There are many benefits to hiring workers who are under the age of 18. They can bring a youthful energy to the job that only the young possess. Arthritis isn't even in their vocabulary yet, so they can hike up and down stairs multiple times a day, stand on their feet for hours at a register or bend down and reach up again and again to stock shelves without throwing out their backs. Most are happy to work for minimum wage. State and federal laws govern employing workers who aren't yet 18, though, and if you don't comply with those laws, your company can be fined. So, if your business hasn't hired youth before and you're asking questions like, "What's a work permit?" it will be worth familiarizing yourself with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and your state's child labor laws before hiring.

What's a Work Permit?

When workers are under the age of 18, federal and state laws require employers to adhere to various conditions, such as the number of hours they're allowed to work, depending on the youth's age. Most states require employers to have a work permit on file for all employees under 18. This permit shows that the youth's age has been verified and that the employer is aware of his age.

The federal government usually doesn't issue work permits. Most high schools will issue a student work permit if the state requires them. However, if the youth can't get one at his school or through the state and his employer requires one, the federal government will then issue him a work permit or age certificate.

To get a student work permit, a youth must show proof of age. Documents that are acceptable for verifying proof of age include an original or certified copy of her birth certificate, passport, driver's license or a state identification card. Some states will accept a parent's oath as their child's proof of age.

When Work Permits Aren't Required

Check your state. Not all states require student work permits. Arizona, South Carolina and a few other states don't require work permits or age certificates, but they may have another type of form. Some states like Florida don't require either form but do require employers to check a minor's age and keep some kind of record of proof on file, such as an age certificate obtained by the school district. States like Mississippi only require work permits for youth under 16 for jobs in canneries, mills and other kinds of factory work. The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division has an Employment/Wage Certificate chart that shows the requirements for all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Employed by parents. The FLSA's rules governing youth working hours don't apply when youth are employed by their parents or guardians. However, FLSA does state that when federal and state laws conflict, the more restrictive one will apply. So if a state doesn't exempt parental employment from their youth labor laws, you'd need to abide by those laws.

Specific jobs. Delivering newspapers and making evergreen wreaths at home are jobs that are exempt from following the FLSA provisions for hours worked and don't require work permits.

Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for youth employment is typically 14. Exceptions are when parents employ their children, jobs like delivering newspapers, entertainment jobs and agricultural work. Children can usually work on farms at age 12 or sometimes younger if their parent also works there or, of course, if the parents own the farm.

Jobs That Are Prohibited

To protect youth from being injured on the job, those under 18 aren't allowed to work in what's considered dangerous jobs. Examples of dangerous jobs are:

Mining and manufacturing. Youth aren't permitted to work in mining or other underground jobs, manufacturing, factories, plants and other environments where jobs require using power machines.

Using dangerous machinery. Youth may work in grocery stores but aren't allowed to use dangerous machinery like slicers or grinders. They could work in the deli doing other tasks like stocking meats and cheeses or making sub sandwiches, but they may not touch the machinery, even to dismantle or clean it. Some of the law's provisions are very specific. For example, they may load balers and compactors but may not operate or unload them. Even a 14 year old may be hired at fast food restaurants, but they can't operate slicers, pressure cookers, ovens or other machines where they could be injured. For example, they can pack fries if the fry baskets lower and raise into and out of the oil automatically but not if they must handle the baskets themselves.

Door-to-door sales. Selling door-to-door for profit is also prohibited for minors unless they're accompanying their parents. They may sell Girl Scout cookies, however, and other products sold by Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts because those are nonprofit organizations.

Driving for work. In most cases, youth under 18 may not drive on public roads for their job, such as making deliveries. Under some conditions, 17 year olds may drive on the job for limited amounts of time in cars and trucks that weigh less than 6,000 pounds. The law defines "limited amounts of time" as no more than one-third of the hours they work that day and no more than 20 percent of the time they work that week. They also may not drive on jobs where speedy deliveries are expected like delivering pizza. There are additional restrictions on 17 year olds, so check them out fully before hiring one for a job that includes driving.

Working Hours Vary by Age

The purpose of the FLSA is to protect children in their jobs. So, as they get older, the law eases the restrictions including the hours they can work. This means that older youth have more jobs available to them than younger youth. Are there jobs for 15 year olds and younger? Yes, but typically, they can't work as many hours as older youth.

The U.S. Department of Labor sets restrictions on the number of hours youth may work according to their age:

14 to 15 year olds. For these ages, the FLSA stipulates the number of hours and time of day they may work. For example, this age group may not work during the hours that public schools are in session even if they don't have a class at that time; no more than three hours per school day, including Fridays and not past 7 p.m. during the school year and 9 p.m. in the summer. There are some exceptions to these hours, such as for child actors or other entertainment jobs where they may work during school hours, but there are still limits on the number of hours per day they may work.

16 to 17 year olds. According to the FLSA, this group may work unlimited hours. However, the FLSA is a federal law, and many states have more restrictive rules. Some states don't allow 16 year olds to work during school hours.

18 year olds. At age 18, youth are considered to be "of age" and are no longer considered minors, so they're not subject to restrictions on hours they're permitted to work or the types of jobs they may have.