DOL Proposes Changes to Child Labor Rules on Farms
In 2011, the Department of Labor (DOL) proposed new child labor regulations applicable to agriculture; however because of pressure from the agricultural community this rule was withdrawn in 2012. The DOL’s stated purpose for the rule making was “to improve the safety of minors under 18 working in both agricultural and nonagricultural jobs.” The proposed rule changes would have placed new limits on the work “hired farm workers” under 16 and 18 would have been allowed to do and would have impacted horse farms, ranches and auctions that employ young people who work with horses. The proposed new rules would not have applied to children working on farms and ranches owned or operated by their parents or change the statutory child labor parental exemption in agricultural employment contained in the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA).
Currently, young people under 16 are prohibited from working in most occupations. However, the FLSA, which established American child labor laws, includes an exemption for agriculture that allows children under 16 to work on farms and ranches. This is because of the unique family nature of agriculture and the important role young people often play on farms and ranches.
There were several proposed changes that could have impacted the horse community. The proposed new rules would have:
- Prohibited employed workers under 18 from working with horses in feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and auctions.
- Excluded employed workers under 16 from working in a yard, pen or stall occupied by a non-castrated male horse “maintained for breeding purposes;” porcine, bovine, or bison older than six months; or engaging in or assisting in branding, breeding, dehorning, vaccinating, castrating livestock, or treating sick or injured animals including horses.
- Prohibited workers under 16 from herding livestock from horseback or on a motorized vehicle or on foot in confined spaces such as pens or corrals. The DOL noted that this provision would apply only to the herding of livestock on horseback, not any other kind of work performed on horseback.
Currently, workers under 16 are prohibited from operating specific farm equipment, such as tractors with more than 20 PTO horsepower, corn pickers, cotton pickers, combines, hay mowers, forge harvesters, etc. with exemptions for workers with certificates from vocational programs such as 4-H. The proposed rule would have barred workers under 16 from operating any tractors or essentially any equipment not hand-powered including equipment such as lawn mowers and milking machines. It would also have sharply limit the exemptions to such rules for workers with training certificates or in vocational programs, such as 4-H.
The proposed rules would have applied only to hired, paid young workers and retain the parental exemption that exempts children working on farms and ranches owned or operated by their parents. However, there was a question regarding whether the rule as proposed maintains the “parental exemption” for children working on farms and ranches owned as partnerships, even with other family members, such as grandparents, or bothers and sisters, or operated as LLCs.
In December 2012 the AHC submitted comments in opposition to the proposed child labor regulations.
On April 26, 2012 the Administration announced it was withdrawing the proposed rule based on the concerns of the agricultural community and would not re-propose any new regulations on this issue. Instead of undertaking a new rulemaking process, the Administration said it would “work with rural stakeholders to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.”
The AHC opposed the proposed rule and worked with a broad coalition of agricultural organizations to successfully convince the Administration and Congress that these rules were ill-considered, would prevent young people from becoming involved in agriculture, and would negatively impact family farms and ranches.