Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on July 21, 1997. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Child Labor Laws Apply To Farming
By Rhonda Whitmire
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- If the employees are not old enough to drive a car, the law says they should not be allowed to drive a tractor either.
Many youth today, especially in rural areas, obtain their first job experience working on local farms. Agricultural employers need to be aware of how the child labor laws apply to farming and know the stiff penalties levied if they violate these regulations.
"Agricultural employers assume tremendous liability when they allow young workers to perform tasks not allowed under the child labor regulations," said Herb Willcutt, associate specialist of agriculture and biological engineering at Mississippi State University.
"The most common violation occurs when the employer, uninformed of the regulations, hires a juvenile to work with chemicals or machinery," he said. "The employer's biggest mistake is simply not being familiar with the laws."
The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Labor Department's Employment Standards Administrations enforces the federal child labor laws.
The restrictions apply to youths under 16 years of age. Individuals 16 and older may work at any time on any farm job.
"Basically, a person must be 16 years old before he or she can be hired to operate or work near machinery involving tractors over 20 PTO (power take off) horse power, or other similarly-sized machinery," Willcutt said. "Employees must be at least 16 before they can handle or apply pesticides with `danger', `poison' or `warning' on the label."
Children under 16 are not allowed to work near bulls, stud horses, boars, a sow with pigs or a cow with a newborn calf, Willcutt said.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the following specific regulations pertain to child labor on a farm:
- 14- and 15-year-olds may work outside school hours in non-hazardous jobs;
- 12- and 13-year-olds may work outside school hours in jobs not declared hazardous with either written consent from parents or on the same farm where their parents are employed;
- 12 years of age and under are banned from working on farms employing workers covered by the minimum wage regulations. On all other farms, they may work in non-hazardous jobs outside school hours with written parental consent;
- 10- and 11-year-olds may hand harvest crops outside school hours for no more than eight weeks between June 1 and Oct. 15 if their employers obtain special waivers.
The Secretary of Labor determines which farm jobs are declared hazardous. These jobs include operating equipment driven by a PTO such as a corn picker, grain combine or hay mower; working from a ladder or scaffold more than 20 feet high; or transporting, transferring or applying anhydrous ammonia.
According to the child labor laws outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act, an employer can face fines of up to $1,000 for each child labor violation. The employer also may face civil penalties of up to $10,000.
However, there is an exception to these regulations. Youths of any age may work on a farm owned or operated by their parents. They are not excluded from any job or restricted to certain hours.
For a complete listing and more information on additional restrictions and penalties, agriculture employers can contact the nearest office of the Wage and Hour Division under the Department of Labor.
"I encourage farmers to get copies of these regulations and follow them closely," Willcutt said. "Farmers place themselves in a position of great liability if they violate these regulations and an accident occurs."