Start of school means limits on work hours for teens; Employers must get permission from parents, schools

The start of school signals limits on work hours for teenagers in Washington state. For employers, it means a Sept. 30 deadline to obtain permission from parents and schools for teens to work during the school year.

When school’s in session, a student’s priority should be school, whether they’re in a classroom, learning online, or homeschooled. That’s something important for businesses to support by working with parents and schools and actively managing the hours teen work.

Employers must obtain and keep on file a completed Parent/School Authorization form for each teen. State law requires a new form by Sept. 30 annually. The form must include when work starts and ends, job duties, and if the teen has a second job. The employer, teen, parent, and school authority must each sign it — and electronic signatures are allowed.

For teens employed in retail and other non-agricultural jobs, here are the allowable work hours during the school year:

  • 14- and 15-year-olds: Three hours/day, six days a week, between 7 a.m.-7 p.m. for no more than 16 hours total;
  • 16- and 17-year-olds: Four hours/day, six days a week, between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. (midnight Friday-Saturday nights), for no more than 20 hours total.

In addition to the authorization form, employers must also keep on hand a copy of the teen worker’s proof of age. This can include a copy of a birth certificate, driver’s license, or a notarized statement from a parent or guardian. Employers must adhere to COVID-19 requirements and avoid prohibited duties for teens.

Variances
Teens cannot work at all during school hours without a variance.

There are two variances:

1) Special Variance. Parents and school authorities can grant a variance that extends hours teens in public and private schools can work. The Special Variance allows teens 16-17 years of age to work six hours a day, up to 28 hours in a week. Employers can fill out a Special Variance, located on the Parent/School Authorization form.
2) Minor Work Variance. An employer may also apply for a variance directly with L&I. This Minor Work Variance is for 16-17 year olds who are home-schooled, not enrolled in school, or need to work more hours than allowed under a special variance.

A list of work hours for teens in agricultural jobs during weeks when school is in session is available at L&I's teen worker webpage. For more information, contact the L&I Teen Safety Program (teensafety@Lni.wa.gov), 1-800-219-7321.

Minors are allowed to work limited hours compared to adults in Washington. In general, the hours they can work vary depending on age, the type of work, and whether school is in session.

The work week for minors is Sunday through Saturday and the school week is Monday through Friday. Any week with any amount of school time is considered a school week. Minors cannot work during school hours.

Employers may apply for variances from these limitations.

Non-Agricultural Jobs

Non-agricultural jobs include retail, restaurants, manufacturing, construction, etc. All employers hiring minors need a minor work permit. The tables below show the hours youth 14-17 years old can work.

Under 14 years old

In most cases, you need a superior court’s permission for minors under 14 to work. Minors under 14 who are allowed to work must follow the 14-15 year old requirements below.

14-15 years old

Below are hours of work not to be exceeded.

ScheduleHours / dayHours / weekDays / weekStart – End time
* 8 hours Sat.–Sun.
** 9 p.m. June 1 to Labor Day
School week 3 hours * 16 hours 6 days 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Non-school week 8 hours 40 hours 6 days 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. **

16-17 years old

Below are hours of work not to be exceeded.

ScheduleHours / dayHours / weekDays / weekStart – End time
* 8 hours Fri.–Sun.
** Midnight Fri.–Sat. or the day before a school holiday
*** Midnight Fri.–Sat.
School week 4 hours * 20 hours 6 days 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. **
Non-school week 8 hours 48 hours 6 days 5 a.m. – Midnight
School week with
special variance
6 hours * 28 hours 6 days 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. ***

Important notes

  • Minors working in restaurants and retail businesses must be supervised by an adult after 8 p.m.
  • Only teens 16-17 years old can work overtime. All overtime rules apply for any hours worked over 40 hours in a week.
  • The same hours of work apply to minors attending home school or alternative schools, and minors not enrolled in school.
  • “School hours” for minors are defined as the hours their neighborhood public school is in session.

Hours of Work Exemptions

Teens who are 16-17 years old can work non-school week hours if they:

  • Are married.
  • Are a parent.
  • Are enrolled and taking college courses (e.g. Running Start).
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalency (GED).

Employers should request documentation as proof (e.g., marriage license, college enrollment, etc.) if a minor works under any of these exemptions. Minors working under these exemptions are still subject to all other teen labor laws (see prohibited duties; wages, breaks & meal periods)

Agricultural Jobs

Agricultural jobs can include raising and harvesting crops, handling livestock, farm operations, packing, storing, or processing agricultural and horticultural commodities, etc. All employers hiring minors need a minor work permit. The tables below show the hours youth 12-17 years old can work.

Minors working on their family farm are exempt from these restrictions.

12-13 years old

These youth are only allowed to work during non-school weeks hand-harvesting berries, bulbs, cucumbers, and spinach.

ScheduleHours / dayHours / weekDays / weekStart – End time
School week Not allowed Not allowed Not allowed Not allowed
Non-school week 8 hours 40 hours 6 days 5 a.m. – 9 p.m.

14-15 years old

Below are hours of work not be exceeded.

ScheduleHours / dayHours / weekDays / weekStart – End time
School week 3 hours * 21 hours 6 days 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. **
Non-school week 8 hours 40 hours 6 days 5 a.m. – 9 p.m.
* 8 hours non-school days
** 6 a.m. in animal agriculture and irrigation

Exception: Youth 14-17 years old are allowed to work 7 days a week in dairy, livestock, hay harvest, and irrigation during school and non-school weeks.

16-17 years old

Below are hours of work not be exceeded.

* 8 hours non-school days
** No later than 9 p.m. on more than 2 consecutive nights before a school day.
*** 60 hours per week in mechanical harvest of peas, wheat, and hay
ScheduleHours / dayHours /weekDays / weekStart – End time
School week 4 hours * 28 hours 6 days 5 a.m. – 10 p.m. **
Non-school week 10 hours 50 hours *** 6 days 5 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Hours of Work Exemptions

Teens who are 16-17 years old may work any hours if they are:

  • Married.
  • A parent (must be listed on a birth certificate).
  • Emancipated.

Employers must keep proof on file (e.g., marriage license, birth certificate, court order, etc.) for at least one year for minors working under any of these exemptions. Minors working under these exemptions are still subject to all other teen labor laws (see prohibited duties; wages, breaks & meal periods)

Emancipated Minors

Teens 16-17 years old who are emancipated by court order do not have hours of work limitations. They do not need to have a parent/school authorization form. Employers must still obtain a minor work permit and may not work emancipated minors in any prohibited occupation. (RCW 13.64.060 (g)). Employers should request documentation as proof of emancipation – typically a court order, driver’s license, or state-issued ID that indicates emancipated status.