Last fall, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division proposed new regulations for children working agricultural jobs.
The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) worked with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to craft the first proposed updates to agricultural child labor regulations in over 40 years. The purpose of the proposed regulations is to increase the safety of children who work in agriculture and align the rules with those of other high-risk occupations, such as manufacturing.
Current federal, agricultural child labor standards primarily concern the age at which children become eligible to perform various activities on the farm. Generally, a child must be 16 or older to work on a farm during school hours and 14 years old to perform farm work when school is not in session. Twelve- and 13-year-olds may work on a farm either with their parents or with parental consent. Children younger than 12 may only work on their parents’ farms or on small farms exempted from the federal statute. Children ages 10 to 12 can work on farms not owned by their families only in rare circumstances, and the employer must show that the business would be severely disrupted without the child labor.
Federal law also prohibits children under 16 from performing hazardous activities unless they are employed by their parents or working on their parents’ farm. Hazardous activities include, but are not limited to, operating large farm machinery, working in enclosed spaces with dangerous animals (studs and new mothers), working on a ladder or scaffold more than 20 feet high, working inside certain spaces such as manure pits, and handling hazardous farm chemicals. 29 C.F.R. § 570.71 contains the full list of activities considered hazardous.
Although the proposed rule changes cover a wide range of safety concerns — it is important to note that none of the the Wage and Hour Division's proposed regulations would apply to a child working on a farm owned in whole or in part by his or her parents. Additionally, the new rule would not affect a child’s participation in 4-H and FFA. The WHD has specifically stated that under the new rules a child will be able to raise his or her 4-H or FFA animal, even if the animal is being raised on a working farm. The child participating in these activities would not be an employee, and thus the new regulations would not apply. The WHD’s entire proposal and links to more in-depth analysis can be found on the WHD’s website.