Youth farm labor rule comment period extended

Nov 4, 2011

The Department of Labor (DOL) has extended the comment period on a proposed rule limiting the work responsibilities of youth in agricultural settings to Dec. 1.

The comment period was originally set to end on Nov. 1. The proposed rules were released on Sept. 2 and farmers argued that two months was not enough time to respond with fall harvest in full swing.

DOL has proposed changes to regulations in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which would cut back the type of work youth could do on a farm.

While the proposed changes do not apply to children working on a farm owned or operated by their parents, they would impact the 14- and 15-year-olds wanting to work on farms not owned by their parents. It also impacts high school vocational agriculture programs, including 4-H.

Relatives with farms and ranches, including grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc., would also be off limits to teens looking for jobs under the new restrictions.

Sens. Jerry Moran, R-KS, and Ben Nelson, D-NE, and 30 of their Senate colleagues sent a letter to DOL Secretary Hilda Soils asking to extend the comment period.

“Not only would this regulation, as currently drafted, have farreaching effects on youth agricultural education programs, farms, ranches and other agricultural businesses, it could greatly impact the structure of family farms and rural communities in the states we represent,” the senators wrote in a letter to Solis.

The current FLSA was written in the 1970s. The “parent exemption” in the original act will not change, and allows parents to decide what tasks their children are allowed to do on their farms or ranches.

FLSA currently allows farmers and ranchers to hire or employ youth as long as they don’t participate in certain designated hazardous farm tasks, including the operation of tractors over 20

horse-power and machinery.

At the age of 14, kids can complete a 24-hour tractor and machinery safety certification program and receive an exemption.

DOL wants to create more uniformity between youth farm workers and nonagricultural sectors.

Proposed changes include prohibiting any hired youth worker under the age of 16 from operating any powerdriven equipment; including tractors, riding lawnmowers, push lawnmowers and milking machines.

DOL is proposing an optional education exemption, but it is much stricter than the current exemption. Consisting of 90 hours of training, it would be exclusively taught by a state or local educational authority, such as a high school.

Even with the training, youth would not be able to operate power-driven equipment, including all-terrain vehicles.

In addition, youth will only be allowed to operate tractors that are equipped with a rollover protective structure, or ROPS, and seat belt.

While the proposed changes primarily affect 14- to15year-olds, those 16-18 are also looking at changes.

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

Another potential change forbids the use of electronic devices, including all communication devices, while operating any power-driven equipment.

The revisions would prohibit youth from working on a farm in a yard, pen or stall occupied by intact male equine, porcine, bovine and bison over 6 months, sows with suckling pigs, or cows with newborn calves. It also prohibits youth from assisting in animal husbandry practices inflicting pain, or resulting in unpredictable animal behavior, such as breeding, branding, castrating, herding, vaccinating, dehorning, and even horse riding, according to Professor Roger A. McEowen with the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation at Iowa State University.

Farmers are encouraged to submit comments and can access the proposed rules, including background, rationale and justifications, at or at — Traci ——— Eatherton, WLJ Editor