The Department of Labor has recently proposed a sweeping change in child labor regulations as they apply to agriculture, which could limit the ability of many children under 16 years of age to work on a farm. Over 10,000 public comments have been submitted to the Department of Labor regarding these changes. Public comments were received through December 1, 2011. Ohio Farm Bureau filed comments jointly with the Ohio Association of Agricultural Educators. Comments were also filed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, other state farm bureaus, and many other agricultural organizations expressing the concerns of the agricultural community regarding these regulations.
Child labor regulations typically apply to all employed persons under 18 years of age. However, in the case of agriculture, child labor regulations only apply to persons under 16 years of age who are not employed by their parents. For those children under 16 years of age, the Department of Labor has identified what it considers “hazardous occupations,” or activities that those employees under 16 should not engage in. In the past, these regulations have been fairly reasonable and have still allowed young teens to work on the farm while gaining responsibility and knowledge from their farm jobs.
New proposed regulations will limit a child employee’s ability to work any type of mechanical devices, machinery or tractors (including small garden tractors); prevent them from working from a ladder or scaffolding at a height more than 6 feet above ground, including agricultural structures such as silos; prohibit felling, bucking, loading/unloading of any timber; and limit the ability to work with livestock. Furthermore, the current student learner exemptions which essentially allow any child in 4-H or FFA to apprise themselves of certification to take part in certain of these activities will now require a 90-hour course administered by a governmental educational institution. Such limitations will further strain already financially strapped agricultural education programs and completely take away this option for those students who do not have an agricultural education program offered through their school.
One thing that has not changed is the exemption from the child labor regulations for those children employed by their parents. However, there is some concern that the exemption as written is interpreted so narrowly, as to effectively take the exemption away from any of those children who work for an LLC or farm corporation owned, either wholly or partially, by their parents.
Because of the extreme outpouring of concern and massive amount of comments received, it is likely the DOL will take an extended view of all the comments submitted. The timeline for actual new regulations is unknown at this time.
To review a copy of the OFBF and OAAE comments on this issue, click here.