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Laws restrict duties of minors on farms, ranches

By Jessica Domel

If you plan to hire your children or someone else’s for extra help on the farm or ranch this summer, be mindful of both state and federal laws that could land you in hot water.

Tiffany Dowell Lashmet, agriculture law specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, warns there could be fines of up to $11,000 per employee.

“There’s a whole set of federal regulations related to child labor that a lot of folks in agriculture may not be aware of and could really get themselves in trouble if they’re not a little bit careful,” Lashmet said in an interview with the Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) Radio Network.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act dictates what people under the age of 18 are able to do in any type of business.

Under the act, farmers and ranchers are able to hire their own children to do any work on the farm or ranch.

The rules for hiring someone else’s children are more strict.

“If you’re hiring somebody who is 16 or 17, that child can perform any farm job and they can work anytime, including during school hours,” Lashmet said.

Children between the ages of 14 and 17 can work on the farm or ranch, but they can only perform jobs not considered hazardous by the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

Hazardous tasks include: riding on a tractor as a passenger or helper; operating a tractor over 20 PTO horsepower; connecting or disconnecting an implement from a tractor with more than 20 horsepower; and operating or touching an auger conveyer, cotton picker, corn picker, crop dryer, earthmoving equipment, feed grinder, forage blower and hay baler.

Working in a pen or stall with a boar, bull, cow with a newborn calf, sow with suckling pigs or stud horse is also prohibited for those 17 and under.

Additional restrictions are listed on page two of this Child Labor Laws and Agriculture publication written by Lashmet.

“I think people will be surprised by the limitations imposed on 14 and 15 year old kids,” Lashmet said. “So, if you’re hiring those and they are not your own children, make sure and take a look at that list.”

Twelve and 13 year olds can work on a farm or ranch, but only if their parents are also employed there.

“When you get younger than that, we get more restrictions,” Lashmet said. “The big thing is know that these laws exist, and make sure that you are complying with them.”

The Fair Labor Standards Act also requires paperwork.

“Basically, you’ve got to keep track of the child’s full name, date of birth, where the child lives during the employment and then any written consent from the parent if that’s required for employment,” Lashmet said.

The punishment for violation of the law is up to $11,000 per employee whom may be subject to the violations, but it is higher for people who knowingly or intentionally violated the law.

“They can include an additional $10,000 fine and potential jail time of up to six months,” Lashmet said. “If the employment or the violation results in death or injury of a child, the penalty significantly increases there as well.”

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