay workers under the age of 20 at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. In states where the minimum wage is different from the federal minimum wage, workers are entitled to the higher wage.
According to the Department of Labor, the federal youth employment requirements limit the times of day and the number of hours 14 and 15-year-olds can work. For instance, teens in this age group are only allowed to work outside of school hours. They cannot work:
- More than 3 hours on a school day, including Friday;
- More than 18 hours per week when school is in session;
- More than 8 hours per day when school is not in session;
- More than 40 hours per week when school is not in session; and
- Before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. on any day, except from June 1 through Labor Day, when nighttime work hours are extended to 9:00 p.m.
The Department of Labor says youth at any age can babysit on a casual basis, deliver newspapers, work as an actor or performer in movies, TV, radio, or theater, or work in businesses owned by their parents.
Teens aged 14 and 15 can work in a variety of non-manufacturing and non-hazardous jobs, including retail, entertainment and some food service roles. Meanwhile, 16 and 17-year-olds can do any job that has not been declared hazardous. Teens over the age of 18 can work at any job at any time.