What are the wage and hour laws for teenage workers in California?

Understanding the state’s wage and hour laws for minors may help California teens protect themselves from being taken advantage of by their employers.

Whether they are seeking to learn responsibility, earn money for college or spending, help their families or for any other number of reasons, teens in California and elsewhere may get jobs while they are still in school. In fact, CNN reported there were approximately 4.7 million teenagers in the workforce, in July of 2015. There are strict regulations in place for these minor-aged workers to help ensure their employers do not attempt to take advantage of them. In order to help protect themselves, it is important for California teens to understand their rights and these restrictions.

Wage requirements

The state of California has specified a minimum wage that employers are required to pay. This minimum wage extends to minor-aged workers. As of January 1, 2017, employers with 25 workers or less must pay their employees at least $10.00 for each hour they work. Those employing 26 workers or more are required to pay a minimum wage of $10.50 per hour. Neglecting to pay teens these wages may be considered a wage and hour law violation.

There are, however, some exceptions. In some cases, federal law allows for student-learners and full-time students to be paid a reduced rate of $4.25 for the first 90 days of their employment. Further, state law provides for learner employees to be paid 85 percent of the state's minimum wage for their first 160 days on the job. Though, this is only the case for those who have no prior related or similar work experience.

Work hour limitations


Unlike adults who may decide for themselves how many hours they want to work each day, there are restrictions placed on the hours of work for teenagers. When school is in session, 16-year-old and 17-year-olds can work up to four hours per day on school days and eight hours on non-schooldays, for a total of not more than 48 hours each week. Provided they have completed at least the seventh grade, 14-year-old and 15-year-old workers may work up to three hours on school days and eight hours on non-schooldays, for a total of not more than 18 hours each week while school is in session. Those ages 12 and 13-years-old may not work when school is in session.

When school is out, minors aged 12-years-old to 15-years-old are permitted to work eight hours each day and 40 hours per week. Employees between the ages of 16-years-old and 17-years-old may put in eight hours per day, for a total of up to 48 hours each week.

Work permits


With few exceptions, workers under the age of 18-years-old must have permits to work. Upon being hired, minors must obtain and complete a statement of intent to employ minor and request for work permit form from the Department of Education or their schools. These forms must be signed by them, their parents or guardians, and their employers. Teens return the completed forms to their schools and then a permit to employ and work may be issued.

Seeking legal guidance

Although they may be gaining experience, California teens have the same rights as adults in the workforce. Therefore, if they are not compensated appropriately or their hours exceed the state's allowances, teenagers may take action to seek the wages they are due or other damages. Those who have experienced such situations may benefit from consulting with a lawyer. An attorney may help them understand their options, as well as guide them through the legal process.