Dept. of Labor, Fair Labor Standards Act, Farmworker Children

Farm Column: Changes in Hiring Youth for Farm Work Being Proposed

From, Fond du Lac, Mike Rankin, 28 Oct 2011.

Mike Rankin is the UW-Extension crops and soils agent for Fond du Lac County. To reach Rankin with questions, call 929-3170 or email him at

Mike Rankin is the UW-Extension crops and soils agent for Fond du Lac County. To reach Rankin with questions, call 929-3170 or email him at

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as currently written has essentially been on the books since the 1970s.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) unveiled some significant changes to the law that will impact farm owner/operators, 14- and 15-year-olds who desire to work on farms not operated by their parents, and high school vocational agriculture programs.

Before getting into the changes, let’s review the current guidelines.

First, there are no federal regulations if youth are working for theirparent(s) on the farm.

It is solely up to the parent as to what tasks their son or daughter may accomplish.

This is known as the “parent exemption” and will not change with the new proposal.

The FLSA allows for farm operators to hire or employ youth as long as they don’t participate in certain designated hazardous farm tasks.

Included in this list of tasks is the operation of tractors (over 20 hp) and machinery.

If the youth enrolls in and successfully completes a 24-hour tractor and machinerysafety certification program, they are given an exemption once they reach the age of 14 to operate tractors and machinery.

In Fond du Lac County, the certification program has historically been offered through the UW-Extension Office and some high school agriculture programs.

In some other counties, technical colleges offer the program.

‘Increased parity’

To be sure, the rules for hiring youth farm workers have been more flexible than those for hiring youth in nonagricultural sectors.

The DOL now desires to bring “increased parity” between agricultural and nonagricultural child labor provisions.

This brings us to the proposed changes.

Effectively, the new rules will prohibit any hired youth worker under the age of 16 from operating any power-driven equipment on a farm.

This includes tractors but also push or riding lawnmowers and milking machines.

“Power-driven” means any power source other than that which is human hand or foot-driven.

The DOL is proposing an educational exemption for 14- and 15-year-olds to allow for the operation of certain power-driven equipment, but it is much more rigorous.

The new agricultural safety program would consist of 90 training hours and be exclusively taught by a state or local educational authority (e.g. high school) or in a similar program conducted by a private school.

Even with the training, youth would not be able to operate power-driven equipment such as all-terrain vehicles, loaders (including skid steers), milking equipment, feed grinders and the unloading mechanism of non-gravity type self-unloading wagons.

Further, youth will only be allowed to operate tractors that are equipped with a rollover protective structure (ROPS) and seat belt.

The proposed changes to the current regulations do not apply to the employment of youth 16 years of age or older except for two new regulations that impact employment of youth between the ages of 16 and 18.

The first new proposed regulation forbids employment of 16- and 17-year-olds in all occupations of the farm-product raw materials wholesale trade industries (grain elevators, feed lots, livestock auction barns, etc.).

The second new proposed regulation impacts what 16- and 17-year-olds can do while working.

This proposed regulation forbids the use of electronic devices, including communication devices, while operating any power-driven equipment.

This latter rule applies to younger workers as well.

Public comment

Again, it’s important to emphasize these proposed changes only apply to hired youth workers, not sons or daughters of the farm owner-operator.

However, they will apply in instances in which a youth desires to work for an uncle or grandparent if their own parents don’t actually operate the farm but still maintain a portion of economic interest (as is the case in some partnerships and corporations).

The DOL is taking public comment on the proposed changes until Nov. 1, although many farm groups are requesting an extension to that date.

If you want to read more details (and there are many) or see other summaries, I have compiled this information at:

There is also a link provided to the public comments Web page.

Mike Rankin is the UW-Extension crops and soils agent for Fond du Lac County. To reach Rankin with questions, call 929-3170 or email him at

Source:, Fond du Lac, “Farm Column: Changes in hiring youth for farm work being proposed” by Mike Rankin, 28 Oct 2011.


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