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How to Get a Work Permit

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The First Step for Teens on the Job

If your child gets his first job as a teenager, whether it's flipping burgers or stocking shelves, you can be proud that your child has crossed this difficult right of passage. It's the first step down a long career road, and parents can breathe a sigh of relief, not just that their kids won't be asking for a handout to go to the movies or buy pizza, but that they are gaining valuable experience. But, often, before younger teens can begin working, they need to first get a work permit, which is required by some states but not the federal government.

How to Apply

Young workers usually apply for work permits at their school once they have been offered a job. The permit is a legal document that states who the employer is, the work hours and the type of work. Schools do not have to issue a work permit. When you talk with your child about the importance of good grades, let her know that sometimes schools deny a work permit to students with poor grades so the student can better concentrate on schoolwork. Some states offer work permit applications online, while most also have paper applications that can be picked up in the school's office.

The application often requires several signatures, including a school official, employer, student and, sometimes, the parents. Some states require that teens get a work permit for each new job.

Who Needs a Permit?

Work permit requirements vary across the U.S. Some states, like California, require a work permit for all those under 18 before they can begin work. In Maryland, students under 18 need work permits for most jobs, but there are a few exceptions, such as farm or domestic work and assisting parents at their business—even it's working on a sailboat. In North Carolina, work permits, called Youth Employment Certificates, will not be issued to youth for jobs the state deems "hazardous or detrimental."

Working at Age 14 or 15

Often, work permits and youth labor laws in states spell out requirements that must be met for those who are 14 or 15. Pennsylvania parents with children under 16 must write a statement acknowledging they understand the duties and hours of the job their child is taking on. California students who are 14 and 15 cannot get a work permit to work on school days, nor can a permit be issued to work more than three hours a day or more than 18 hours a week. In Maryland, those age 14 and 15 cannot work more than four hours on a school day, and not before 7 a.m. or after 8 p.m. during the school year.

No matter how much your young teen might want to get a job at this age, it's often hard to find one, because most employers look for young people with a little more maturity. Even so, hiring rules for large companies, such as Safeway and McDonald's, state their minimum age is 14. If you think your teen is just too young for job in a fast food restaurant or grocery store, have him consider mowing lawns or babysitting—jobs where work permits are generally not needed.


Barbara Ruben has written about careers for and, as well as job and career articles for the Beacon Newspapers, a group of four newspapers for older adults.

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