Child labor laws are regulated on a federal level by the U.S. Department of Labor, which uses the Fair Labor Standards Act. However, this act applies only to minors, under the age of 18, meaning an 18-year-old, even in while still in high school, is treated as an adult under federal regulations. Labor laws in this situation vary by state.
Under federal labor laws, there are no additional restrictions on 18-year-olds, even if they are in high school. According to the Department of Labor, when state and federal labor standards conflict, the standard that requires greater protection applies. However, most enterprises must comply with the minimum standards of both state and federal regulations. The federal government claims jurisdiction over businesses that engage in interstate commerce or that make more than $500,000 a year.
State Hour Limitations
Most states write the law to apply only to minors between the ages of 14 and 17, because they do not want to restrict the rights of an 18-year-old high school graduate, GED recipient or dropout. However, some state laws have restrictions based on school. Most commonly, if 18-year-olds are subject to work restrictions, these are hour restrictions to make time for school and homework during the week.
However, there are other labor laws that apply to 18-year-olds. In Florida, for instance, employers must keep documentation on the age and work status of youth workers on file until the worker turns 19.
Certain states, and even specific industries, allow waivers for minors and students to get around some of the labor laws if they feel it is in their best interest. These waivers are usually signed by the parent, a state official, or a school official, depending on the state. A state-by-state list is available at the Department of Labor (see Resources). In most states, an 18-year-old will be able to work full-time if he wishes.
Although 18-year-olds typically are able to work the same hours and be eligible for the same wages as adults, there are exceptions. For example, in Alaska, a person must be at least 19 to serve alcohol.