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Young workers come with their own rules and regs

Michelle-Hicks_CMYK_Adding young people to your employment mix in the summer can add a lot of energy and new ideas to your workforce. But it’s also important to remember that young employees also come with unique wage and hour rules and regulations.

First jobs are some of the most important experiences for young people. The Department of Labor estimates millions of teens are seeking a summer job this year. As an employer, you have a chance to create a great expectation of how exciting, challenging and fulfilling the workplace can be. But you also need to know that today’s teenagers, like any generation, have their own unique characteristics. And, you should also be aware of the labor laws designed to protect them — so you can avoid unexpected issues this summer.

It’s hard to imagine in this economy — but working hard and making money is still not the “top” priority for teens. Friends, social activities (including social media like texting), family and even school all take top billing over work. This generation requires constant challenges and constant communication to stay stimulated and engaged. It’s also a generation that responds well when expectations are clearly set and consistently maintained. If it is not appropriate for a teen to be taking selfies and posting them on Instagram all day — it is important to be very clear about it. Plainly explain the smart phone doesn’t belong at work.

But, it also helps to empathize with their desire to stay connected, so offering “smart phone breaks” throughout the day could boost your “cool” factor and earn you some loyalty.

Part of the reason it’s so important to relate well to your teen employees is that you are their first role model for thriving in a healthy and vigorous work environment. There is a lot teens will not know about working and they will be counting on you for direction. One very important lesson is honoring labor laws that protect teen workers. When you demonstrate you take them seriously, the teens will, too, which can help you avoid costly issues down the road.

For example, make sure you follow your state laws for the number of hours teens are allowed to work and reinforce them and other youth employment laws constantly with your teen workers. You cannot assume the teen already knows them or will take responsibility to adhere to them. If you can demonstrate your strict compliance, it will help to protect you if there should ever be any kind of safety incident or accident involving a teen at your business.

I encourage anyone planning to hire teens this summer to check out the Department of Labor’s Youth Rules! brochure. It spells out many of the teen-related regulations by age group and occupation. It also provides some best practices to help you stay on top of managing your teen workers. Find it at

It can truly be a privilege to have the energy and enthusiasm of young workers around in the summer time. They bring fresh ideas and a refreshing outlook on the world. It can energize you, your employees and your customers to have them around.

But be sure to be prepared to deal with the special management challenges that teens bring into the workplace. And be ready to comply with labor laws protecting them. If you do that — you could find yourself being that great first boss a kid will always look back on with fondness.

Michelle Hicks, a senior professional in human resources, is a director in the engagement practice of Buck Consultants, a Xerox company.


About Michelle Hicks