The Dos and Don’ts of Hiring Minors

As youth-serving community organizations, you have a real need for energetic, enthusiastic staff who are able to connect with the minors in your care. And that need is being complicated right now because the labor market is tight. For some organizations, this may mean an increased reliance on a traditional recruitment strategy for youth-serving community organizations—namely the hiring of minors.

We need to be careful, however. While it might be a good way to provide relevant work experience and support youth development, hiring minors also presents some risks. The science tells us, for example, that minors are not fully developed both in maturity and decision-making. This means we need to have robust layers of protection in place.

Additionally, the presence of minors on your workforce can present employment-related legal risks. While federal employment law—under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—does not prevent employers from implementing a policy of not hiring anyone under the age of 18, many laws do prevent you from treating minors differently once they are actually hired.

Below are some factors to keep in mind:

Employment Practices & Law

As always, it is important to remember that specific laws and regulations are at the state and local level. Be sure to consult with a lawyer who is familiar with employment law in your jurisdiction.

Equitable and Consistent Interviewing
As with all hiring, it is important that questions are being asked equitably across all applicants—regardless of their age. For example, one of the requirements of the job may be that the employee has reliable transportation. Even though we know that minors may be too young to drive, or may not have a vehicle even if they are old enough to drive, it may be considered discriminatory to ask them whether or not they have a vehicle of their own. Instead, just like you would with an older applicant, ask if they have reliable transportation.

Communicating with Guardians
A common area of confusion is whether or not an organization can (or needs to) communicate with a minor’s guardian(s). This is an area where there is some nuance. Pre-employment, for example, there may be certain, specific situations where you will need to communicate with a minor’s guardian(s). Examples include:

  • Lifeguard training—The governing body may require a permission slip if the child is under 18
  • Waivers—Under the age of 18, you may require a guardian’s signature on your waivers

Once the minor has been employed, however, they should be treated like all other employees. That means it is best if organizations do not communicate with a minor’s guardian(s).

Child Labor Laws
In some states, there are maximum daily and weekly hours and days per week that a minor can work. Additionally, some states limit the nighttime hours that minors can work. You can access those guidelines on the US Department of Labor’s website. In the event that a minor is working close to nighttime hours, or their allotted hours, have a plan in place in case something runs over.

Chemical Handling Laws
Another common regulation for organizations to be aware of is state and federal laws around chemical handling. The most common area where we see this come into place is with lifeguards. For example, the Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits 14-15 year old lifeguards from entering or working in chemical storage areas.

Machinery Laws
Finally, youth-serving organizations need to be aware of both state and federal laws concerning what machinery minors are or are not able to operate in the course of their employment. For example, some states may prohibit a minor from using a lawnmower, meaning you will need to make sure that an adult is responsible for mowing the soccer field before youth programming.

Layers of Protection

It is always important to make sure that you are deploying multiple layers of protection when it comes to hiring and managing staff. This need is heightened, however, if your organization is hiring minors. Some aspects to consider include:

Effective training is always more than simply teaching skills or communicating specific rules, procedures or protocols. While it is important to communicate the “why” behind your policies to all staff members, it is especially critical for minors—who may not have the experience to read between the lines and understand the broader context.

You can’t supervise minors differently than other staff, because that would be discriminatory. You can, however, establish rules and protocols based on the level of experience that staff members have. Below are some supervision strategies for organizations:

  • When scheduling, make sure to always pair inexperienced staff, regardless of age, with a seasoned staff member who has several years of experience serving youth.
  • Recruit more experienced staff members to help coach and train younger or inexperienced staff.
  • With all staff, make sure that the manager on duty performs frequent drop-ins and documents that process.

Feedback & Professional Development
Feedback is important in any role. It is especially important for staff who are in a work environment for the first time, or who are embarking on a new career path. That’s why it is even more critical to give frequent feedback that helps reinforce areas where a minor is excelling and pinpoint where further skill development is needed. You will need to be careful, however, to make sure that any program of feedback is not seen as singling out specific individuals or age groups.

A Note for Clubs:
BGCA recently proposed a new safety requirement that states:
Each Member Organization shall have in place and follow policies and procedures clearly defining the scope of how minors can serve as employees, volunteers or work-based learning participants in the Club and shall ensure that any such minors complete mandatory training before they begin working with other young people. Additionally, all Club staff who supervise minor employees, volunteers or work-based learning participants must complete mandatory training on such supervision.

A Note for Camps:
Some camps employ minors as part of their LIT/CIT programs, yet this can be a gray area in terms of roles and responsibilities. It is important that definitions and expectations are clear: Are LIT/CIT campers, or are they staff members? Is the minor paying to be at camp, or are they getting experience at camp and being paid? If the latter is true, then you will need to make sure that you are following all child labor laws, and that they are subject to the same rules and safety protocols as any other staff member.