U.S. Department of Labor Proposed Rules Relate to Young Farm Workers

September 23, 2011 | Erin Herbold-Swalwell and Roger McEowen

For the first time since the 1970’s, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is proposing amendments and additions to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in an attempt to increase safety requirements for young workers employed in agriculture.  The proposed rules do not attempt to make changes or limit the current exemption for youth workers employed on farms owned or operated by parents- the new rules would only apply to hired workers. The FLSA currently bars young workers from certain tasks, but the rules have traditionally allowed more flexibility with respect to the employment of young workers employed in agriculture. According to the DOL, the proposed rules would “increase parity between agricultural and nonagricultural child labor provisions.” According to the Secretary of Labor, “children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America.”

The DOL is proposing rules prohibiting hired workers (under age 16) from working with certain animals, handling pesticides, working in timber operations, and working in or around manure pits and storage bins. Further, the new rules would prohibit farm workers under the age of 16 from participating in the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco and from using electronic devices while operating power-driven equipment. The department is also proposing a new non-ag hazardous occupations (non-ag HO) order that would prevent children under the age of 18 from working in grain elevators, feed lots, stockyards, and livestock exchanges and auctions.

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