Q: My daughter is a hard-working 15 year old (she has her work permit) who works at a local gym where she and other 16 year olds help run birthday parties for young children. Sometimes the gym manager is not at the event and the birthday child’s parents are the only adults present. Recently, the manager asked my daughter to be a team leader who evaluates the performance of her colleagues. She is supposed to report her assessment to the manager who would meet directly with staff to discuss their performance. My daughter was not given any additional money for this role. Can this manager ask my teenage daughter to be a manager and act in this evaluation role? It seems like the manager is shirking her duties.
A: You have such an enterprising and responsible daughter! These skills will serve her well in her career, but who knew her managerial career would start at 15 with supervision and performance appraisals. So, is your concern about money? The responsibility? Her relationship with co-workers? There are plenty of potential concerns, and I hope all is going well for her.
As the season for summer jobs for teens comes up, and to address your concerns about your daughter’s work situation, I consulted attorney Jaclyn Kugell of Morgan, Brown and Joy, LLP, Chair of the Management Committee, who specializes in employment matters.
According to Kugell, both Massachusetts legislature and Congress have established a number of laws that closely regulate working conditions of minors under 18. These include restrictions on the time of day a minor can work, the total number of hours per day and week that can be worked, and a long list of potentially hazardous tasks that are forbidden for minors. Work schedules of minors also must be posted in advance. None of these laws prevent employers from changing job duties, as long as the tasks assigned are not prohibited under youth employment laws. For more information, minors and their parents can check out https://www.mass.gov/service-details/massachusetts-laws-regulating-minors-work-hours or https://www.dol.gov/whd/childlabor.htm.
Generally speaking, outside of the union context or when no written employment contract exists, it is not illegal to ask, or even direct, any employee—whether a minor or not—to pick up additional duties for no compensation, even duties that are more supervisory in nature. Kugell explains that employers can lawfully change the duties of an employee-at-will at their discretion. It is not illegal for an employee’s job duties to wholly change over time, or even over months or weeks, and even without more compensation for additional duties. So, legally, can your daughter be asked to perform these duties? The short answer is yes. As long as the duties are not outside those that she can perform lawfully under child labor laws—which does not seem to be the case here—it is legal.
The other part of this situation is whether or not the owner of gym or the manager’s supervisor will be impressed by the delegation of this important duty. Would the owner or supervisor be comfortable with a minor evaluating other employees’ work? This is a different question altogether that has little to do with the actual legal aspects of employment. The owner of the business or the gym manager’s supervisor may determine the gym manager is “shirking” her duties or not performing her job effectively—but it is not illegal.
It’s worth mentioning that this is an excellent opportunity for your daughter to learn about the importance of job-related negotiation. She has learned early in her work experience that she brought specific value to her role and her manager wanted to capitalize on that—and nothing was stopping her from negotiating a raise. It’s never too soon to learn this lesson. Your daughter may want to remember this experience as she continues in her career!