Dos and Don’ts of Hiring Youth on the Farm

Summer is right around the corner, and that means farm kids around the country will be looking for work. If you hire anyone under the age of 18 to work on your farm, there are some things you need to know.

First of all, if you hire your own children – which offers significant tax advantages – the laws limiting which jobs they can do generally do not apply to you. Children, stepchildren, foster children, children for whom you are the legal guardian, and grandchildren are exempt from the federal hazardous jobs regulation.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should turn your 8-year-old loose driving the tractor. For a list of recommended farm jobs by age, read Choosing Age Appropriate Chores. Remember that age alone should not determine which jobs are suitable for children. Also consider their size, physical strength, training, and cognitive ability, and always err on the side of caution.

“It is impossible to overemphasize farm safety for all workers, both youth and adults. Producers should conduct farm safety audits and institute an ongoing farm safety education program,” advises Melissa O’Rourke, an Extension farm and agribusiness management specialist with Iowa State University. “Additionally, producers should consult with their own legal counsel for specific advice on any employment or liability questions that may arise, and consult with their insurance professionals to assure that adequate liability coverage is maintained for the operation.”

Age Requirements by Law

The minimum age standards as mandated by the U.S. Department of Labor are:

  • Youths ages 16 and above may work in any farm job at any time.
  • Youths ages 14 and 15 may work outside school hours in jobs not declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. (Youth this age who have completed a 4-H or vocational agriculture certificate of completion for tractor or machine operation may operate that equipment, but the employer must keep a copy of the certificate on file.)
  • Youths 12 and 13 years of age may work outside of school hours in nonhazardous jobs on farms that also employ their parent(s) or with written parental consent.
  • Youths under 12 years of age may work outside of school hours in nonhazardous jobs with parental consent, but only on farms where none of the employees is subject to the minimum-wage requirements of the FLSA.
  • Local youths 10 and 11 may hand harvest short-season crops outside school hours for no more than eight weeks between June 1 and October 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.

What are Hazardous Jobs?

Minors under 16 (other than your own children) may not work in the following occupations declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor:

  • Operating a tractor of over 20 PTO hp., 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 nongravity-type self-unloading wagon or trailer, power post-hole digger, power post driver, or nonwalking-type rotary tiller.
  • Operating or working with a trencher or earthmoving equipment, fork lift, 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 or 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 of the time silage was 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.

Each state has its own child labor laws applicable to agricultural employment, and if they differ from national law, the stricter of the two must be followed. Find a state-by-state breakdown of those laws on the U.S. Department of Labor website.

Breaking these laws not only puts youth at risk, it also could cost employers, who may be fined up to $11,000 for each youth employment violation. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, which enforces the laws, has set up a helpline and website to answer questions. Call 1-866-487-9243 or visit wagehour.dol.gov.

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