Teens and Summer Jobs-Legal Issues to Consider

Working a summer job is a rite of passage for the America teenager.

Whether they are bussing tables, mowing lawns, or working as life guards at the neighborhood pool, summer jobs are a great way for teens to earn their own money and learn good old-fashioned work ethic and responsibility.

My summer job as a teenager was babysitting. I’ve always loved hanging out with little kids (a good thing because I have somehow ended up with four of my own) and it was a good fit for me.

Some babysitting gigs were better than others. Among the worse?

  • A family that “forgot” to mention they had a two week old baby (in addition to their four and six year old). “This is Laura and Charlie, and oh, Eddie is in the backroom. Bye.” No instruction, no detail, nothing. No acknowledgment that Eddie was a baby as opposed to a dog. These folks left a newborn for five hours with a 13 year old who had never held a newborn baby before, much less cared for one.
  • A couple with two rambunctious toddlers who called me after they left for dinner to say they decided they really needed a “break” and wouldn’t be home for a couple of days instead of a couple of hours. No, I didn’t call the cops (or even the neighbors). But I sure as heck never baby-sat for them again.

If your teenagers are working a job this summer, what legal issues do you need to be aware of?

Taxes and teens, teens and taxes.

The IRS likes starts them young.

A teenager who is claimed as a dependent by a taxpayer (that’s you, mom and dad) only has to file a tax return if the money they earn is more than the standard deduction for the year. In 2018, the standard deduction for a dependent child is total earned income plus $350, up to a maximum of $12,000.

Bottom line? Your teen only has to file a return if he or she earns more than $12,000.

Why might your teen want to file a tax return anyway? If your teen is a W-2 employee, payroll taxes and federal taxes are withheld from their paycheck. They may be entitled to a refund on the federal taxes. Remember, the IRS is not going to give you money your entitled to unless you ask for it first.

Speaking of W-2(s), pay close attention to how your teen’s employer classifies him or her. If they classify your teen as a contractor and your teen makes more than $400, your teen will owe self-employment taxes. Even if your teen doesn’t make enough to owe federal income taxes, he or she will have to file a return and pay self-employment tax.

It’s not all doom and gloom for teens and taxes. The IRS does have a few special tax rules just for teens.

Household employees under the age of 18 don’t have to worry about payroll or self-employment taxes, unless they are in business of that job. Huh? What the heck does that mean? It means the IRS makes exceptions for mowing lawns and babysitting.

There are also exemptions for teens with a paper route (hooray for Newsies!).

Finally, if your family business is run as a sole proprietorship and you hire your teen, you don’t have to worry about payroll taxes. For more information on this topic, check out, Should You Hire Your Kids This Summer?.

Labor laws

Both federal and state labor laws have strict guidelines on hiring employees under the age of 18.

In Texas, it’s illegal to hire a child under age 14 except under specific circumstances, like delivering newspapers (you have to be at least 11), acting, and engaging in fundraisers for a school or church.

Side note-don’t you wish they would just do away with that last exemption?

14 and 15 years old can’t work more than 8 hours a day, or 40 hours a week during the summer (this goes down to 3 hours a day, 18 hours a week during the school year).

There are also occupations that teens are prohibited from doing. Some are obvious, like no selling alcohol or working in a sexually oriented business. Others are not so obvious, like pizza delivery if they have to use a car. For more information on what types of jobs teens are and are not permitted to do, check out the Texas Workforce Commission’s website (or if you are in another state, your state’s labor commission).

Teaching #MeToo to your teens

Even though it’s an uncomfortable conversation, you need to talk to your teen about what kinds of behavior are unacceptable in a work environment.

Don’t just assume that your daughter the waitress knows she doesn’t have to put up with customers hitting on her or busboys making lewd comments. Empower her to speak up and report bad behavior. If her boss doesn’t take her complaint seriously or retaliates against her, consider filing a report with the EEOC.

Think that’s a lot of hassle for a summer job? Yes, but sexual harassment is highly underreported by teens. If you want your daughter to be empowered to challenge such behavior when she’s a doctor, lawyer, teacher, accountant, etc., you need to start when she’s working the grill at the McDonalds. Have her back now, and she will be able to take care of herself later on.

What was your summer job when you were a teenager? Any horror stories? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Copyright © 2018 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.

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