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A paycheck means independence, so it's no wonder that many 16-year-olds are eager to join the workforce. Unless they live in rural areas with few job prospects, finding places that hire at 16 shouldn't be difficult. It's the minimum hiring age for jobs of many kinds, and major chains often hire kids this age. That doesn't mean landing a job will necessarily be a breeze, especially because teens this age often have limited or no work experience to put on a resume. But a teen who's reliable, willing to learn and ready to work hard can flourish in a number of different jobs.
Jobs for 16-Year-Olds: Federal Rules
Happily for industrious 16-year-olds, the U.S. Department of Labor places few restrictions on the employment of teens this age. By contrast, 14- and 15-year-olds are limited in a lot of ways. They are only legally allowed to do certain types of jobs, and may work restricted hours only. But when a worker turns 16, a lot of those limitations are lifted.
The DOL allows 16-year-olds to work unlimited hours, and they can hold any job that the office of the Secretary of Labor hasn't deemed hazardous for minors. The DOL doesn't dictate pay for teens, so jobs that hire at 16 can set the worker's pay, as long as the employer pays wages in a way that's compliant with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The act establishes which workers are eligible for minimum wage, so under the FLSA, a 16-year-old who works an eligible job should be paid no less than the current minimum wage.
However, 16-year-olds should know that the FLSA does include a provision that allows employers to pay what's called a youth minimum wage to workers under 20, unless the state specifically forbids it. When a teen starts a job with an employer who is covered under the FLSA and opts to pay the youth minimum wage, the worker can be paid as little as $4.25 per hour (as of 2018) for the first 90 days of employment. After 90 days, the employer must raise the teen's pay to meet the national minimum wage.
Jobs for 16-Year-Olds: State Considerations
Although the federal Department of Labor doesn't put working-hour restrictions on employed 16-year-olds, each state also has its own DOL. Some of those departments do enforce limitations for workers who are minors.
State laws vary a great deal in this regard. For example, in Delaware a 16-year-old may spend no more than 12 hours per day total in work and school, and must have at least eight consecutive hours of non-school and non-work time in each 24-hour period. In Massachusetts, 16-year-olds may work no more than six days a week for no more than nine hours a day, and for no more than 48 hours in a week. Massachusetts also has nighttime work curfews that employers of 16-year-olds must obey. But many states (including Arizona, Vermont, Texas and South Carolina) place no time restrictions on 16-year-old workers.
Sixteen-year-olds must also be aware of their states' rules about employment permits, sometimes called working papers or work permits. The federal government does not require teens to obtain such permits. Individual states make their own policies. Many only require teens younger than 16 to acquire employment permits before starting work, but others require them for all workers younger than 18. Either the state labor department or the worker's school district provides employment permits, depending on the state.
Even 14- and 15-year-olds can do some jobs in grocery stores, so 16-year-olds should be able to find local stores that hire at 16. Major chains including Publix and Wegmans hire 16-year-olds. Because chains vary by geographic area, there's no guarantee that your local chains hire teens, but chances are good that at least one of the grocery stores in your area will consider hiring 16-year-olds.
Sixteen-year-olds are often hired to work as cashiers, grocery baggers, florist department clerks, shelf stockers and for customer-facing roles like working behind the store's service counter or helping customers carry their groceries to their cars. Some grocery store jobs are off the table for these teens because of the DOL's restrictions that apply to minors. Its list of hazardous jobs include operating power-driven meat processing or bakery machines, so stores often don't employ teens to work in the deli or bakery departments.
A 16-year-old who wanders around the local mall will probably find herself surrounded by job opportunities. Major retailers, including Walmart, hire 16-year-olds for some positions. Department stores, souvenir shops, discount markets and other retailers, including mall kiosks, may also hire 16-year-old workers. While major chains may have a corporate policy that allows the hiring of 16-year-olds, independently-owned stores set their own policies – so a young job hunter might be turned away from some of those businesses.
Fast Food and Other Restaurants
Food service is one industry that often includes high-school workers. Some 16-year-olds might be able to get hired as waiters in table-service restaurants, but these jobs are often reserved for staffers who are at least 18. No states allow 16-year-olds to serve alcohol to customers, which complicates a teen's ability to do this job in restaurants that serve alcohol.
Fast food chains commonly hire 16-year-olds to work the cash register and serve food. Teens can work as hosts, food runners or busboys in sit-down restaurants. Food carts and kiosks, like those located in malls and along popular thoroughfares, might also employ 16-year-old workers.
Amusement Parks, Pools and Entertainment Complexes
The businesses that attract groups of teens often hire teens, too. Arcades, movie theaters, amusement parks and water parks are all options for 16-year-olds. These jobs are often a good fit for high schoolers because they get busiest when school is out of session, so teens can schedule their shifts on nights, weekends and break times.
The federal DOL also specifically allows 16-year-olds to work as lifeguards and at water amusement parks. If there's a water park nearby, a teen might have luck getting hired to work as a lifeguard or to help direct riders.
Camps and Kids Programs
For a teen whose schedule doesn't allow for working during the school year, getting a job in a summer camp is a great option. Parks and recreation programs often hire 16-year-olds to staff summer drop-in programs or to work as counselors in organized camp programs. Teens may also work as full-time counselors at day camps or even overnight camps for younger kids.
Jobs 16 Year-Olds Can't Do
A teen who's job hunting should steer clear of positions that include tasks on the DOL's list of workplace hazards. (Major employers should be aware that they can't hire minors for those tasks, but smaller employers might not be as diligent about observing DOL laws.)
A 16-year-old teen can't take any job that involves driving as part of the work, so food or package delivery are both out. Using certain types of heavy machinery – including woodworking machine, balers, compactors and power-driven saws – is also forbidden for minors. A 16-year-old may not work as a roofer or do any work on a roof, and demolition or some types of manufacturing work are also illegal for these young workers.
- U.S. Department of Labor: YouthRules: I am 16 or 17
- U.S. Department of Labor: YouthRules: What Do I Need to Know About Workplace Hazards?
- U.S. Department of Labor: Fact Sheet #32: Youth Minimum Wage - Fair Labor Standards Act
- U.S. Department of Labor: Fact Sheet # 60: Application of the Federal Child Labor Provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to the Employment of Lifeguards
- U.S. Department of Labor: Selected State Child Labor Standards Affecting Minors Under 18 in Non-farm Employment as of January 1, 2018
- U.S. Department of Labor: Employment/Age Certificate
- Walmart Careers: Frequently Asked Questions