Child Labor Laws: What You Need to Know for On-Farm Helpers
Young workers can be a valuable resource for your farm, particularly when staffing part-time or seasonal positions, but obeying federal and state child labor laws is crucial for your success and their safety.
The federal government’s Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) sets different standards for youth employment in agriculture than for nonfarm jobs. These safety guidelines by age apply to employees between the ages of 10 and 15 years old “whose work involves production of agricultural goods which will leave the state directly or indirectly and become part of interstate commerce.”
Youth who are 16 or older – or children of any age whose parents own or operate the farm – do not fall under these guidelines. According to the FLSA, both of these groups can work in any farm job at any time.
FLSA rules are federal guidelines; you must also abide by your individual state laws. If your farm operates in a state with more restrictive guidelines than the federal rules or has additional rules governing the issue of work permits (another necessary step to hiring underage workers), the more stringent law always applies. Check both federal and state standards and defer to the higher standard.
Age of workers
FLSA rules in agriculture apply only to minors under age 16 whose parents don’t own the farm that’s hiring. But what about young workers who aren’t part of the family? Let’s look at the laws for these workers by age.
- Children between the ages of 10 and 15 can work only outside of school hours.
- A special provision allows farms where no workers fall under minimum wage laws to hire children as young as 10 or 11 if they have secured parental consent or also hired the parent so he or she can provide supervision.
- These children can harvest short-season crops by hand for no more than eight weeks between June 1 and October 15. Farms must have special waivers from the Secretary of Labor to hire from this age group. These waivers will be denied if pesticides have been used on the crops.
- Children aged 12 or 13 are permitted to work non-hazardous jobs on the farm with parental consent or supervision.
- Youth who are 14 or 15 can work any non-hazardous farm jobs without parental consent. Some hazardous positions are allowed if these workers are enrolled in approved vocational programs or hold certain 4-H certificates.
- After teens turn 16 years old, they may work any and all farm jobs without restriction, including those classified as hazardous.
Hazardous farm tasks
The delineation between non-hazardous and hazardous jobs in agriculture must be clear to ensure adherence to FLSA rules by age. Following are some, but not all, of the restricted, hazardous agriculture tasks listed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information:
- Driving a tractor over 20 PTO (power takeoff) horsepower or connecting or disconnecting implements or any parts to or from these tractors
- Operating or working with mechanized equipment or tools with the potential to injure or kill, including pickers, diggers, balers, combines, mowers, chainsaws, excavation equipment and forklifts
- Working in a yard or pen with breeding or nursing livestock
- Handling timber with a diameter greater than six inches
- Working on ladders or scaffolds over 20 feet high
- Driving transport vehicles or riding on a tractor
- Working inside restricted spaces, including crop storage bins, silos or manure pits in a variety of specific conditions
- Handling or transporting toxic chemicals, ammonia or explosives
When in doubt about whether an activity meets the “hazardous” criteria, contact the U.S. Department of Labor, and regardless of any employee ages, maintain adequate insurance for your farm, develop appropriate training materials, and consult with your lawyer on hiring questions.
A Westfield agent can best advise you on the insurance protections you need for your overall farm operations, including workers compensation, commercial liability, property losses, and business interruption. Talk to one of our agents to get the farm insurance you need.