What Every Teen Needs To Know About Getting Paid At Work

Student talking to guidance counselor

I wrote last week about general workplace rights teens and young adults need to know. And two weeks ago I wrote about workplace sexual harassment. But there's even more you probably didn't learn about work when you were in school. I bet your high school and college didn't tell you about what you're entitled to be paid under the law, what hours you're allowed to work, how to figure out if your internship should be paid, and allowable work breaks, did they?

If you're a teen or young adult starting or looking for a summer job or internship, getting paid (or getting a meaningful learning experience) is one of the most important things. Otherwise, you could be at the beach or ziplining. If you're a parent, friend, guardian or relative of someone entering the workforce for the first time, make sure they know their rights on getting paid. Otherwise, they'll be hitting you up for funds, right?No worries. Here's what you need to know about teen and young adult wages, hours, unpaid internships and breaks:

Minimum Wage: Employers have to pay you a minimum hourly rate for your work called minimum wage. Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. However, there is something called the youth minimum wage, which means that for the first 90 calendar days of any new job you can be paid as little as $4.25 per hour if you are under 20. State minimum wages may be higher. Tipped employees may be paid a minimum wage of $2.13/hour as long as their wages including tips equal at least the higher of the state and federal minimum wage. State minimum wages for tipped employees vary. For more on wages, check out my articles 10 Tricks Employers Use To Cheat Workers Out Of Overtime and Ask Donna: Answers to AOL Jobs Reader Questions On Wages and Overtime.

Internships: While many teens take unpaid internships for the summer, most employers get internships wrong. If your internship is not a real learning experience, then you probably have to be paid for your work. An internship is supposed to be training similar to that you would receive in a vocational school. Filing, stuffing envelopes, and answering phones should normally be paid. You should be getting training that benefits you, and you should be getting more benefit than the company. If they can make money off what you're doing, or if you're saving them from having to pay another employee, you probably have to be paid. For more on internships, check out my article Unpaid Interns: Learning Experience or Illegal Exploitation?

Hours: If you are under 16, under Federal law your work hours are limited. You can't work during school hours at all, and you can't work more than 3 hours on a school day, including Friday; more than 18 hours a week when school is in session; more than 8 hours a day when school is not in session; more than 40 hours a week when school is not in session; and before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. on any day, except from June 1 through Labor Day, when you can work until 9 p.m. Federal law doesn't limit work hours for teens 16 or older, but your state laws may.

Breaks: Federal law doesn't require any work breaks. However, many states require work breaks, especially for workers under 18. For breaks of more than 20 minutes, employers don't have to pay. Breaks 20 minutes and under are hours worked that need to be paid. If you need a smoke break (and I hope you don't), then you should read my article Can An Employer Discriminate Against Me Because I Smoke?

It's important to find out about your pay before you accept a job or internship. Don't be afraid to ask once the offer is made. Best to know before you accept whether you're getting what you expect. Your summer vacation is valuable. Don't waste it by working for free (unless you're getting a meaningful learning experience in a real internship).

When in doubt, ask your parents or an employment lawyer in your state.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.
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