Generally, California’s legal working age is 14. However, minors aged 14 through 17 face significant restrictions on when and where they can work, as well as how many hours they can work in a week. Most need their parents’ permission to work. Many minors will still have to attend school. The rules for minors in entertainment jobs may be different.
What is California’s legal working age?
In California, minors generally have to be at least 14 years old to work. They also usually have to get a Permit to Employ and Work. However, there are exceptions to both of these requirements. For example, minors under 12 can
- have paper routes,
- babysit, or
- mow lawns
without a Permit.
There are also special rules for jobs in the entertainment industry, where the minimum age to work can be as low as 15 days old.
Do minors need a work permit to have a job?
Generally, minors who have not graduated high school must have a Permit to Employ and Work.1 They can request one from their school. The form is from the California Department of Education. It is titled “Statement of Intent to Employ Minor and Request for Work Permit.” It generally has to be signed by a parent or legal guardian. The permit is issued to the minor by school officials in the local school district. The permit states:
- where the minor can work,
- what role the minor can work in,
- the maximum number of hours the minor can work in a day and in a week,
- the range of hours the minor can work during the day, and
- any additional limitations and restrictions.2
A work permit can be revoked if the work is harming the minor’s health or education or if the work permit requirements are not being followed.3
Minors do not need a work permit to:
- work in a self-employed capacity, or
- work irregularly doing odd jobs in private homes, like yard work or babysitting.4
The employer must also keep a copy of the Permit to Employ and Work on the working premises at all times. These permits must be made available to the following personnel for inspection:
- school attendance officers,
- probation officers,
- workers for the State Board of Education, and
- officers of the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.5
Employers must generally have a Permit to Employ and Work, even if the minor is their own child.6 The only exception to this rule is if the minor is to be employed in:
- domestic labor, or
- jobs connected to property that the parent or guardian owns, operates, or controls.7
A Permit to Employ and Work expires 5 days after the beginning of the next school year.8
Are there any jobs that minors cannot work?
Yes, there are numerous jobs that minors cannot work in California. These prohibited occupations come from both state employment law and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). They are based on the minor’s age.
Under California law, minors under the age of 16 are prohibited from working:
- on a railroad,
- in a boat,
- jobs that use dangerous or poisonous acids, soldering, or that make or pack paints or lead,
- jobs that make or use poisonous or dangerous dyes, or that create large amounts of dust,
- on scaffolding,
- in tunnels, excavations, quarries, or mines,
- jobs that sort or manufacture tobacco,
- as a car or truck driver, or
- any job that is dangerous or unhealthy.9
Federal law prohibits minors under 18 from working in numerous dangerous and hazardous occupations, including jobs:
- in the logging industry or in a sawmill,10
- involving cranes, derricks, or other power-driven hoisting machines,11
- involving power-driven meat processing machines, or other jobs in slaughtering, meat packing, meat processing, or rendering,12
- operating bakery machines,13
- in the roofing industry,14 or
- in the excavation industry.15
When California and federal law conflict, the more protective law applies.
Additionally, there are restricted occupations, as well. Minors can work in these roles, but only if certain conditions are met. For example, minors in California can work in package stores that sell alcohol for off-premises consumption, but only if he or she is under constant supervision by someone over the age of 21.16
Are there any exceptions that let younger children work?
In some limited circumstances, children younger than 14 can work in California.
Children under 12 can:
- perform irregular and odd jobs in private households, including babysitting, lawn mowing, and yard work,17
- work in an agricultural zone of danger, so long as he or she is employed by the parent or legal guardian who owns, operates, or controls the premises,18
- work in the entertainment industry, like as a child actor,19 and
- work in a self-employed capacity.
Of these jobs, only those in the entertainment industry require a working permit.
Children aged 12 and over can also:
- sell or distribute newspapers, magazines, periodicals, or circulars, so long as he or she is within 50 miles of home,20 and
- sell candy, cookies, flowers, or other things door-to-door or at a fixed location on the street.21
To do either of these types of work in the state of California, though, the child must:
- work in pairs or as a team, with members on the same or opposite sides of a street,
- be supervised by an adult for each crew of 10 minors,
- be within sight or sound of the adult supervisor at least once every 15 minutes, and
- be returned home or to a place of rendezvous every day.22
Do minors still have to attend school?
Yes, minors aged 15 and under must still attend the minor’s school on a full-time basis, unless they have graduated from high school.
16- and 17-year-olds who are regularly employed but not high school graduates must attend continuation school for at least 4 hours per week. If they are not regularly employed, they must attend continuation school for at least 15 hours per week.
How many hours can minors work?
California’s state child labor laws dictate when minors can work and for how long. The rules depend on the minor’s age, as well as whether school is in session.
When school is not in session, minors under the age of 16 can work up to 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week.23 Minors aged 16 or 17 can work up to 8 hours per day and 48 hours per week.24
When school is in session, the rules differ widely based on the minor’s age.
12- and 13-year-olds can only work during school holidays or vacation, and never on a school day.25
Minors aged 14 or above can only work while school is in session if they have completed 7th grade.26
Those eligible to work and who are 14 or 15 years old can work:
- 3 hours per day on a school day, outside of school hours,
- 8 hours on non-schooldays, and
- up to 18 hours per week.27
Minors eligible to have a job and who are 16 or 17 years old can work:
- 4 hours per day on a school day,
- 8 hours on non-schooldays or any day preceding non-schooldays, and
- up to 48 hours per week.28
The time of day for those hours of work is also regulated by California law. Minors 15 and under can only work
- between 7am and 7pm or,
- between June 1 and Labor Day, between 7am and 9pm.
Minors aged 16 or 17 can work any time between 5am and 10pm or, if the next day is not a school day, between 5am and 12:30am.29
What about young workers in the entertainment industry?
Minors as young as 15 days old can work in the entertainment industry.30 All minors, however, must have a Permit to Employ and Work that is issued by the Labor Commissioner at the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE).31
The entertainment industry includes organizations and individuals where minors are used to entertain the public, including:
- motion pictures,
- musical performances,
- rodeos, and
Employers must also comply with rules about how long minors can work, and when minors have to attend school.33
What are the consequences for employers who violate the law?
Employers can face serious consequences for violating California’s child labor laws. The specific sanctions will depend on the specific violation. However, in some cases, employers can face criminal charges for employing minors.
There are 2 types of violations of California state laws regulating child labor:
- Type A violations, which carry civil penalties of between $5,000 and $10,000 per violation, and
- Type B violations, which carry civil penalties of between $500 and $1,000 per violation.34
Examples of Type A violations include:
- employing a minor under 16 years of age in a manufacturing establishment,
- employing a 15-year-old or younger to service, repair, or clean machinery,
- permitting a minor under 12 to work in an agricultural zone of danger, and
- gas stations employing minors aged 16 or 17 to perform car repairs that use pits, racks, or a lifting apparatus.35
Examples of Type B violations include:
- failing to keep working permits for minors accessible to review in the workplace,
- employing minors in the entertainment industry without a permit, and
- any other child labor violation that the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations determines to have a direct or immediate impact on the minor’s health, safety, or security.36
Both Type A and Type B violations can lead to criminal charges, as well. All child labor law violations are misdemeanors in California. They carry up to:
- 6 months in jail and/or
- $10,000 in fines.37
Individuals can be civilly or criminally liable for child labor violations if they employ or permit underage work.
Additionally, employers of minors can still be liable for violating California labor laws that are unrelated to the young employee’s age, like:
- California Education Code 49160 and 49101 EC.
- California Education Code sections 49115 and 49163 EC.
- California Education Code 49164 EC.
- 18 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 114, August 31, 1951.
- California Labor Code 1299 LAB.
- California Education Code 49141 EC.
- California Labor Code 1394 LAB.
- California Education Code 49118 EC.
- California Labor Code 1294 LAB.
- 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 570.54.
- 29 CFR 570.58.
- 29 CFR 570.61.
- 29 CFR 570.52.
- 29 CFR 570.67.
- 29 CFR 570.68.
- California Business and Professions Code 25663(b) BPC.
- 18 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 114, August 31, 1951.
- California Labor Code 1293.1 and 1394 LAB.
- California Labor Code 1308.5 LAB.
- California Labor Code sections 1308.01(b) and 1298 LAB.
- California Labor Code 1308.01(a) LAB (allowing children as young as 6 to do so) and California Education Code 49111 EC (requiring that a child be at least 12 years old to have a work permit).
- 8 California Code of Regulations (CCR) 11706(a).
- California Labor Code 1391 and 1392 LAB.
- California Education Code 49111 EC.
- California Education Code 49112 EC.
- California Education Code 49112 and 49116 EC, and California Labor Code 1391 LAB.
- California Labor Code 1391 LAB.
- California Labor Code 1308.8 LAB.
- California Labor Code 1308.5 LAB.
- 8 CCR 11751.
- See 8 CCR 11760.
- California Labor Code 1288 LAB.
- California Labor Code 1288(a) LAB.
- California Labor Code 1288(b) LAB.
- California Labor Code 1303 LAB.