Many rural and suburban youth experience their first paid employment on a farm. Attorney Michael Harrington, Ford Harrison Law, said hiring factors vary by state and depend on age, whether school is in session and what kind of work teens are allowed to do. There are federal restrictions on certain activities, and some states go beyond federal law to prohibit certain activities.
“Federal law in all cases of employment sets the floor,” said Harrington. “No state can allow what federal law prohibits.” Federal law states those 18 and older can do any job in agriculture. Youth 14 to 15 can work in ag but only in non-hazardous jobs. Youth ages 12 to 13 can work only if a parent has given written permission and only in non-hazardous jobs. It’s permissible for 12- to 13-year-olds to work on farms where a parent is working.
Proof of age is an important factor with teen employment. Federal law requires employers to maintain records of date of birth for all minors. “This is probably something you would satisfy from one of your other obligations, such as an I-9 form,” Harrington said. “A passport, a driver’s license, will identify the person’s age.” If those items are unavailable, a birth certificate can be used.
Federal limits for work time allowed focuses on whether school is in or out of session. There are generally no restrictions for teens 16 and older, but if youth are younger than 16 and school is in session, only three hours per day can be spent working (for a total of 18 hours/week). When school is not in session (closed for the calendar week), those 16 and older can work eight hours per day (up to 40 hours/week).
Federal law plays a significant role in identifying what types of jobs are considered presumptively hazardous such that a minor (under 16) is not allowed to work them. However, there are exceptions if the parents own the farm or if the job is in connection with vocational education training program.
Several occupations deemed “hazardous” for teens are identified by the Department of Labor. According to the DOL, youth under 16 may not operate a tractor with more than 20 PTO horsepower and may not connect or disconnect implements to such a tractor. They may not be involved with the operation, including stopping/starting, adjusting or any physical contact with machinery such as a hay mower, power post-hole digger, power post driver or non-walking rotary tiller. Youth under 16 may not operate any power-driven saws or chainsaws.
Additional restrictions for youth under 16 include no work from a ladder or scaffold taller than 20 feet for any purpose (such as painting, pruning or picking fruit). They are not allowed to work inside a fruit or grain storage structure designed to retain an oxygen-deficient atmosphere, an upright silo within two weeks after silage has been added or when a top unloading device is in operating position, a manure pit or packing a horizontal silo. Operating an elevator or driving automobiles or trucks, even on the property, are not permitted for individuals under 16.
Some states allow for some deviation in rate of pay, as does federal law. “If you’re going to pay less than minimum wage,” Harrington said, “double check to see if that is permitted by your state law. Federal law does allow less than minimum wage for individuals under age 20, but only for the first 90 days of their employment.” Employers who deviate from paying minimum wage should make sure it’s allowed by the state and track the time period.
If a minor lives in one state and works in different nearby state, Harrington said what counts is where the work is performed. In some cases, state or local taxes may be a factor to consider. For farms that straddle two states, he advised looking at the rules for both states and complying with the most conservative.
In Maine, employers must keep daily time records for minors. Accurate time records are essential in the case of an audit by the state or DOL. “Maine also requires parental permission,” Harrington said. “Minors have to be given a 30-minute meal period after six hours of work.” Work restrictions vary according to whether school is in session, the employee’s age and work hours.
Prohibited activities in Maine for those 16 and 17 include using power-drive hoisting apparatus, power-driven circular saws, band saws and guillotine shears, and slaughtering or meat packing, including processing or rendering or using meat slicers, grinders and choppers.
Maine has specific regulations about driving. Generally, anyone under 17 should not be driving as part of work. Maine does allow individuals 17 or older to drive with certain restrictions. Employers should consider whether the young person has demonstrated sufficient maturity and responsibility to operate a motor vehicle.
Vermont generally follows federal law but requires an employment certificate and employees must be at least 14. Those under 16 can work up to eight hours/day, 40 hours/week and a maximum six days a week.
New Hampshire requires a NH Youth Employment Certificate within three business days of the first day of employment from the superintendent of schools in the city/town where they attend school. Youth ages 16 or 17, unless they have graduated from high school, must provide their employer with a signed written document from their parent or legal guardian granting permission for them to work.
Massachusetts lists prohibited jobs in addition to those not allowed under federal regulations. Youth under 14 may work on farms, but those under 16 cannot operate, clean or repair power-driven machinery and must ride in motor vehicles in a passenger seat with a seatbelt. Youth under 18 may not drive a vehicle, forklift or work-assist vehicles (other than a golf cart in certain circumstances); may not work 30 feet or more above ground or water; and may not use a circular saw, band saw, guillotine shears, wood chippers and abrasive cutting discs. Check the state’s labor law website for specific hours of work allowed.
Rhode Island youth must be 14 to work, but there are no limited working hours or work days for minors under 16 in ag work. A Special Limited Permit to Work form is required, and youth under 18 must have a Certificate of Age form which is available from the youth’s local school department.
Connecticut requires a Statement of Age form, and although the state doesn’t have specific hour restrictions designated for agriculture, there are specific hours allowed for work. Check with the state’s Child Labor Laws for details.
In Connecticut, minors who are 16 may not drive as part of their employment, but minors who are 17 may drive up to 25% of their work time. Youth may not drive forklifts or construction equipment. Qualified drivers may operate up to a three-quarter-ton truck with appropriate bodily injury liability and property damage insurance.
“Hiring minor employees is great and some are very enthusiastic about having their first job,” said Harrington. “As an employer, think in terms of scheduling those employees in a way that doesn’t violate any state rules or that they don’t engage in activities they are not permitted to – mostly active machinery.”
by Sally Colby