DOL Proposes Changes to Child Labor Rules on Farms

The Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed new child labor regulations applicable to agriculture.  The proposed rule would place new limits on the work “hired farm workers” under 16 and in some cases 18 would be allowed to do and could impact horse farms, ranches and auctions that employ young people who work with horses.  The proposed new rules would not apply to young people working on farms and ranches owned or operated by their parents.

Currently, young people under 16 are prohibited from working in most occupations. However, the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA), which established American child labor laws, includes an exemption for agriculture that allows children under 16 to work on farms and ranches.

“Congress created special exemptions for agricultural work in the FLSA because of its unique nature and the important role young people often play on farms and ranches. This proposed rule would radically restrict the work employed young people would be allowed to perform,” said AHC President Jay Hickey. “We are very concerned the DOL is attempting to so limit what young workers can do on farms and ranches that it would be impossible to usefully employ young people.”    

Specifically, the proposed rule would prohibit employed workers under 18 from working in feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges or auctions. It would exclude employed workers under 16 from most animal husbandry activities such as branding, breeding, dehorning, vaccinating, castrating livestock, or treating sick or injured animals including horses or working near breeding stallions. It would also prohibit workers under 16 from herding livestock from horseback or on a motorized vehicle or on foot in confined spaces such as pens or corrals and operating almost any type of tractor or power equipment. More on the proposed changes can be found on the AHC website.

“The DOL is saying most work around livestock is too dangerous for anyone under 16. I don’t believe most people who have grown up on a farm or ranch would agree with that opinion. These rules are so extreme operating a lawn mower wouldn’t be allowed,” said AHC Legislative Director Ben Pendergrass.

The proposed rules apply 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.  It also does not apply to young people doing unpaid “chores” or recreational activities.

“While the ‘parental exemption’ is supposedly left intact we are concerned family farms and ranches that are owned as partnerships, even with other family members, such as grandparents, or bothers and sisters, or operated as LLCs would not qualify under the ‘parental exemption’ in these proposed rules,” said Pendergrass. “We don’t believe these proposed rules recognize the reality or traditions of agriculture. Basically if you have a nephew, niece or grandchild or other young person who is 15 and wants to work on your farm or ranch you can hire them, but there is not much farm work they would technically be allowed to do. We are also very concerned that these rules could bar anyone under 18 from working in any capacity at a horse sale or auction.”

This proposed rule is currently in a 60 day comment period. Comments are due by November 1, 2011.  After, the DOL reviews all submitted comments it will issue a final rule. The complete rule can be viewed and comments submitted here.

“The AHC and other agricultural industries have asked the DOL for a 60 extension of the comment period. It is unclear whether or not this extension will be granted,” said Hickey. “We are currently drafting comments to submit to the DOL, if anyone in the horse community has examples of how the proposed rule would impact their horse farm or ranch please email us at

Link to full article on AHC website


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