By Angelina Klouthis

Working at a job can be a great opportunity for young people to learn skills, explore career options, and earn wages. The U.S. has laws in place to protect the health, safety, and education of people under the age of 18 who want to work. This month we sat down with Rachel Bowler from the Maine Bureau of Labor Standards to learn about employment opportunities for youth in Maine, as well as how to prevent child labor law violations. Bowler has been with the bureau since 2012 and is the Department of Labor’s specialist on issues concerning child labor. 

When can children start working in Maine? 

Young people can typically first apply for a work permit at 14 years old. Someone under age 14 is allowed to work, as long as they have an approved work permit and are working in a business that is solely owned by the minor’s parent or legal guardian. Fourteen and 15 year-olds may work in many occupations, but not ones that are hazardous or jeopardize their health, well-being, or educational opportunities. Sixteen and 17-year-olds may work in most businesses, but not in hazardous jobs. 

What are considered hazardous jobs? 

Examples of hazardous jobs that 14- and 15-year-old children cannot do include construction; housekeeping at a hotel, motel, or rooming house; using a meat slicer or grinder; occupations involving the use of power-driven mowers or cutters, including chainsaws; and all warehousing occupations.   

What is a work permit? 

Young people under age 16 need a work permit if they want a job. People talk about someone being “work authorized” – this typically refers to employment authorization as issued by the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). U.S. employers must check that all employees, regardless of citizenship or national origin, are authorized to work in the U.S. Children under 16 who are foreign nationals need both employment authorization documents from USCIS and a work permit from the MDOL. 

  The work permit application requires a signature from a parent or guardian, and the superintendent of the teen’s school department also must certify academic standing. Minors cannot work until their permit is approved by the MDOL Bureau of Labor Standards. 

Where can I find a work permit application form?   

The permit application is on the MDOL website: 

Are there certain hours that children can work? 

Yes, minors under age 16 are not allowed to work more than six days in a row, and can work: 

  • Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during the school year, but not during school hours 
  • Between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. during summer vacation 
  • 3 hours a day on school days 
  • 18 hours a week during any school week 
  • 40 hours a week during non-school weeks  
  • 8 hours on days without school (weekends, holidays, vacations, storm days) 

How do I report an employer if I suspect child labor law violations? 

Suspected violations can be reported by calling (207) 623-7900 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.,  Monday through Friday. Ask to speak with a Labor and Safety Inspector. Interpreters are available if you would rather speak in a language other than English.