May 30, 2013
Brush up on youth employment rules

As the 2013 season kicks in, it’s a good idea to brush up on laws governing youth employment in farm operations.

In April 2012, the Obama administration, under heavy pressure from farm groups, dropped a plan to prevent children from doing hazardous work on farms owned by anyone other than their parents.

The U.S. Department of Labor withdrew the proposed rules, which would have banned children younger than 16 from using most power-driven farm equipment, including tractors. The rules also would have prevented those younger than 18 from working in feed lots, grain bins and stockyards.

While labor officials said their goal was to reduce the fatality rate for child farm workers, the proposal became a target for opponents, who called it an impractical, heavy-handed regulation that ignored the reality of small farms.

“As our season finally gets started, and schools will be out soon, some of the growers might be considering hiring youth to help out on your farms,” said Amy Irish-Brown, a Michigan State University Extension educator in the Grand Rapids region.

“Although it was revoked, there were new regulations from the Department of Labor put forth last year to limit youth farm labor to a family farm only,” Irish-Brown said. “Even though no changes were made, this caused many questions about hiring youth. It’s always a good idea for employers to review what youth can and cannot do when employed on a farm. Young people over 16 can do any job on a farm, but there are limits for employees under 16 that they should brush up on.

“I’ve had a few phone calls and emails over the last few weeks with growers wanting to make sure they are following rules correctly,” Irish-Brown said. “By reading up on the laws and regulations, growers can hopefully be up to date and making decisions in the best interest of employees and employers. Taking proactive steps could save headaches later, and good-faith efforts are still important in running a business.”

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), as amended, sets standards for youth employment in agriculture. These standards differ from those for non-farm jobs.

FLSA covers employees whose work involves production of agricultural goods that will leave the state directly or indirectly and become a part of interstate commerce.

Many states have laws setting standards for youth employment in agriculture. When both state and federal youth employment laws apply, the law setting the most stringent standard must be observed.

Minimum age standards

Youths 16 and older may work in any farm job at any time. Youths age 14 and 15 may work outside school hours in jobs not declared hazardous by the U.S. secretary of labor. Youths 12 and 13 years of age may work outside of school hours in non-hazardous jobs on farms that also employ their parent(s), or with written parental consent.

Youths under 12 may work outside of school hours in non-hazardous jobs with parental consent, but only on farms where none of the employees are subject to the minimum wage requirements of FLSA.

Local youths age 10 and 11 may hand harvest short-season crops outside school hours for no more than eight weeks between June 1 and Oct. 15, if their employers have obtained special waivers from the secretary of labor.

Youths of any age may work at any time in any job on a farm owned or operated by their parents.

Minors under 16 may not work in the following occupations declared hazardous by the secretary of labor:

– Operating a tractor of over 20 PTO horsepower, or connecting or disconnecting an implement or any of its parts to or from such a tractor.

– Operating or working with a corn picker, cotton picker, grain combine, hay mower, forage harvester, hay baler, potato digger, mobile pea viner, feed grinder, crop dryer, forage blower, auger conveyor, unloading mechanism of a non-gravity-type self-unloading wagon or trailer, power post-hole digger, power post driver or non-walking-type rotary tiller.

– Operating or working with a trencher or earth-moving equipment, forklift, potato combine or power-driven circular, band or chain saw.

– Working in a yard, pen or stall occupied by a bull, boar or stud horse maintained for breeding purposes. A sow with suckling pigs; or a cow with a newborn calf (with umbilical cord present).

– Felling, buckling, skidding, loading or unloading timber with a butt diameter of more than 6 inches.

– Working from a ladder or scaffold at a height of over 20 feet.

– Driving a bus, truck or automobile to transport passengers, or riding on a tractor as a passenger or helper.

– Working inside: a fruit, forage or grain storage designed to retain an oxygen-deficient or toxic atmosphere; an upright silo within two weeks after silage has been added or when a top unloading device is in operating position; a manure pit; or a horizontal silo while operating a tractor for packing purposes.

– Handling or applying toxic agricultural chemical identified by the words “danger,” “poison” or “warning,” or a skull and crossbones on the label.

– Handling or using explosives.

– Transporting, transferring or applying anhydrous ammonia.


The prohibition of employment in hazardous occupations does not apply to youths employed on farms owned or operated by their parents. In addition, there are some exemptions from the prohibitions:

– 14- and 15-year-old student learners enrolled in vocational agricultural programs are exempt from certain hazardous occupations when certain requirements are met.

– Minors age 14 and 15 who hold certificates of completion of training under a 4-H or vocational agriculture training program may work outside school hours on certain equipment for which they have been trained.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division enforces the laws. Employers may be fined up to $11,000 for each youth employment violation.

A rundown of the regulations for farm operations can be found here.

For more information, visit the Wage and Hour Division website, or call 866-4USWAGE (866-487-9243).

Gary Pullano

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