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Teenagers and your workplace

According to the U.S. Department of Labor each year more than 210,000 teenagers are injured, 70,000 are hospitalized and 70 die due to workplace accidents.

With many of these teenagers employed in the food service industry it is important the employer know both the legal limitations of teenage workers and how to properly train their employees on safe practices.

Legal Limitations

Employers need to be aware of child labor rules and regulations of the Federal Department of Labor and the individual restrictions of their state.  These regulations cover types of work and hours permitted.

The Federal DOL for example doesn’t allow children 14 to 15 years of age to perform the following jobs in the food service industry:

  • Cooking, except at soda fountains, lunch counters, snack bars, and cafeteria serving counters;
  • Baking;
  • Operating, setting up, adjusting, cleaning, oiling, or repairing power-driven food slicers, grinders, choppers, cutters, and bakery mixers;
  • Operating Neico broilers, pressurized fryers, rotisseries, lawn mowers and "weed whackers";
  • Working in freezers or meat coolers;
  • Outside window washing, or work standing on a window sill, ladder, scaffold, or similar equipment;
  • Loading or unloading goods on or off trucks, railcars, or conveyors.


The same regulations don’t allow any worker younger than 18 to operate, set up, adjust, clean, oil, or repairing power-driven food slicers, grinders, choppers, cutters, and bakery mixers and other power-driven bakery machines.

In terms of hours the federal government doesn’t allow youth aged 14 to 15 to work more than:

  • 3 hours on a school day,
  • 18 hours in a school week,
  • 8 hours on a non-school day, and
  • 40 hours in non-school week.

Youth aged 16 years and over have no federal hour restrictions.

Many of the state departments of labor build upon these federal requirements with additional regulations of their own. Check with your local department of labor for more information on the youth labor laws in your state.

Youth Training

Scientists know the teenage brain is not fully developed until around 25 years of age.

The key differences in the teenager’s brain are they need longer to make decisions and they have more intense emotions than adults.  Also the part of the brain that seeks pleasure and reward is significantly more developed.

It is important when constructing a training program for your teenage workforce to take in consideration these differences.

Here are a few tips to help you with training your teenagers.


  • The first day of work is often the most important for the youth employee. They will be nervous so it is important to start off the day with an hour of reading materials on your business. This exercise will help calm the nerves and prepare them for training.
  • Have your teenage employees start during a slow time, so they can slowly become acclimated and you have time to teach them/
  • It is important to have an introduction, so you can set the ground rules and expectations. By laying these expectations and rules early on in the training process you will have fewer issues later.
  • One-on-one training is the best way to teach because it helps you keep a teenagers attention. Start with one job, explain the task to them, and then show them. Ask them to repeat the task back to you then allow them do it by themselves.
  • Repetition is the key and once they have mastered one task they can move on. Also try to keep the sessions as short and to the point as possible. You don’t want to try and drowned them with information.
  • Keep the training and the workplace fun and offer rewards, prizes and perks. It will not only help improve training, but create a great work environment.

Properly train your junior staff members and you will create employees that are efficient, organized and skilled.  With staff like this, your business will achieve greater success.

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