Legal Alerts

How 'Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm? (Restrictions on Agricultural Child Labor)


Although the U.S. Department of Labor withdrew their proposed restrictions on agricultural child labor the day after they were announced in 2012, that doesn't mean there aren't restrictions on what youthful farm workers can do.

Farms are subject to both federal and state laws that protect the health and safety of children. Typically, federal law applies to larger employers who are engaged in interstate commerce, and not to kids who babysit, mow the lawn or do chores on the family farm. However, various state laws may apply to those enterprises as well. If you plan to hire children (who are not your own) and pay them for their work, you are advised to consult the applicable law.

Generally, the laws restrict the hours of work, type of work, and minimum wages paid.

The minimum working age for agricultural labor is 14, or age 12 with written parental consent or on a farm where the parent is employed. A child of any age may be employed by his or her parent or person standing in place of the parent at any time in any occupation on a farm owned or operated by that parent or person standing in place of that parent.

Certain duties are considered "prohibited work" for children under age 16 because of their hazardous nature, including operating tractors of over 20 PTO horsepower; operating or assisting to operate corn pickers, grain combines, hay movers, potato diggers, trenchers or earthmoving equipment, or power-driven circular, hand or chain saws; working in a yard, pen or stall occupied by a stud animal or a sow with suckling pigs; working inside a silo or manure pit; handling or applying certain agricultural chemicals; and handling or using a blasting agent such as dynamite or black powder. These prohibitions do not apply to youths employed on farms owned or operated by their parents. There are also limited exemptions for "student learners" in approved programs and in 4-H Extension Service Training and Vocational Agriculture Training Programs.

Certain working hours restrictions also apply to minors. Night work after 10:00 p.m. before a school day is prohibited. Maximum daily and weekly hours and days per week for minors under 16 are eight hours per day and 40 hours per week during non-school periods and three hours per day and 20 hours per week during school periods. There are some exceptions for corn detasseling.

Employers also may be required to obtain age certificates, proving the age of the child worker and must keep accurate records of all hours worked. Certain minimum wages must also be paid to younger workers. Although the current federal minimum wage is $7.25, there are some exceptions. Federal law allows any employer in South Dakota to pay a new employee who is under 20 years of age a training wage of $4.25 per hour for the first 90 days of employment. Full-time high school or college students who work part-time may be paid 85% of the South Dakota minimum wage ($6.16 per hour) for up to 20 hours of work at certain employers.

In some cases, federal and state laws are inconsistent, but in all cases the most restrictive law applies. For that reason, it is important that employers are informed when they hire younger workers. Penalties for violation are severe and include civil and criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment for conviction of willful violations.

We are happy to assist South Dakota employers with their specific questions on agricultural child labor.

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