This article is part of a series teaching essential personal finance concepts to teenagers. At Money Under 30, we believe that it’s never too early to become financially responsible; we hope this series will be a good place to start.
As you grow up, you might feel that you’re being held down a bit. Between parents, teachers, and your boss at work, you always have to answer to someone. It can feel like you have only a few rights and very little independence.
While the workplace seems like a place where you have limited freedom given your experience level, you’re entitled to individual rights as an employee, by law.
Here’s a look at some of them, starting with your most basic rights as an employee.
Regardless of age, you’re entitled to several fundamental rights as an employee. These include the right to privacy and fair compensation, among others. As an employee, you should have your own space and access to all eligible income, including overtime. Most states allow privacy rights, that apply to your personal possessions, any storage lockers, and any private mail addressed to you.
You may also have privacy rights regarding phone conversations or voicemail messages. Though employers use electronic surveillance to monitor phone calls and voicemails, there are legal limitations thanks to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. As a result, employers can face legal action if they read, delete, disclose or prevent access to voicemail messages.
On the other hand, rights to privacy when exchanging emails on the company internet are limited. Emails are considered company property if you use the company’s system to send them. Employers also have the right to track websites you visit and block you from accessing them. So, if you’re trying to catch a game online or visit sites that aren’t fit for the workplace, it’s better if you wait until you go home.
Wages and hours
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, you can be paid as little as $4.25 per hour for the first 90 days of your employment if you’re under 20. Only when you reach 20 years of age will you be eligible for minimum wage which stands at $7.25 (on average). If you’re a tipped employee working at a restaurant or delivering food, you can be paid a minimum wage of $2.13 an hour. This number varies, depending on the state.
If you’re under 16, federal law restricts your work hours. You can’t work during school hours and can’t work more than three hours on a school day. You also can’t work more than eight hours a day or more than 40 hours a week when school is not in session. Nor can you work before 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The one exception is between June 1st and Labor Day, when you’ll be able to work until 9 p.m. If you are older than 16, you won’t have as many restrictions by federal law, though some state laws have them. For example, Florida law states that you can’t work during school hours if you’re 18, with exceptions, and you can only work 30 hours a week if you’re a 16 or 17-year-old.
As for breaks, federal law doesn’t require them, but many states do, especially for employees under 18. Again using Florida as an example, if you’re under 18, you’re not allowed to work more than four hours without a 30-minute break.
As a young employee, you shouldn’t have to worry about things like this. You’re dealing with enough stress at school, why would someone discriminate against you at work? Sadly, though, it can still happen.
It’s okay if people at work don’t like you, everyone has worked with someone who they haven’t liked. However, any discrimination and harassment based on skin color, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or pregnancy are not okay—in fact, it’s illegal. Some states identify more categories of discrimination than others. For example, sexual orientation is not covered by some state laws.
Regardless of location, however, there are some cases where you won’t be protected against discrimination at all. As AOL points out, if you work as an intern, independent contractor, or work at a company with less than 15 employees, you aren’t entitled to any legal protection.
If you thought the only time you’d have to deal with bullies was when someone stood you up at your school locker demanding your lunch money, then you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. Workplaces also have bullies, whether they’re employers or co-workers. And the most stunning part about it is that there are no federal or state laws that prohibit workplace bullying.
If you’re being picked on you due to your color, creed, or a disability you have, report it to your boss as soon as possible. But, what the employer does from there is at their discretion and not based on any law.
If you’re under 18, you can’t be bound by contract, including an employment contract. A contract can be voided by you or your parents while underage, but you won’t be able to once you turn 18.
Contracts can include anything from confidentiality agreements to non-compete clauses (where you can’t work for entities who are competitors), waiving your rights for a jury trial and other stipulations. Your employment is considered at-will. This means your employer can let you go for any reason except discrimination.
An adult can co-sign a contract with you, but he or she cannot bind you to the terms of an employment agreement. If you have some doubt about what you’re about to get into, talk your parents into contacting an employment lawyer in your state about your contractual obligations.
Should you have questions about your contract, or want to report any case of discrimination, bullying or harassment against you, HR is the place to go. Depending on the size of your employer, it will have a human resources officer or a full HR department. Air all your grievances to them and ask them any relevant questions regarding what rights you’re entitled to.
But know that human resource officers are there to be your guides, not your friends. In the end, they represent their employer, not you. That said, as long as your relationship with that officer is professional, they’ll be willing to assist you and make your working transition a seamless one.
Gone are the days when employers were unable to find embarrassing party pictures of you in a compromising position. Nowadays, all it takes is one Google or Facebook search to dig up some less than flattering information about you. If you get hired for a position, you might want to do some house cleaning on your social media accounts before your first day on the job.
While on the job, it’s best advised that you save your social media browsing for after-work. Unless you’re using it for work, employers have the right to check in on you while you’re surfing the internet. They’re also within their right to fire you if they find you viewing or sending inappropriate material.
Employers are demanding social media passwords to monitor their employees more and more. As intrusive as it sounds and despite the fact many states have banned this practice, some still have the right to check your social media activity. So be wise whenever you press send and always assume you’re being monitored.
Depending on age, your employment options will vary. If you’re under 14, you can do things like babysit, deliver newspapers, or act. You also can work in a family business, as long as it does not involve mining, manufacturing, or any occupation designated by law as hazardous.
If you’re 14 or 15, things like retail, lifeguarding, computer repair, grocery, and restaurant work are among your best options. At age 16 or 17, you can do any job that doesn’t put your life at risk.
So much to digest, right? If you’re hungry to get out and work, it’s vital that you know your rights and what you’re entitled to. Make the most of your opportunity and protect yourself while doing it.
Also, please note that I am not an employment lawyer. If you have any questions or concerns about your employee rights, I recommend talking to a licensed professional first.
Read more about finances for teens
Banking 101—A Guide For Teenagers (And Anyone Who Needs A Refresher)
Budgeting For Teens—Grow Your Money While You’re Young
How To Make Money—A Guide For Teens
How To Spend Money Wisely—A Guide For Teens
7 Tips On Saving For College As A Teen
The 8 Most Important Employee Rights Teens Should Know
6 Money Lessons Our Parents Learned In School, But We Didn’t