2

Let's assume that Example, Inc. (a tech company based in California but registered in Delaware) wants to hire a non-emancipated 16-year old minor for a full-time position (using the principle of at-will employment). Provided the necessary work permits and similar are in place, the minor's employment should be valid once they sign the employment contract.

However, this brings up the question as to whether a minor can sign and enter to an employment contract themselves. Is this legally acceptable, or is a parent/guardian signature required?

If a parent's/guardian's signature is required, does the minor also need to sign the contract to be valid?

3

There is a general answer about minors and contracts to the effect that minors can disaffirm the obligations of a contract. California law is a bit different. FAM 6750 identifies kinds of relevant employment, and the most relevant clause is (a)(1):

A contract pursuant to which a minor is employed or agrees to render artistic or creative services, either directly or through a third party, including, but not limited to, a personal services corporation (loan-out company), or through a casting agency. “Artistic or creative services” includes, but is not limited to, services as an actor, actress, dancer, musician, comedian, singer, stunt-person, voice-over artist, or other performer or entertainer, or as a songwriter, musical producer or arranger, writer, director, producer, production executive, choreographer, composer, conductor, or designer.

Such a contract required court approval. The question is whether the employment is for "creative services". Many programmers consider their work to be creative. In this case, though, the examples suggest that programming services are not included (invoking the interpretive canon "noscitur a sociis"). If the contract were covered by this condition, then FAM §6751 says

A contract, otherwise valid, of a type described in Section 6750, entered into during minority, cannot be disaffirmed on that ground either during the minority of the person entering into the contract, or at any time thereafter, if the contract has been approved by the superior court in any county in which the minor resides or is employed or in which any party to the contract has its principal office in this state for the transaction of business.

It is not illegal for a minor to sign such a contract, nor is there any law against a person making such an offer (although the employer has to have a permit (EC 49160; LC 1299). The minor can (somewhat) escape requirements of the contract, so it depends on what is required. In describing this as "at-will", I assume that there is no obligation to maintain the relationship for a particular period, meaning the minor can quit at any time and can be fired at any time. The contract presumably says "we provide X, you will do Y". Then the question is whether the employer can provide X, the minor can receive and accept X. but then opts to not provide Y while keeping X. An employer would normally sue for breach of contract, seeking the return of X. The minor could raise the defense "there is no contract", but that is an all or nothing proposition – you can't just repudiate one sliver of a contract. They can be required by the court to return any benefit received under the non-contract, although if that benefit is destroyed (spent, for instance), the employer would be out of luck. So the minor could be required to return X to the company.

An adult could "co-sign" a contract whereby they promise to pay a child's credit card debt, but an adult cannot bind a child to the terms of an employment agreement.

-1

There is no contract for employment at will. That is what "at will" means.

It is very unusual for an ordinary employee to get a contract for employment. Usually only highly paid people like financial superstars and athletes get contracts, or people in unions who are hired under collective bargaining (group) contracts.

Regular people are hired "at will" which means they can be fired or quit at any time.

You may be thinking of an "employment agreement". Usually such "agreements" are very one-sided and get thrown out in court if they are litigated either because they are one-sided, so they fail to meet the standards of a contract for that reason, or because they have provisions that are illegal, like trying to prevent the employee from working in the same industry if they quit. The law recognizes a fundamental right to work, so normally provisions that try to ban an employee who quits from working for a competitor are unenforceable.

In the United States, like all English common law countries, a person cannot enter into any kind of legal agreement unless they are a mentally competent adult and have reached the age of majority. In Massachusetts, where I live, the age of majority is 18.

  • 3
    Even an oral "at will" employment arrangement is a contract, even though it is not in writing, and is governed by contract law. And, generally, teenagers are hired all the time in a lawful manner. Also, since minority is just a defense to someone else enforcing the contract, an employment agreement involving a minor would be enforceable against the employer by the minor. Since firing the employee rather than suing the employee would be the normal course, having a defense to a law suit under this employment agreement may be largely irrelevant. So basically, right concept but wrong reason. – ohwilleke Feb 8 '17 at 1:01

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