If you hire a 15-year-old neighbor to load a wagon behind the baler, it’s legal. However, you can’t hire that kid to help you harvest timber in a woodlot.
That’s just one example of what you can and can’t hire youth under 16 to do, says Bill Field, a Purdue University Extension ag engineer and farm safety specialist.
“With schools closing early due to COVID-19, some youth have become available,” he notes. “Farm operators, however, need to remain mindful that the employment of youth under the age of 16 to work in agriculture is regulated by federal wage and hour laws.
“Youth ages 14 and 15, specifically, can perform certain farm tasks not classified as hazardous — provided the work does not interfere with school, including online schooling, and appropriate wages are paid.”
So, what tasks can you hire a 14- or 15-year-old to do? Examples include hand-pruning Christmas trees, mowing lawns, picking berries and operating a tractor, but only if it’s under 20 hp. Yes, some garden tractors have over 20 hp, but that’s what the law specifies, Field says.
Other allowable jobs include loading and unloading small hay bales from wagons, painting (if not more than 20 feet above the ground), setting fence posts and repairing fences.
What kids can’t do
If your neighbor boy has his heart set on driving your 200-hp tractor, let him be disappointed, Field advises. You can hire him to drive a tractor over 20 hp if he first completes an approved training course. Find details about required training and training courses at agsafety4youth.info.
Some tasks are recognized as particularly hazardous for youth and either cannot be performed by anyone under the age of 16 at any time, or only after having first received special training, Field says. Some of these tasks include operating specialized machinery such as earthmoving equipment, forklifts, potato combines and chain saws; working with bulls, boars, stud horses, sows with suckling pigs and cows with newborn calves present, and working in woodlots to harvest timber.
Other prohibited activities include working more than 20 feet above the ground on scaffolding or ladders; working inside agricultural confined spaces such as silos, grain bins and manure pits; and transporting, transferring or applying anhydrous ammonia.
Employees found hiring youth to perform farm tasks considered hazardous can be fined, Field says. Farmers have spent time in jail due to the death of an under-aged worker performing prohibited tasks, and juries have awarded huge judgments in some of these unfortunate situations.
For more information, contact the Indiana Department of Labor. You may want a complete list of tasks young workers can and cannot legally perform on the farm.
What about your own children? Employment rules for youth on farms don’t apply to a youth employed by his or her parent or guardian on farms owned by the parent or guardian.
What about a 16-year-old? There are no age-related legal restrictions on employment in production agriculture once a youth reaches 16. However, you should still insist on proper training and use common sense when assigning jobs, Field emphasizes.