At 17 years old, you are still a minor, unable to buy cigarettes or alcohol in many states and unable to vote in federal elections. All of this is true in Illinois. In fact, the minimum age to buy tobacco in cities like Chicago is 21 years old, among the highest in the nation. But that doesn't mean that there are many restrictions on the hours you can work or many state laws restricting the type of work your employer can ask of you.
Child Labor Laws in Illinois
If you've ever read Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" or even seen the movie, you know a lot about the dreadful conditions children have faced when forced to work at a young age. And, problematic child labor remains an issue throughout the world. In the United States, both the federal government and state governments enact laws limiting the employment of minors and protecting them from abuses. These laws span most industries and, though the terms of the laws vary from state to state, they can provide protection for kids from birth through the age of 18. In fact, employers considering hiring a worker under the age of 18 years old must read up on the state and federal laws about child labor to make sure that they comply. In some cases, the employers or the young employees must carry written authorization to work and, in all cases, they cannot work more hours or in different occupations than are permitted by law. If the federal and state laws are different and conflict, employers must live up the law that gives the child worker the most protection or highest benefits.
Federal Child Labor Laws
The big gun of the federal child labor laws is the Fair Labor Standards Act. In this important law, the U.S. government sets minimum age requirements for young people who want to or need to work. It limits the types of jobs that can be done by minors from the time they begin work until the age of 18 years old. But, this is not a one-size-fits-all subject. The law sets different standards that apply to children in different age groups.
In general, the FLSA prohibits kids under the age of 14 from working at all. However, there are certain, carefully carved out exceptions to this. First, kids under 14 can work for their parents doing jobs that are not hazardous. They can also work delivering newspapers or as actors or other performers. They are also, in some limited cases, allowed to do specified types of agricultural work.
Kids aged 14 or 15 years old can work, but their hours are strictly limited. During times when school is in session, they can't work more than three hours a day. The combined hours they are in school and work cannot total more than eight hours a day. On the other hand, during vacations and holidays, they can work up to eight hours a day, but not more than 40 hours a week.
Under federal law, kids of these ages have restricted work hours. They can't work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. during periods when school is in session, defined as between Labor Day and the end of May. From June 1 through Labor Day, they can work up to 9 p.m. Like other employees, they are entitled to a meal break of at least a half-hour after the fifth consecutive hour of work. But the FLSA makes some exceptions. No time limits apply to kids selling and distributing newspapers and magazines when school isn't in session, for example, or to children at least 13 years old caddying at a golf course.
Under federal law, children under 18 cannot work in hazardous occupations. Many manual jobs are considered hazardous, including employment involving power machinery, any employment involving driving, manufacturing equipment, explosives, mining, logging, construction, and any job with exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.
You may have noted that few of the protections of the FLSA apply to minors who are 17 years old. In fact, the only one of the federal Child Labor Laws that protects 17-year-olds is the one prohibiting work in hazardous occupations.
Child Labor Laws in Illinois
All of the federal laws limiting child labor apply in full force in every state including Illinois, unless state law offers more protection. The primary law in Illinois that applies is called the Illinois Child Labor Law. By its own terms, it doesn't apply to minors age 17. It applies only to children 16 years old or younger. There are no child labor laws in Illinois for 17-year-olds.
In large part, the provisions of the Illinois Child Labor Law mimic the provisions of the FLSA. Generally, the legal age to work in Illinois is 14 years old, although exceptions are made for younger children working in their parents' employ or holding types of work similar to those permitted under the FLSA.
Minors aged 14 or 15 can work only for a limited number of hours per day during the school year and extended hours outside of the school session.These are very similar to the FLSA guidelines, prohibiting work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. during the school year and limiting work hours to three per day on school days and eight per day on non-school days. The state requires work permits or employment certificates from a child's school before a minor aged 14 and 15 can work.
Like the FLSA, Illinois prohibits minors from working in jobs that are considered hazardous. The law lists 26 prohibited occupations, largely lining up with those prohibited under federal law.
Minimum Wage in Illinois
Like with the child labor laws, both federal and state governments can set minimum hourly wages for employees. The federal minimum wage is set by Congress and applies to most employees paid by the hour across the country. It sets a floor for the minimum hourly wage in every state. Currently, the federal minimum hourly wage is set at $7.25 an hour.
However, state governments can set their own minimum hourly wage as they see fit for residents of their state. Like other labor laws, the federal law applies if it is more beneficial to the worker, but the state law applies if it offers an employee a better deal. In Illinois, the minimum wage is currently set at $8.25 per hour. Since this is higher than the federal wage, it prevails in the state. The minimum wage for tipped employees in Illinois is $4.65 per hour for the first 90 days of work, then $4.95 per hour. The minimum wage for minors (which is the minimum wage in Illinois for 16-year-olds) is $7.75 an hour for most work, and $4.65 for tipped workers.
Some states also give cities and counties within their jurisdiction the right to set their own minimum wages, and some do. In Illinois, cities and counties are permitted to set their own minimum wage that applies in their jurisdiction. Chicago, for example, sets the minimum wage at $12.00 per hour, set to rise to $13 per hour in 2019. It specifies that minors can be paid less, setting the minimum wage for those under the age of 18 years at $0.50 less than the state minimum hourly wage. In Cook County, the minimum wage is set at $10 per hour.
Read More: What is the Federal Minimum Wage?
- Employment Law Handbook: Child Labor Laws
- Employment Law Handbook: Child Labor Laws – Fair Labor Standards Act
- Employment Law Handbook: Hours of Work and Conditions of Employment for 14 and 15 Year Olds
- Illinois Department of Labor: Child Labor Law
- Minimum Wage.org: Illinois Child Labor Laws
- Employment Law Handbook: FLSA Child Labor Laws – 16 and 17 Year Olds
- Square-Up: Guide to Illinois Minimum Wage
- Illinois Gov: Minimum Wage Rates
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.