Guide to Wisconsin's Employment of Minors Laws

This page was formerly named ERD-17231-P

Introduction

As educators, community members, and employers working with minors, we have a responsibility to provide all youth with the education and experiences that will prepare them to be college- and career-ready. Fortunately, for some, that includes opportunities to apply work or classroom learning in other environments. Our primary concern, whether minors are learning in school or out of school, is that our children are safe. Employment of minors laws have developed over time to ensure that youth are not exploited in work environments and that they are afforded specific protections.

This guidance document has been produced by a team from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to assist schools and employers who hire youth. It is the primary responsibility of the DWD Equal Rights Division to issue permits and enforce the employment of minors laws in the State. This guide is meant to be used as an interpretive aide and is not meant to replace Wisconsin Administrative Code Chapter DWD 270 or cover all possible scenarios or exceptions. Furthermore, this guide does not constitute a legal document which can be asserted as evidence in a court of law. Rather it is intended to provide assistance for those with common questions about interpreting the employment of minors law statutes and administrative regulations.

Employment of minors legislation purpose

The purpose of employment of minors legislation is to protect the life, health, safety, and welfare of minors. The goal of modern employment of minors laws is to prevent through regulation rather than to award damages or penalties after an injury or violation occurs. Through the regulation of employment of minors, with emphasis on preventive rather than punitive action, we go far in meeting this goal.

Legal Age

The age of a child bears on what type of work he or she may lawfully perform. Experience has shown that it is not safe to employ minors based upon their own representations of their age, or even upon the representations of their parents. Thus, DWD requires certain legal proof of age before issuing permits.

Worldwide experience has shown that this burden is necessary to ensure child safety. Interestingly, nearly all states have employment of minors work permit requirements.

Federal versus Wisconsin Employment of Minors Laws

The U.S. Department of Labor and Wisconsin both establish employment of minors laws as they apply to hours of work, types of jobs, and working conditions. Within any state law, there may be some provisions that are more or less restrictive than provisions of the federal law.

Which law applies?:

Definitions

The following definitions will be helpful as you examine employment of minors law practices.

Liability & Insurance

General Liability: An employer is liable for the finished product produced or the service provided. In general, if an employer has adequate general liability and workers compensation coverage, no additional liability is required as a result of hiring youth. However, before hiring youth and/or participating in a work-based learning program, an employer may wish to consult with its insurance carrier. Ultimately, final determination of liability in a particular situation will be determined by a court of law after review of the specific circumstances.

Transportation: In general, the party responsible for transportation is liable in case of an accident. Minors responsible for their own transportation to and from the worksite are responsible for their own insurance. In instances where the school provides transportation for student learners, the school may be responsible for insurance coverage. Only if the employer provides transportation to or from work for youth may the employer be responsible for this insurance coverage.

Worker's Compensation: When a minor becomes an employee of a company, they must be covered by the employer's worker's compensation coverage. For agricultural employers, farmers need to carry worker's compensation insurance if they have 6 or more employees. See DWD's Worker's Compensation web page for more information.

Injuries: While DWD's Equal Rights Division can interpret the employment of minors law, it cannot exonerate employers from liability should an accident occur on the job which results in injury to the employee. Liability for an accident can only be settled through the worker's compensation process.

Unemployment Compensation: Minors can file for unemployment compensation; however, if a minor is enrolled full-time in a public educational institution, and receives school credit for participation in a work-based learning program, the student learner is generally not eligible for unemployment compensation. Contact Wisconsin DWD Unemployment Insurance for more information.

Strikes / Lockouts: Employment of minors laws prohibit minors from working in a company where a strike or lockout is in active progress. This includes participation in picketing. Wis. Admin. Code § DWD 270.12(26).

Collective Bargaining Agreements: Student Learner programs should not impair existing contracts for services or collective bargaining agreements. Any student learner program that would be inconsistent with the terms of a collective bargaining agreement should be approved with the written concurrence of the labor organization and employer involved.

Hours & Wages

Hours

See the DWD Employment of minors web site for current applicable hours and times of the day that minors under 16 may work in Wisconsin.

Wages: Youth workers must be paid at least minimum wage. Wisconsin wage statutes require employers pay all workers all wages earned on at least a monthly basis, except farm labor which can be paid at quarterly intervals.

Minimum Wage: The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Wisconsin law establish minimum wage rates in the private sector and for government employees. Covered workers are entitled to a minimum wage of not less than $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009, under both federal and state laws. See DWD Minimum Wage.

Opportunity Wage: "Opportunity employee" means an employee who is not yet 20 years old and who has been in employment status with a particular employer for 90 or fewer consecutive calendar days from the date of initial employment. Both federal law and Wisconsin law have an opportunity rate. Currently Wisconsin's rate is $5.90 per hour, which exceeds the federal rate ($4.25 per hour). Since employers must comply with both, the higher Wisconsin rate must be paid. On the 91st day, the rate must go up to $7.25 per hour.

Sub-minimum Wage: An individual whose earning or productive capacity is impaired may be paid a special minimum wage commensurate with the worker's ability and productivity. The employer must first obtain a special minimum wage license authorizing the pay rate by submitting an application to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. A license from the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage, and Hour Division is also required. The pay rate is determined by comparing the productivity of a worker with a disability to a norm established for workers without disabilities by verifiable work measurement methods, or by comparing the productivity of a worker with a disability to that of experienced workers without disabilities employed in comparable work. See Wis. Admin. Code § DWD 272.09.

Employment/Equipment Restrictions

An employment of minors work permit does not allow the employment of a minor in prohibited work and does not protect the employer if it allows the minor to do any work that is prohibited by statute or restricted by order. The Permit Officer Handbook lists prohibited or restricted types of employment.