As spring signals the end of the school year, employers receive many inquiries from students seeking to join the summer workforce. My family belongs to a community pool which operates in the summer. The recreational association is run by volunteers and employs mostly teenagers. Several years ago, the association was audited by the state DOL which found several infractions to the labor code regarding the employment of minors.

As employers and parents of teenagers eager to make a buck, we need to understand the additional restrictions that come with youth employment in internships and when minors are involved. If you are thinking of taking on teenagers and young adults to shore up your workforce this summer, consider the following:

Making Internship Work

Organizations that offer internship do not always pay them. However, this can be a risky proposition. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the legal standard to meet for unpaid internship is high. If the internship does not meet the test, the “intern” is deemed a misclassified employee. As employees, “interns” are entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay.

The DOL has a six-part test that must be met to establish a legitimate unpaid internship program. You have to jump through all six hoops to qualify your internship program as unpaid:

  1. The internship is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment. Does that mean you need to replicate a classroom setting with instructors on hand?
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern. Unless you are a business with a social mission that might be a tough one to sell to your operations managers!
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff. Interns can’t fill in for an employee out sick or on summer leave.
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasion, its operations may actually be impeded. “Operations impeded? Who wants that?”
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship. That’s probably a good thing for employers, just in case the intern does not turn out as wonderful as you initially thought.
  6. The employer and intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship program. Although this is the easy one to pass, the trouble is you need the other five.

You get my point. This is a tough standard to meet.

My recommendation is to pay your interns and consider then as non-exempt temporary employees without benefits.

If your young workers are minors, additional restrictions apply.

Federal law restricts the type of employment minors may perform and the equipment they may use. The regulations regarding the employment of minors are pretty detailed and have two categories: one set of restriction applicable to 16 and 17 years old; and more restrictions specific to 14 and 15 years old. Most states have also enacted their own child labor laws.

The FLSA imposes hours requirement for minors aged 14 or 15 years old. However, states laws set additional restrictions regarding work hours for minors. The FLSA does not limit how many days per week minors can work but some states do. To make matters even more interesting, different hour restrictions apply to work performed on school days or days preceding school days. Relaxed hours standard during summer may not apply to minor employees enrolled in summer school. So beware of summer school!

Young employees do not command significant compensation. In certain instance, they may also legally be paid a subminimum wage. Under the FLSA, employees under age 20 may be paid $4.25 per hour during the first 90 consecutive days of employment. Again, some states have enacted higher minimum youth wages. Check the applicable rate in your locality.

Before taking on interns and teenage workers, check the rules applicable to your state. Don’t rely on what other employers in your locality do. They may not know the finer detailed of the law. If in doubt, seek advice.