RULES FOR HIRING MINORS: Violations can have serious consequences
(from Maine Townsman, June 2001)
by Antoinette Mancusi, Technical Advisor, MMA

Right now is a good time to review a few rules regarding the hiring of minors.  With lawn mowing and weed whacking season upon us, many municipalities have inquired as to whether they can hire local teenagers to perform landscaping work for the town.  Central to the issue is both the age of the teenager and the type of machinery to be operated for the job. 

Both federal and state laws (Fair Labor Standards Act – 29 U.S.C. § § 201-219 and the provisions of Maine’s child labor laws – 26 M.R.S.A. § § 771 et seq.) strictly control the employment of minors.  It is important to note that enforcement authorities are quite unforgiving when it comes to child labor violations.  As a result municipalities should carefully monitor the age of their work crews in addition to assigned tasks for teen workers.  Child labor law provisions generally restrict the hours of work and occupations for youths under age 16.  (see sidebar on next page for more information).  In addition, the U.S. DOL staff interprets what types of machinery are “hazardous” to minors.  Seventeen hazardous occupations for jobs declared by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to be too dangerous for minors under age 18 also exist.

According to the U.S. DOL staff in the Portland office (780-3344), a 14 or 15-year-old cannot legally operate any “power driven machinery.”  This prohibition includes any type of motorized lawn mower or weed whacker.  Teenagers who are 16 or 17 years old may legally operate weed whackers and power lawn mowers.  The DOL staff member with whom we spoke offered the opinion that 16 and 17 year olds may operate riding lawn mowers because they do not fit within the meaning of “motor vehicle,” defined in the Department of Labor’s regulations as “any automobile, truck, . . . or similar vehicle propelled or drawn by mechanical power and designed for use as a means of transportation . . .”

In addition to ensuring that teenagers meet the age standards for work assigned, the DOL regulations require employers to keep records of the date of birth of employees under age 19, their daily starting and quitting times, daily and weekly hours worked, and their occupation.  It is important to note that Maine law actually requires an “age” certificate from anyone under the age of 16, with some minor exceptions for seasonal, agricultural and domestic work.  Municipalities are advised to obtain age certificates from all job applicants who appear to be under 16.  By obtaining and keeping age certificates on file municipal employers protect themselves from unintentional violations of the child labor provisions.  Age certificates may be obtained from the superintendent’s office, where the applicant goes to school. Children under 16 years old may also obtain “work permits” from the Maine Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Standards (624-6400).

Another requirement under state child labor law provides that all Maine employers must post the State Child Labor Laws poster.  For a copy, call the Maine Department of Labor at 207-624-6400 (TTY: 1-800-794-1110 for deaf and hard of hearing) or download it from the state's web site (see link in this paragraph).


(The following information has been excerpted from Maine DOL’s “Safeteen Kit”)

Hours Teens Can Work

16 & 17 year olds can work:

• Up to 4 hours on a school day; 8 hours on the last school day of the week

• Up to 20 hours in any week with 3 or more school days

• Except: 8 hours each day with unscheduled school closure

• for a total of 28 hours that week (e.g., storm day, broken furnace, etc.)

• Up to 50 hours each week with less than 3 scheduled school days,

• or during the first or last week of the school year

• Up to 10 hours a day on weekends, holidays, vacations, teacher workshop days

• No more than 6 days in a row

• How early? How late?

• Not before 7 a.m. on a school day

• Not before 5 a.m. on a non-school day

• Not after10 p.m. the night before a school day

• Until midnight if there is no school the next day

• Minors under 17 cannot work during school hours

Don’t Forget: teens under 16 require a work permit!

NO ONE under 16 years old may do work that involves:

• Any work in a manufacturing facility (e.g. factory)*

• Operating any power-driven machinery (except machines in offices, retail stores, and food service, and gasoline pumps)

• Cooking (except at soda fountains, lunch counters, snack bars, or cafeteria serving counters) or baking

• Working in freezers or meat coolers

• Working in construction, transportation, communications, or public utilities

• Working in warehouses (except clerical)

• Loading or unloading trucks, railroad cars, or conveyors

• Working on ladders or scaffolds

• Washing windows in a public or commercial building if the window sill is more than 10 feet above the ground

• Laundering in a commercial laundry or dry cleaning establishment

• Working in a pool room, billiard room, or bowling alley

• Working as a public messenger or chamber maid

• Any processing operations (as in meat, fish, or poultry processing or cracking nuts)*

• Working in a hotel or motel (except 15-year-olds can work in the office, lobby, kitchen, or dining room)

• Any mining

• Working around boilers or in engine rooms

• Doing industrial homework

• Handling, serving or selling alcoholic beverages (15-year-olds can handle liquor—stocking and carrying, for example—but not serve or sell it)

• Any of the occupations prohibited for all minors under the age of 18

• Any work that the Maine Department of Labor determines to be dangerous to the health and well-being of minors.

*Except in office, retail, or customer service/sales areas, in a separate room away from manufacturing or processing operations, or outside in non-hazardous work on the grounds.

NOTE:  Persons under 14 may not work in most businesses.  There are a few exception to this, e.g. as news carriers, on farms, and in entertainment.

One more thing, even if minors doing work for the municipality are “volunteers” and as such will not be paid for their work, it is still an advisable risk management practice to follow the guidelines discussed above.

Municipalities wishing more information may wish to explore the following Internet web sites:  

1.  U.S. DOL, Safety and Health Standards Child Labor:,,

2.  Maine DOL, Safeteen Program and information kit: