California Labor Law for Minors

By Heather Frances J.D.

Regardless of the type of business structure, employers in California must comply with all state laws, including child labor laws designed to protect minors. These laws attempt to balance an employer’s need for employees, a child’s desire to work, and the state’s duty to protect children from undesirable or dangerous working conditions. Generally, even sole proprietors and parents, or guardians, who employ their own children must meet all child labor requirements imposed on employers.

Work Permits

Under the California Labor Code, all minors must have a permit to work in California, except in limited circumstances, such as when children work for their parents on their farm or in domestic labor on the parent’s property. For example, if you own your own auto repair shop, your minor son must have a permit to work for you. Anyone under 18 years old that is required to attend school, and anyone under six, is considered a minor under the California Labor Code. Minors typically obtain work permit applications from their school and you, as the employer, must sign the application. The application must also be signed by the minor's parents. Then, school officials may issue the work permit, which you must keep on file. The minor cannot work for you without this permit. If you employ an emancipated minor, he must still have a work permit but is not required to receive parental permission.

Occupational Restrictions

In most cases, federal and state occupational restrictions mean that minors must be at least 14 years old to begin working, though younger children can be employed in certain industries. Whether you can employ a minor depends on the age of the child and work to be done. For example, minors who are 14 or 15 can work in certain jobs within the food service and retail industries, such as cashiering and clerical work, but cannot work as messengers until they turn 16. Furthermore, you cannot hire anyone under 21 to transport hazardous materials.

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Entertainment Industry

If your business is part of the entertainment industry, all minors, even infants, must have a work permit to work for you. However, the permit will not be issued if the working conditions are not proper for the child or child’s education is negatively impacted by the work. The permit can be issued as a one-time temporary permit or as a six-month renewable permit.

Hours of Work

Even if you employ a child with a work permit, he cannot work unlimited hours. The hours a child may work depend on his age and whether school is in session. For example, a child, age 16 or 17, who has completed seventh grade may work four hours per day on school days and eight hours per day on non-school days. Children ages 12 and 13 can work only during school holidays and vacations.


You must pay minors at least 85 percent of adult minimum wage, called subminimum wage, and they are entitled to receive overtime just like adults. In some cases, you must pay at least adult minimum wage. Under many circumstances, you can only employ 25 percent of your employees at this lower minimum wage rate, and high school graduates must be paid the same wages as adults who do the same type of work. When federal and state wage laws conflict, the child must be paid the higher wage.

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