Legally Speaking: Filling the employee void and the youth employment standards act

Tom Clement, Vice President, Operations and General Counsel

By TOM CLEMENT, MRA VP, Operations and General Counsel

The two most pressing issues in today’s retail market are a consistent lack of employees and a sluggish supply chain. These issues take on heightened importance as retailers continue to make their way through the holiday season. In the October Retailer, my article focused on maximizing the productivity of the employees that you do have. However, even the most efficient employee has a cap on productivity and, at some point, retailers need people to occupy the positions they have available. One potential solution to that problem is to consider hiring minors who are eager to earn their first paycheck. However, before hiring minors you should take the time to review the Youth Employment Standards Act and the many requirements that you must meet in order to comply with the law.

The Youth Employment Standards Act (“the Act”), MCL 409.101 et seq., and the Youth Employment Standards Promulgated Rules (“the Rules”), Mich Admin Code, R 408.6199 et seq., govern the employment of minors in the state of Michigan. The policies behind the Act and Rules are to ensure that minors entering the workforce do not do so at the expense of a high school education and to make certain that they are working under age appropriate working conditions. With those goals in mind, the Act and Rules outline several requirements that must be met by an employer prior to employing a minor. These include, ensuring that a minor has a properly issued work permit, requiring adequate supervision and breaks, and making sure that the minor only engages in work that is permitted for their age.

With few exceptions, most unrelated to retail, minors must be at least 14 years of age in order to be employed. Prior to becoming employed, minors are required to secure a work permit from the chief administrator or their designee of the school district, intermediate school district, public school academy, or nonpublic school where they are enrolled. Prior to March 2021, the minor was required to obtain their work permit in person and on a particularly colored piece of paper. COVID-19 legislative amendments, however, did away with those requirements.

While obtaining the permit is the responsibility of the minor, the employer is required to keep a copy on file while the minor is employed and return it to the issuing officer after the employment is terminated.

In addition, employers must keep detailed records of proof of age, which can be satisfied by the minor’s work permit, and time records that state the number of hours worked each day including starting, ending and break times. These records must be kept for a minimum of one year or as other laws require. In addition to these record keeping requirements, the employer is also required to post the Youth Employment Standards Act (“YESA”) poster, which can be downloaded at (click on the “Poster” tab under the “Spotlight” section).

Record keeping requirements, however, are just a portion of the employer’s responsibilities. They also have day-to-day responsibilities when it comes to minor employees. First, employers must ensure that minors are not engaged in work activities that are statutorily prohibited. In the retail context, such activities include delivery driving, use of power driven equipment and use of ladders or scaffolding for those under the age of 16. Minors must also be supervised by the employer or another employee 18 years of age or older at all times. This is particularly true for minor employees who engage in cash transactions after sunset, where a failure to do so can result in increased criminal penalties for an employer. Regular meal and rest breaks are also required. MCL 409.112 specifically states that a “minor shall not be employed for more than 5 hours continuously without an interval of at least 30 minutes for a meal and rest period.”

Finally, as you might expect, the number of hours a minor may work are tightly regulated. These hours vary depending on whether the minor is older or younger than 16 and whether school is in session. They don’t apply at all if the minor is over 16 and has graduated from high school or its equivalency or been emancipated. Space requirements will not allow me to go into the specific regulations, but fortunately the YESA poster referenced above outlines them nicely.

Young people can be a tremendous resource to a struggling work force. In observing my own children and others entering the workforce at a young age, they are motivated, hardworking and appreciative of the opportunity. While not every job may be ideal for a young worker, they can be a tremendous asset in the workforce and should be utilized where they can serve!