The Legal Age to Work in Illinois

Teenage retail worker handing shopping bag to customer

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If you're an Illinoisan who's interested in working, it's important to know the minimum legal age you must be to start working in Illinois. If you're eligible to begin working, you must then consider any restrictions you face in the workplace because of your age.

The younger you are, the more restrictions you'll likely encounter. Illinois has these guidelines in place to protect children by placing limits on job types and hours worked.

How Old Must You Be to Work in Illinois?

Child labor laws at the federal level state that individuals wanting to work must attain a minimum age of 14 (with some exceptions). At the state level, child labor laws differ by state. Each state may also indicate its own minimum age to work and which permits the state requires. When a conflict exists between federal and state laws, the more restrictive law will apply.

Illinois labor laws state that, like the federal requirement, you generally must also be 14 to work, but younger children can work in the state as well. For example, 12- and 13-year-old children can work on farms, with their parents’ consent. Typically, child labor laws don’t apply to jobs such as babysitting, yard work, newspaper delivery, and acting, meaning that pre-teens and children may perform such jobs.

Certificates Needed for Young Workers

Illinois state law requires kids under age 16 to have a child employment certificate to work. The certificate confirms that the work will not interfere with the child's schooling, that the child has reached the age of at least 14 years, and that the child can physically perform the job duties.

Young workers can obtain such certificates at school. The superintendent issues the certificates, and parents and employers both get copies. Also, youth ages 16 to 20 may present an age certificate to employers, but once a child reaches 16, Illinois state law does not require the certificate.

Kinds of Jobs Teens Can Have

Teens ages 14 and 15 can perform a variety of jobs, including working as clerical workers, cashiers, cooks (in limited capacities), cleaners, kitchen workers, artists, intellectuals, or creatives. However, they may not work jobs that expose them to hazardous materials or in manufacturing or mining.

In the summer, teens in this age group can work for longer than they can during the school year. When school isn't in session, they can work any time between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m., but no more than eight hours per day, six consecutive days in a week and 40 hours a week. Teens ages 16 and 17 have more flexibility. But like their younger counterparts, they can't work jobs in hazardous conditions. Mining and manufacturing aren't off-limits to them, though.

Wrapping Up

Working offers teens a wide range of benefits. It helps teens to learn the value of money, responsibility, teamwork, punctuality, and much more. Working can also help teens achieve independence. Rather than relying on their parents for allowance money, working teens can use their own money to buy clothes, music, concert tickets, and other treats.

Teens from low-income families may work to help pay the bills, pay for their college education, books, school supplies, and more. Unfortunately, some teens find themselves in life situations where they must live on their own and work to entirely support themselves. While this isn't ideal, being able to work at a young age can help these teens take care of their own needs and avoid some of the pitfalls others in their predicament have faced.

For more information on the minimum age to work in Illinois and how to obtain employment certificates, visit the Illinois State Labor Website.