How Wages Work

Child Labor and Hazardous Work

The FLSA sets standards for wages that help to determine how much many workers will be taking home come payday.
Photo courtesy Stephen Coburn/StockXpert

The Act requires employers to pay at least the federal minimum wage and 1.5 times the regular rate of pay for overtime. It also contains provisions regarding which jobs minors can do and the hours they can work. Children under 16 years of age are allowed to do nonagricultural work, but children under 18 years of age are prohibited from doing work that’s considered “too dangerous” - meaning the work could potentially present a health or safety hazard. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, some examples of hazardous work are:

  • working with or around explosives
  • working with heavy equipment, such as power-driven saws, metal working machinery and manufacturing equipment
  • logging and sawmill work
  • working with radioactive materials
  • demolition work
  • roofing or other intense height-related work
  • operating motor vehicles

The FLSA allows children under age 16 to do agricultural work, but only during non-school hours.


The FLSA includes a prohibition against the shipment of goods produced in violation of minimum wage or overtime regulations or involving child labor. It also prohibits gender-based discrimination.

Contrary to what one might think, federal law does not require employers to give you paid vacation or sick days, overtime for working on holidays, raises, benefits of any type or a reason for termination if you’re fired. However, most employees have come to expect these perks (among others), and companies generally offer them to maintain morale among employees and to remain competitive when searching for talent.

It is a violation of the FLSA to fire or discriminate against an employee for filing a complaint or pursuing legal action under the Act. A toll-free helpline is available at 1-866-4USWAGE that provides information on how to file a formal complaint against an employer. You may also file a suit for two to three years of back pay (depending on if it was an intentional violation of the FLSA) and for damages, attorney’s fees and court fees. And in case you were wondering if anyone ever does receive back pay, more than $166 million in back wages were recovered by the Employment Standard Administration’s Wage and Hours Division in fiscal year 2005 [ref].

In the next section we'll look at the different types of pay.