Earlier we brought you part one of our two-part series on the state and federal requirements surrounding hiring a minor – covering the permits required and the work restrictions for each child age group. In today’s article, we’ll finish things off in part two with just how much the law requires you to pay your minor worker.

The good news? Chances are hiring a minor could save you a little money.

The Federal “Opportunity” Wage

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), there exists an option for employers to pay new employees under 20 years old an “opportunity” wage to accommodate the employer while training the worker on a new skill. This opportunity wage can be any amount under the current minimum wage, but must not be less than $4.25, and lasts only for as long as the first 90 days of employment.

Once the employee turns 20 or after the first 90 days (whichever comes first), the worker is then entitled to the standard minimum wage.

California’s “Learner” Wage

For California employers, however, much like the federal “opportunity wage”, the state allows employers to pay workers of all ages with no prior experience in the specific job field a “learner” rate of 85% of the minimum wage (currently $10.50) for the first 160 hours of work.

So, if you’re a Californian employer hiring a minor and are curious about which wage applies? Here’s a general rule of thumb…

Under the parameters:

  • If only the learner wage applies and not the opportunity wage, the worker will receive the learners wage.
  • If only the opportunity wage applies, then the worker will receive the higher state wage because it is greater than the federal wage required.
  • If neither applies, the worker is entitled to the state minimum wage (or higher if their location has a minimum wage greater than the state’s).
  • If both wages apply, the worker must receive the learner wage for the first 160 hours, and then the state minimum wage.

And as always, if you’re ever unsure whether to follow federal labor laws or state guidelines for your employees, whichever law holds the most benefits and protection for the worker in the situation, is always the law that applies.


Thank you to Lisa Guerin and her blog posted at https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/restrictions-hiring-minors-work-california.html for this detailed information.

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