DOL Proposes Changes to Child Labor Rules on Farms

The Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed new child labor regulations applicable to agriculture. The DOL's stated purpose for the rule making is "to improve the safety of minors under 18 working in both agricultural and nonagricultural jobs."  The proposed rule changes would place new limits on the work "hired farm workers" under 16 and 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 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.

Proposed Rule
There are several proposed changes that could impact the horse community.  The proposed new rules would:

  • Prohibit employed workers under 18 from working with horses in feed lots, stockyards,livestock exchanges and auctions.
  • Exclude 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.
  • Prohibit workers under 16 from herding livestock from horseback or on a motorized vehicle or on foot in confined spaces such aspens 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 bar workers under 16 from operating any tractors or essentiallyany equipment not hand-powered including equipmentsuch as lawn mowers and milking machines.  It would also sharply limit the exemptions to such rules for workerswith training certificates or in vocational programs, such as 4-H.

The proposed rules apply only to hired, paid young workers and retain the parental exemption that exemptschildren working on farms and ranches owned or operated by their parents.  However, there appears to be 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, oroperated as LLCs.

AHC Concerns
It is unclear how many entities employ workers under 16 or 18 in the industry now who could be affected by these changes.  The AHC is asking for feedback from the horse industry to determine the potential effects of the proposals.

The AHC appreciates the stated goal of the DOL to improve safety for young Americans working in agriculture.  However, the AHC wants to be sure that any final rules are not unnecessarily restrictive and do not baryoung people from working in agriculture with horses,especially on the "family farm," at a time when many young people are leaving agriculture.  The final rules must consider the reality and traditions of agriculture, the unique roll that young people play on family-owned farms and ranches, and the reality that many of these farms and ranches are owned by multiple generations or operated as LLCs.   

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 American Horse Council is continuing to review the proposed rule and will be submitting comments to the DOL.

If you have any questions please contact the AHC.