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Teen workers: Know your wage and hour rights

Summer vacation provides unique educational opportunities and experiences for teenagers that they otherwise might not have the time to embrace. For example, working a seasonal job (or working more hours in the summer) can give teenagers a manageable taste of adult working life.

Unfortunately, teenagers are often the victims of wage and hour violations by employers, including failure to pay minimum wage, failure to pay overtime, failure to provide meal and rest breaks and other illegal actions. If you are a teen working a summer job or internship, it’s important to understand your rights in the workplace.

There is a federal minimum wage, and each state is allowed to set its own minimum wage. In most cases, your pay will be based on state laws. You can find state-specific information online at the U.S. Department of Labor website, among others.

Your pay may be lower than minimum wage if you are considered a tipped employee (some waitress and waiter workers, for instance), but your wages plus tips should equal or exceed the minimum wage.

Internships are also popular among high school students during the summer. Working a paid internship is similar to working a job, but unpaid internships are governed differently. As a rule of thumb, an unpaid internship must primarily benefit the intern by providing valuable training and experience. If you are asked to do work that is helpful to the company but of no benefit for you (making photocopies, going on coffee runs, etc.), the internship may be illegal because you are doing the work of a paid employee for no pay.

Summer can be a great time to work extra hours or try something new with an internship. By understanding your rights in the workplace, you can make sure your work is fairly and legally compensated, and that unpaid internships provide the value that they are required to.

Source: AOL Jobs, “What Every Teen Needs To Know About Getting Paid At Work,” Donna Ballman, May 27, 2014

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