It is common practice in the agricultural community for children and teens to work on a farm or ranch. In many cases the child or teen is working on a family owned farm or ranch. It is important for the employers and family members of these children and teens to be aware of the laws that govern child labor in agriculture.
The federal government’s Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) defines allowable agricultural employment of children by age. Additionally, states have adopted their own child labor laws and in cases where the FLSA applies and state law differs, the more protective standards apply.
The FLSA sets child labor laws to ensure that children are safe in the workplace and that the jobs do not interfere with their health or education. The main goal of the FLSA is to prevent oppressive child labor. In order to meet that goal, child labor laws set standards for the employment of children under 16 and employment of children in hazardous occupations. The FLSA provides age and hazardous occupation exemptions from the child labor provisions for children who work in the agricultural industry outside of school hours. For children working in the agricultural industry the FLSA allows children under 16 to be lawfully employed under certain circumstances. For situations in which the agricultural exemptions do not apply the minimum work age for most occupations is 16.
Under the FLSA, if a child is working on a family-owned farm for their parents or working for a person standing in place of their parents, neither the minimum age or the hazardous occupation requirement of the FLSA apply. For example, when a child goes to stay on their grandparent’s farm to work for the summer, the grandparent stands in place of the parent while the child is with them. Someone can stand in place of a parent when the relationship between the child and the person is such that that person essentially acts as a parent by caring for and supporting the child. Employers of children need to have record of the child’s name, date of birth, home address, and written consent if required for employment.
There are eleven jobs on a farm that are considered hazardous activities and children under 16 are prohibited from working them. The prohibition of employment in hazardous occupations does not apply to youths employed on farms owned or operated by their parent(s) or persons standing in place of parent(s). In addition, of the hazardous activities outlined below, numbers 1 – 6 have limited exceptions. For those hazardous activities, student-learners and 14- and 15- year old children with certificates of training from 4-H programs or vocational agriculture training are allowed to be employed in the specific hazardous activities which they are trained for.
- Operating a tractor over 20 PTO horsepower, or connecting or disconnecting implements to such a tractor.
- Operating or helping to operate:
- Corn picker, cotton picker, grain combine, hay mower, forage harvester, hay baler, potato digger, or mobile pea viner;
- Feed grinder, crop dryer, forage blower, auger conveyor, or the unloading mechanism of a non-gravity-type self-unloading wagon or trailer; or,
- Power post-hole digger, power post driver, or nonwalking-type rotary tiller.
- Operating or assisting to operate:
- Trencher or earthmoving equipment;
- Fork lift;
- Potato combine; or,
- Power-driven circular, band, or chain saw.
- Working on a farm in a yard, pen, or stall occupied by a:
- Bull, boar, or stud horse maintained for breeding purposes; or
- Sow with suckling pigs, or cow with newborn calf with umbilical cord present.
- Loading, unloading, felling, bucking, or skidding 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 when transporting passengers, or riding on a tractor as a passenger or helper.
- Working inside:
- A fruit, forage (feed), or grain storage structure designed to retain an oxygen deficient or toxic atmosphere – for example, a silo where fruit is left to ferment;
- An upright silo within 2 weeks after silage (fodder) 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 agricultural chemicals if the chemicals are classified under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act as Toxicity Category I (identified by the word “Danger” and/or “Poison” with skull and crossbones); or Toxicity Category II (identified by the word “Warning” on the label).
- Handling or using a blasting agent.
- Transporting, transferring, moving, or applying anhydrous ammonia (dry fertilizer).
Unless states pass their own rules, children who are 12 and older can work seven days a week outside of school hours with parental consent in any non-hazardous activity. Twelve is generally the minimum age for employment in agriculture. However, children under 12 can be employed in any non-hazardous agricultural job on a small farm outside of school hours with parental consent. Once children reach age 14, they may work any job on the farm that’s defined as non-hazardous. Once they turn 16, they may work any and all farm jobs without restriction.
Wage and Hour
The federal government and 10 states set no maximum on the number of hours per day or week a young person can work on farms. Many agricultural operations are exempt from the federal minimum wage requirements so are free to set their own wages for their employees. If the child is employed in hand-harvesting, it does not matter how old they are because hand-harvesters are generally paid by the number of containers filled. For jobs that are not exempt, workers under 20 receive a lower federal minimum wage of $4.25 an hour for the first 90 days of employment. After 90 days, the employer is required to pay the legal minimum wage. For more information on minimum wages for agricultural workers, see the Minimum Wage for Agricultural Workers state compilation.
All states have adopted some version of their own child labor laws. State child labor laws follow the FLSA very closely, like setting similar minimum ages for employment. Some states have exempted farm work from their state child labor laws. This means that the FLSA would be the standards the employers would have to follow. However, some states have adopted stricter requirements and even set maximum daily and weekly hours and days per week standards for children under 16.
Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming have exempted farm work from most or all of their child labor laws. California, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Washington, and Wisconsin require someone to be 18 to work on a farm during school hours. In addition, 14 states have set 14 as the minimum age for farm work when not in school.
Some states have adopted exceptions to their requirements. For example, Oregon allows 9-year-olds to pick berries and beans with parental permission. In Hawaii, children as young as 10 are allowed to harvest coffee but the minimum age to harvest pineapples is 15.
For states with stricter standards and additional requirements than the FLSA, it is important for employers to know what requirements are in place for child labor on a farm.
While child labor laws allow for the employment of children in agricultural operations, it is important for employers to be aware and comply with all applicable child labor laws.