Many of us remember our first job. Whether it was working at the local movie theater or trekking through the woods as a camp counselor, we appreciated the chance to get out in the working world and earn our own money.
Today’s teenagers also seek employment during summer and winter breaks, and some even work during the school year. Teen employment can be a good thing for all involved.Yet it also presents challenges, mostly relating to maturity, development, scheduling, and money. In Virginia, as in most states, both teenagers and their employers must comply with laws addressing children in the workforce. These laws vary depending on the age of the worker and the nature of the business. Not heeding these laws can result in significant legal consequences for the employer, and there can also be practical consequences for teens and their families. This list should be helpful for teens, parents, and employers.
FOR THE TEEN
Do think about the pros and cons before applying.
Having a job is a rite of passage for many teenagers. It can lead to increased independence, maturity, professional or social skill, and of course, income. Tori Sherman, who works in a retail store, says, “Working with people [my] own age and older is an amazing learning experience.” But a job’s work schedule can present conflicts with the teen’s other activities. Most kids participate in various clubs, sports, and interest groups.Before considering employment, teenagers and their parents should give serious thought to the practical implications of the job as well as the specific job requirements, and how they may impact the teen’s life, goals, and schedule.
Do investigate and apply early.
For a summer position, teens should start their job search now. They should consider the industry, the work environment, the skills required, the pay, and the opportunities presented. While landing a job at a frozen yogurt shop may be straight forward, other jobs may take longer. And remember one of the most important parts of the process is for teens to do the groundwork, because ultimately, it is their job experience, not a parent’s.
Don’t assume you can get any job you want.
Getting a job is not as simple as filling out an application. Under the law, 14- and 15-year-olds must obtain an employment certificate for most jobs (with some exceptions, such as employment by a parent). There are also limitations on types of jobs and numbers of hours a teenager may work. For example, a 15-year-old may lifeguard, but only at a pool (not a beach) and only until seven o’clock at night (nine in the summertime). Teenagers must obtain employment certificates from their high school; home-schooled teens may get these same certificates from their registered public high school. The restrictions on teen employment lessen a bit after age 16, but some remain in place. For example, no one under 18 may work as wait-staff in a restaurant where mixed drinks are served.
FOR THE PARENT
Do consider the impact a teen’s job may have on the family.
Parents of teenagers may be thrilled that their child wants a job and the money that comes with it. Carla and Rich Reissner, parents of two teenage sons, say, “Having a job teaches them how hard it can be to earn a dollar. They will appreciate what a paycheck means.” Decide in advance how much money you expect your teen to set aside for savings, personal expenses (such as phone usage) or other costs, and discuss that expectation with your child. Parents should also consider how their child’s job may affect the family’s schedule, such as weekend activities or vacations. For instance, it is likely a teenager employed in retail will work on holidays like Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and during the Christmas season. Also consider the impact of the job on the family’s daily schedule. The classic teenage job of delivering newspapers may sound great to your 13-year-old (children ages 12 to 16 may deliver papers outside of school hours), but Mom or Dad may also end up awake at four in the morning.
Do educate yourself about teen employment.
Virginia law requires that parents play an active role in aspects of the teenage employment relationship. For example, parents must give their permission to obtain the employment certificate, and they must sign all necessary forms required for their minor child (such as an I-9 or W-4) in front of the employer. Parents must also provide their child with a birth certificate or other official documentation showing proof of age.
Do communicate regularly with your child about the new job.
Today’s workplace environment can be stressful and complex, especially for first-time employees. As a result, parents should stay attuned to their child’s work life by asking questions about the environment, the people, and the work itself.Some negative work situations can have serious consequences. Sexual harassment, workplace safety, and other detrimental workplace issues can all be avoided, or at least minimized, if they are identified early. Sometimes basic communication can alleviate these problems altogether.
Don’t take over responsibilities your child should assume.
It may be tempting to fill out an application or communicate with potential employers for your teen. Don’t! Ultimately, teens learn much more doing the research and landing the job on their own. This process may involve a few dropped balls and a few outright rejections, but learning to overcome these minor bumps in the road will ultimately help your teen.
Many parents feel that having a job also encourages a child’s growth and maturity. But the job may not work out if the teen lacks the maturity to fulfill the responsibilities of the position. Employers expect all workers to perform their jobs successfully, and employer policies apply to teens just the same as they apply to other employees.Let the first employment be a true learning experience in developing skills in time management, appropriate interactions with others, following directions, and other important life lessons.
FOR EMPLOYERS OF THE TEEN WORKER
Do consider the benefits and possible risks of hiring teens.
Employers hire teenage workers because they can be motivated, willing, flexible, and inexpensive. Angie Hutchison, who manages a snack bar, believes “teens are quick to learn and usually eager to earn money and work.” Tiffany Sherman, a quilting store owner, hires teens because she is “able to mold the work ethics of a young person.”
Most teens are proficient in technology, so employers may see benefits from those skills through virtually any computer-based system in the workplace. Teens are generally quick to learn software specific to the business and, when properly supervised, can often help with the employer’s marketing and public relations efforts through the Internet and social media. That said, employers can be liable for the illegal or inappropriate electronic communications of their employees. It is especially important that employers of teens institute and enforce a clear electronic communications policy and explain that policy to their entire workforce.
Do know the laws applicable to teen employment.
For example, the employment certificate for 14- and 15-year-old workers includes a section in which employers list the type of labor, number of hours, time of breaks, and days the teenager will be working. If any of these stipulations change, the employer must modify the certificate. Also, employers must keep employment records and maintain them for three years. Employers must comply with specific industry regulations as well. For example, teens under 16 may not work on a construction site or in a workplace where hazardous conditions exist (such as poisonous chemicals). All these rules have severe consequences for employers, and could result in thousands of dollars in financial penalties. Employers who hire teenage workers might want to consult an employment lawyer to ensure proper compliance with the laws applicable to their workplace, their workforce, and their industry.
The benefits of teenage employment are many and can be a win-win situation for the teen, his or her parents, and the employer.A paid job teaches the teenage worker accountability and provides walking-around money. Most parents are pleased their child is holding down a job and learning real-world responsibility. And employers get a willing, energetic, and modestly-paid employee. But there are also pitfalls, many of which can be avoided with proper supervision and communication. Visit the website of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry or consult an employment attorney with any questions.
Douglas R. Burtch is a lawyer and the managing attorney for Macaulay & Burtch, P. C. in Richmond. He focuses his practice on employment law issues. Burtch is also the father of three children, none of whom is old enough to work – yet.