In most states of the United States of America, a work permit is necessary for a minor to be employed. It certifies that the minor is showing up for school and doing acceptably well.

However, when thinking about the plight of my 17-year-old brother, my 16-year-old cousin, and my 17-year-old neighbor whose father died and whose mother was laid off, I just realized something: Minors have no guaranteed right to work in the State of Indiana.

Without a work permit or a diploma, there is no job for a minor.

According to Indiana's child labor laws and regulations (, a minor who has not graduated from high school or received a Good Enough Diploma must obtain a work permit before working in most occupations.

There is no work permit.

A work permit is issued only with permission from the employer, the minor's parent or legal guardian (hereinafter the Parent), and the school in which the minor is enrolled. State law gives the principal of a school absolute power to veto a work permit based on attendance standards and/or academic performance standards. It is apparently completely within a principal's right to set the standards high enough to exclude virtually all work permit applicants:

  • You must have a 4.0 (A) or higher cumulative grade point average. (This means straight A's since ninth grade.)
  • You must have 0 or fewer days of unexcused absence and 0 or fewer days of excused absence in the previous grading period and the current grading period to date.

Many school corporations in Indiana have a policy that a minor must either attend the designated school for his or her school district, or the parent must pay full tuition at a private school. This gives a particular school a government-granted monopoly on work permits for a given child.

Thus, for some minors, it is impossible to obtain a work permit, no matter how well they do in school.

There is no diploma.

It's nearly impossible to graduate early to take advantage of the exception for high school graduates. Most children enter high school at age 14 and graduate at 18 after four years. Though Indiana requires that a high school student take eight semesters (four years) of English literature, most schools do not permit students to enroll in two English literature courses concurrently, even if there is ample available time in the student's schedule. Most minors, even the brightest ones (think Doogie Howser), can't just drop out of school and get a GED because Indiana requires all GED applicants to be 17 years of age or older.

Possible solutions

One solution would be for the state to specify the strictest attendance and academic standards that a principal can require. For instance: "No school shall deny, on grounds of poor academic performance, a work permit to a minor who has at least a 3.0 grade point average on a 4.0 or 4.3 scale." (This is equivalent to a B.)

Another solution would be for the state to require schools to permit students to take more than one English literature course in the same school year. Some school districts permit this, by lengthening the class periods and shortening the semesters such that four semesters make a year, but moving your whole family to such a school district has its own drawbacks.

Other U.S. states

TheBooBooKitty says In Missouri, work permits are only required for those under 16, and they are also pretty much non-existant. The few employers around who will actually hire 15 year olds prefer to pay them under the table anyway.

I don't claim to be an expert on child labor law. If you have any questions or comments, please /msg me.

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